What do Greenough employees do for fun outside the office? Greenough After-Hours finds out. In this edition, Account Executive Gaby Berkman talks about her recent Birthright Trip to Israel. Last month, I packed my bags, hopped on a plane and arrived in Israel for my ten-day Birthright Trip. Birthright is a free trip to Israel offered to all tribe members who fall between the ages of 18 - 27, and I joined 45 other strangers to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We travelled around the country with an Israeli tour guide, members of the Israeli military and three North American leaders.
My trip focused primarily on the outdoors. We trekked our way through the country, beginning in the North in Tiberias and ending in Netayna, a beach town just outside of Tel Aviv. We stopped everywhere in-between; Israel is only 8,019 square miles, so it wasn’t hard to see it all! Below are some of the highlights from my trip:
Sunrise at Masada
Masada is an ancient fortress in the Judean Desert. It was built by Herod the Great in 37 BC and was the site of the very first Jewish-Roman war. Our group was lucky enough to see the sunrise from the top of the mountain. Despite the 4 AM wake-up, this was one of my favorite hikes.
Floating in the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea was by far one of the coolest experiences I have had to date. Not only is it the world’s saltiest body of water, it is also the lowest point above sea level. Our Israeli tour guide, Itea, advised us not to shave for at least three days before going in because the water was so salty it would sting any open wounds - even the ones you didn’t know you had! - on your body. The thing to do at the Dead Sea is apply mud to your body for extra exfoliation, so after we muddied up we headed into the 80 degree water, leaned back and floated. As you can see in the picture on the left, the water is salty (those are salt rocks that make up the bottom of the sea!) so the trick is to keep your head above water. Don’t even think about swimming - the water’s too dense! (Side note - in addition to the Dead Sea, we swam in the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean. Bucket list items, check!)
Western Wall, Mehane Yehuda and Shabbat in Jerusalem
Jerusalem, naturally, was the city I was most excited to see. We had three full days there, including Shabbat. We began with a walking tour of the Old City, visiting King David’s Tomb and the site of The Last Supper. We then went on to the Western Wall (Kotel), which was unlike anything I had experienced before. Religious or not, the Western Wall is a very powerful place. As a female, I had to cover my shoulders and knees and enter through an entrance separate from the men. I was struck by the wall's sheer size, the chants of the people praying and the notes left in the cracks of the wall.
After visiting the Kotel, we headed to the largest outdoor market in Jersusalem, Mehan Yehuda. Here, the highlight was the food - namely, the giant fresh falafels that came topped with french fries and the fresh, gooey rugelach that was not quite fully baked. Because it was a Friday afternoon, the market was packed with people getting ready for the Shabbos.
Being in Jerusalem for Shabbat was very special. The entire city shuts down and there are no cars on the road. I started my day with a run through the largest park in the city, where it was quiet and reflective. This was a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of taking in new experiences. That day, we walked around the Israel Museum where we saw the Dead Sea scrolls and the Ahava statue. It was so cool not seeing a single car on the road!
Camel Ride and the Bedouin Tents
Okay, this is so Birthright cliche of me, but I have to list “cameling” and staying in the Bedouin tents as a highlight. We drank coffee with a Bedouin, rode camels (we fondly named ours Iggy), saw more shooting stars than I could count, ate with our hands from a communal bowl of rice and meat and sang Israeli songs like crowd-pleaser Ein Ani around a bonfire.
The people, the culture and the land
People go on Birthright for many different reasons, and I went to get a better sense of my history and the current state of Israel. Israel is a beautiful country - there are no bad views anywhere you look! We hiked almost every day and saw more historic sites than I can remember. I came back with more questions than answers, but I left the country with a better spiritual sense, 45 great new friends, 500+ photos, a constant craving for shawarma and the excitement to go back!
Gaby Berkman is an Account Executive at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @Gabyberk