Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sun it Rises

I rode a camel in Israel a couple weeks ago, and it was awesome. Camels have very long eyelashes and permanently puckered lips -- quite stunning -- but the rest of the body looks like it’s been smushed together from other animal parts. When approached, the camel is sitting down, and we were given strict instructions not to kick or pet it.

Soon after we were situated on our respective humps (two to a camel, I sat in front and Chelsea in back), the camel started to rise. First, the camel sticks its behind up, placing all of its weight on the knees, then the back legs follow, and finally the front legs. It’s a peculiar process to observe and even stranger to experience: the same sort of sensation as riding a rollercoaster. The actual journey is extremely slow, probably because of insurance purposes, but once we were used to the altering hip swags, it was a very leisurely ride.

Looking back on the caravan of 40 American kids -- a steady stream of digital cameras detonating at once -- it was hard to imagine our ancestors riding these great mammals through the desert to safety so many years ago. Because it seems to me that if you get a bunch of Jews out in the desert, all they’re going to be doing is complaining.

I’m still just in the process of digesting it all, but there were other parts to the trip, of course. A Birthright trip is like boot camp, with early morning wake up calls and horrible food (schnitzel cuisine three nights in a row), and every day was chalk full of activities. We stayed at Kibbutz’s, went cave spelunking and digging at Beit Gurvin National Park, met with Bedouins, did a sunrise ascent to Masada, swam in the Dead Sea, hiked Mt. Arbel, toured a Kabbalah gallery in Tsfat, hiked in the Golan Heights, went rafting on the Jordan River, saw the borders of Syria and Lebanon, went wine tasting at the Galilee Winery, toured Jaffa, Independence Hall, Rabin Square, and Jerusalem, volunteered at a soup kitchen, City of David, the Wall, Mt. Herzl, etc.

The best part of the trip, however, was spending five days with seven Israeli soldiers, because those are by far the coolest kids I’ve ever met. Each conversation with them was like a tutorial on the confusing mess of the beautiful country. And the trip itself was more like a gigantic history lesson rather than a religious awakening. So while I’m not going to start lighting the Shabbat candles every Friday night, I’m not going to skip over the Middle East section of the paper anymore.

After the trip, I met the boyf in Tel Aviv where we spent an amazing four days exploring and eating delicious food. That’s my new favorite city; imagine SoHo before it turned into a shopping mall, then add a beach. Unfortunately, though, I did not have the chance to meet the other Toby Shuster, or see her Bed and Breakfast. I’ll probably regret this for the rest of my life, but I guess it’s a good incentive to go back. And that’s the only downside to traveling: it always leaves you wanting more.


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