I’ve always been interested in Jerusalem, Palestine, and Israel. I’ve always wanted to travel there, and I’ve always planned to do so sometime after university. However, a last-minute opportunity presented itself and suddenly I was heading there on the first of January. Can I get a ‘Happy New Years?’
A short nine-hour flight from NYC and my 35 new best friends and I touched down at the Ben Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv. Our group consisted of groups of 3-4 college students from over eight different schools spread out over the United States.
We spent three days in Tel Aviv, taking in the sights and talking to activists on a broad range of issues. Tel Aviv is very much a modern city, and at first I had trouble reconciling it with the image in my mind’s eye of an ancient land. The intersection between ancient and modern would continue to be one of the most interesting aspects of the trip.
Another amazing thing about the trip was seeing and standing in the places that I had heard so many stories about; from friends, family, on the news, or even in religious texts. It really brought life and meaning to names that I had only previously imagined at.
Tel Aviv also presented one more amazing opportunity to me: its location on the Mediterranean Sea. One of my bucket list items was to swim in its amazing blue waters. In Tangier, I had swum in the Strait of Gibraltar and looked towards the Mediterranean beyond. Sadly, our itinerary for this trip didn’t include a dip, which I was despondent about for five minutes before another member of the trip and I decided to get up early and go swimming anyways.
We spent the next two days farther North, going up to the Golan Heights as well as into a C zone of the Occupied Territories. I jumped into the Sea of Galilee where Jesus was said to have walked on water, and visited Capernaum, the ‘Town of Jesus’. We even overlooked Syria one grey day!
The weather had been cold so far, with some harsh wind and a little rain. I soon discovered which of my clothing was water resistant (none of it) and how to dry my shoes with the hotel-provided hair dryer. While it hadn’t impacted the trip too much, we soon got a forecast of heavy snow.
The area had been hit with a massive storm the year before that halted traffic, collapsed structures, and stranded people. To avoid the same thing happening again, traffic would be stopped in and out of Jerusalem. Our itinerary had called for a visit to Masada and the Dead Sea before finishing the trip in Jerusalem, but the forecast presented us with a problem: We could either go to the Dead Sea and hope that the roads to Jerusalem wouldn’t be shut down, or we could dash to Jerusalem.
Both options were attractive (and on my bucket list), but in the end the Holy City won out. Read about it here. I guess I’ll just have to go back one day to visit the Dead Sea!