The trek begins with a 5:00 AM wake-up in Denver. A not so quick skip to JFK and an even slower jump later we arrive in Tel Aviv. It should be mentioned that the food on El Al was fairly good. Chicken and rice for dinner was doused in a tasty sauce and the hummus provided on the side was actually quite delicious. After arriving and get orientation from Rachel the program director, we head north to Farod. Along the way we stopped at a gas station convenience store and I had the opportunity to sample some local Doritos. The flavor was “the worst kind” according to Elad our guide but I enjoyed the ‘Hot and Sour’ chips. Driving through the north of Israel is beautiful, very reminiscent of the American West, and the heat was just as stifling. When we arrived at the Kibbutz we were put into groups of 3 and I roomed with Max who I had met at JFK and Ben. Both real mensches. Dinner at the Kibbutz was rather disappointing pasta and meatballs but the fresh vegetables and hummus were lovely and refreshing. The night program was more icebreakers and talking about the trip. Afterwards, we enjoyed some duty free alcohol that was purchased and had some Goldstar at the pub. Goldstar is a macro-brew of Israel and it’s actually very nice, though the pub’s price of 28 NIS a beer was unfortunate. I’m still working on everyone’s names but so far, so good.
The next morning we woke at 7 for breakfast and started the day. Israeli breakfast is really nice, with fresh vegetables, pickled herring and oddly enough chocolate pudding. We embarked up north the Tel Dan to go on a nature walk. Elad explained the importance of the stream there and that the ruins had evidence that King David had actually existed. After the history lesson we traveled to Mt. Bental, overlooking the borders of Syria and Lebanon. The story of the conflict with Syria was fascinating and thought provoking. Next we stopped for lunch. Some friends I’m becoming closer to (2 brothers, their cousin, and a former teammate) went to Café Café. It was pretty terrible. I had the ‘Fish Shwarma Wrap’ which was just bland whitefish and lettuce in a tortilla, and the small sample of the ‘Smoked Salmon wrap wasn’t good either. A corrective experience was needed and luckily we were off to a tour of a winery, which included a tasting. We sampled a Cabarnet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay and a desert wine. I thought all were pretty great, but the red was especially fantastic as was to be expected from the rich volcanic soil of the area. After the wine, we drove a bit more to kayak on the River Jordan. It was more of a lazy stream at this point, but fairly fun nonetheless. Dinner at the Kibbutz back in Farod was a very nice fried chicken, accurately described as “chicken parm without the redsauce”. Another night, another rambunctious evening drinking Goldstar and watching the World Cup.
Tonight I will be playing in an exhibition lacrosse game with the rest of the group. All the members in this birthright group our NCAA athletes of varying abilities from Division 1 through 3. This, however, didn’t stop us from touring our tucheses off. After a breakfast that saw more familiar faces and foods, we started off with a 2-hour downhill hike on the Nachal Amud trail. The views were beautiful and the hike gave us a chance to warm up our legs and of course learn more Israeli history. We then drove to the old city of Tzfat. At long last I got my hands on some very flavorful shwarma. It was fantastic. The laffa was fresh and hot, the sauces I added were perfectly spicy and of course the meat was well seasoned and freshly shaved. With full stomachs we toured Tzfat learning more about Kabbalah and Halacha, as we visited two historic synagogues. Upon our return to our last night at the Kibbutz in Farod, we rested and got ready for the game.