Journal Entry # 52 - Road Entry#42 (Maadi – Cairo, Egypt - 1:35pm (Local) - January 23, 2011)

Swollen with Excitment

With a 9 hour time change forward, some of this day was “lost” once I landed in Ben Gurion airport at 1:30pm. Although I had only 2 hours of sleep from LAX to TLV, I didn’t feel as if I was still on “West Coast” time. I felt excited and ready to go right through customs and with the group to our first location, Sha’ar Hagolan Kibbutz.

I was one of the last people to get off the bus and walk through the airport to the security check. My new visa stamp came without trepidation by Israeli security and walked to the bagged pickup area. There I immediately went to the bathroom to change clothes, brush my teeth, and revitalize for an afternoon and evening itinerary with the group.

As a group, we took our bags to our charter bus for drop-off, to pick-up a cell phone if you ‘rented’ one, and to exchange out $US dollars for the New Israeli Shekel (NIS). I received 950 NIS for my $275 dollars. The current economic condition of Israel is very similar to that of the United States. I would say the prices of the same exact goods are the same or 10-15% more than of those in the states.

I moved with the group back into the airport on the second level above the baggage area and near the bathrooms. Here is where we met Loren and Rachel, director and coordinator of Routes Travel respectively. Loren began by officially welcoming us to Israel and giving a brief explanation in how this trip is made possible. This has been made possible for the past 13 years for over 250,000 people through the contributions of private donations (both anonymous and distinguished people), the Israeli government, and local/regional Jewish communities across the world. Loren actually mentioned that the government has been so pleased with the program that they have decided to double the budget for the next summer wave of 18-26 year olds from 25,000 to 50,000.

He then introduced Ran (our tour guide), formally introduced Noah and Alison, and introduced Tami. Even though she doesn’t like to be called an auditor, Tami acted as an auditor, observer, interviewer, and staff member of both our Taglit bus and the Taglit-Birthright oversight committee as well. She had pen and paper throughout the whole trip; writing down every little detail she could.

Loren indicated that it is very rare for a Taglit-Birthright group to have an observational staff member on one of its trips, so he asked us to follow guidelines, rules, and regulations for the entirety of the journey. Not knowing of what to expect, Loren then proceeded into a proclamation of the “DON’TS” while on this trip.

DON’T DRINK, BECAUSE WE CAN’T TRUST YOU WAS HIS MESSAGE. Loren emphatically described the dozens of mistakes other American Taglit-Birthright members have made in the past. These individual cases led Loren to critically dissect almost any situation that could go wrong and what it’s consequences were. At the end of the speech, he wished for us to have a comfortable and pleasant trip throughout Israel and that he would be seeing us again in Jerusalem between the Holocaust museum and the Mt. Herzl memorial cemetery visit.

From here, we used the bathrooms before our 2 hour drive to Sha’ar Hagolan and our accommodations for the night. On the bus ride north, most of the group started to warm up to each other more and start developing new friendships. I sat in the back of the bus on my first ride north thinking I would be able to sleep for an hour to two all the way to the kibbutz. It wasn’t the case because everyone in the back of the bus had a fervent amount of energy that they kept talking the entire ride up. I was thoroughly impressed with their energy after so a long flight.

My intention on the first night in Israel was to sleep when I could so that I could wake up in the middle of the night (3:30am) to watch the Oregon-Auburn National Championship game online or on a television at the kibbutz. It was great that I had my computer with me, but once I got to the kibbutz I forgot to ask reception about internet right away. It was after dinner around 9:00pm when I realized the televisions in each room didn’t work and the reception had now closed for the night – making wireless internet access unavailable. I said to myself that it would be an issue and I would just watch the game when I could – hoping no one would find out the score and tell me.

My “no internet” realization moment came as we walked into a community conference room of the kibbutz for our first group evening program together. These programs usually consisted of us talking about the Middle East conflict, history, art, culture, spirituality, etc… But this night was reserved for more ice-breaking activities so that the comfort amongst each other would dramatically increase in such a short time span.

We played a dry-kosher-elementary version of “Never have I” with one person standing in the middle and everyone else seated in a circle around that person. That person starts his or her sentence with “never have I” so that other people in the group have done something to switch seats. In the chaos, the person in the middle runs and gets a new seat while others scramble to find a new seat as well. The last person without a seat then has to say something and the game continues.

After our game, Ran instructed us to share with the entire group what this trip means to us and what we might want to get out of it. Since everyone had different backgrounds and varying degrees of spirituality, it was no surprise that a lot of the answers were unique and insightful to the person’s mindset, vision, and goals of this trip (thus strengthening the bond between our relationship as friends, Jews, Americans, and people).

This activity ended and I was extremely tired. I shared a room with Eli and Johnny for the duration of our time together at the kibbutz. Johnny helped me find extra pillows for my bed so that I could elevate my feet and reduce the swelling around my ankles and calves. Overall, I had a mediocre first nights sleep as my slumber was dissected into 2 hour intervals with bathroom breaks or bed adjustments in between. Thankfully my swollen legs subsided and I was ready to start the day – The Golan Heights and Northern Borders.