In Tzfat, the birthplace of Jewish mysticism, a nut named Avraham Levental told us that Kabbalah was aweeeee-some. He repeated this multiple times. He has spent the past ten years delving into the meaning of his name. The fundamental precept is that everything is God. You just can’t understand how aweeeee-some that is. Our journeys are beginning to follow a familiar pattern: a very long time driving on the bus, followed by slightly less time in an actual place, which we are never able to explore to our satisfaction, followed by piling back on the bus to get to the next destination, inevitably late. No one seems to think this is awesome.
Yesterday’s boat ride on the Sea of Galilee could have been relaxing, but the four crew of the large wooden vessel felt it was their mission in life to get us to dance, no matter how little we wished to do so. Their increasingly frenetic music reflected their desperation as we refused to move our bodies, and eventually they resorted to bringing out the bongo drums and getting a drum circle going. Prior to the cruise we had a very brief period to explore the waterfront of the town of Tiberias, which was pretty shabby. A fellow participant told me that it reminded her of boardwalks along the Jersey shore, except that the swimming section of the beach was a small cordoned rectangle signposted “Public Authorized Swimming Zone.”
Our time in Haifa was an exercise in frustration. Rather than a nature walk along the Little Switzerland trail as per the itinerary, we went to meet our “peers,” a group of Israeli soldiers and students, at a beach. Some sort of scheduling mix up meant we were an hour late getting to the peers, who will be accompanying us for the next five days, and then we had 90 minutes to change for the beach, enjoy said beach, find food (which consisted of a few slow sit-down restaurants and one sad falafel stand with two cashiers and a single plodding sandwich assembler), clean off, change into dry clothes, and get back onto the bus. Even the most easygoing members of the group were frazzled after being yelled at by the guide for our inability to meet this time line.
In spite of our failure to enjoy regimented beach time, we were a mere 10 minutes late to the Ein Hod Artists’ Colony, which was a very interesting and enjoyable destination. There were many types of art to explore and artists to meet, as well as a pottery demonstration. Again the pattern of the trip repeated – not enough time, rushed to the bus, and then a few more hours of driving, this time through rush hour Thursday traffic (the equivalent of Fridays in the United States) so that we could arrive on time in Jerusalem. Which we didn’t. And so the walking tour of Jerusalem was canceled. Brilliant.
In my last entry I think I misjudged the mood of the party after our group huddle. Not only was everyone annoyed at the additional “ice breakers,” many were upset by what the felt was the strong indoctrination component of the program. There are several couples on this trip, including one married and one engaged, and there are also many participants with significant others back home, who are more often than not non-Jews. Over falafel in Tzfat, a member of the group joked that we should raise our hands if we had a Catholic boyfriend back home. All four of us present raised our hands, although in my case the Catholic takes the form of a girlfriend.
A British-Israeli gent with the wonderful name Neil Lazarus made a joke that imparted the same idea in a much more comfortable way. “My friends,” he said, “remember one thing: Birthright is all about Jewish babies! The name is frequently misheard: it is actually birthrate.” He is a funny guy, we laughed, there was less awkwardness. We also learned about the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire and the situation with Sunni and Shi’a Muslim sects in the Middle East. Little of it was new to me, but the presentation was engaging and interesting, and no doubt helped others to understand the situation here. Again, I found the perspective to be Israeli, Jewish, and patriotic, but still relatively neutral.
I’ve been trying a new approach with these triplogs, attempting to discuss the ideas, concepts, and experiences of the trip, rather than the traditional chronological approach. I think it suits the format of this “experience,” as they refer to it, and I hope it is interesting. Tomorrow we begin our belated exploration of Jerusalem, which will no doubt be fascinating but rushed. Tonight I share a room with an Israeli as well as another American. Breakfast, as always, begins promptly at 7:00am.