The Fourth of July on Steroids–Happy 63rd Birthday Israel!!

This week has been crazy, crazy, crazy! A week full of balagan (although what weekend in the holyland is not?) and good balagan at that!

Everything started on Friday when 22 of us took off at 8am for the north of Israel. We were headed to Har Meron (Mount Meron) for a 2-day hiking trek. The bus dropped us off at the trail head and we started day 1 of our hike!

We hiked through a beautiful forested area–a bit different from our last hike to the Negev.

The landscape actually reminded me a lot of Connecticut and made me a little nostalgic for home–the hike was hilly with tons of trees and vistas. Josh and I kept commenting on how much this looked like New England!

The only difference? I don’t think Connecticut has a whole lot of olive trees.

Or barbed wire fencing that prevents the feral cows from running rampant all over the countryside.

Who knew feral cows existed?

Only in Israel.

We arrived at our campsite later in the day to soup already cooking on the fire. Tikkun Olam had hired two guys to help us prepare the campsite, haul our sleeping bags, and cook some food. Okay, so this may or may not have been more “comfort camping” than anything else, but I’m pretty okay with that 🙂

Some of us were a bit tired and decided to pass out for an hour or so. Jon demonstrates:

We spent the rest of the night huddling together because it was freakin freezing (and I was dumb enough to forget warm clothing). We ate delish food and made a campfire for roasting some ‘mallows. We did the lame camp thing and told ghost stories/sang our individual nation’s national anthems around the fire. What, that’s not normal?

The next morning we woke up to a semi-warm, somewhat sunny day. The conditions may not have been ideal, but it wasn’t raining and breakfast was delicious (aka life is good).

We started off on part II of our hike. We saw some beautiful vistas.

Took loads of pictures.

Saw a few goatherds wandering around.

Loved each other.

And took some wacky pictures as part of a big group scavenger hunt.

I also took a nasty little spill at one point which lead to a giant bruise on my butt! Metsuyan (Excellent)! 🙂

After the hike we all headed home, took showers, and passed out. The days following the hike were all national holidays here in Israel. Most Israeli holidays pass from sundown to sundown (it follows the religious structure even though these holidays aren’t religious).

Sunday night was the start of Yom Hazikaron (Fallen Soldier’s Day). This is a day of remembrance for all Israeli soldiers lost in battle. Yom Hazikaron also honors the memory of individuals killed during terrorist attacks. There are two sirens on Yom Hazikaron. Like Yom HaShoah, these sirens mark a 2-minute moment of silent reflection for people all over Israel. The first siren was Sunday night at 8PM. A few of us went out to the highway near Kiryat Shalom in order to watch the cars stop during the 2-minute reflection.

At 8PM on the dot we heard the first bomb siren start from up north. Slowly but surely this single siren was met with the sound of other sirens from all over the city. The cars on the highway came to a complete halt and people got out of those cars. Everyone bowed their heads as the bomb sirens rang out loudly, whining with an eery tone. I can honestly say that never in my entire life have I ever felt so connected to my own Jewish identity and peoplehood. The highway was dead, nothing moved, there were no sounds except for those over the siren loudspeaker. And it was at that moment that I knew Israel was my home. Did I grow up in this country? No. Do I have any immediate relatives still living in this country? No. But that doesn’t matter. Israel is my home because I share this common identity with all those living around me. For those 2 minutes we all stood together in solidarity, remembering those who died so that we could be there altogether, united as a Jewish nation. After the sirens ended people got back into their cars and drove down the road as if nothing had happened. Life went back to normal and everyone went on with their day. We walked back to our house in almost complete silence, only speaking to comment on what we had just seen. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life.

The next day there was another siren at 11AM and the experience was just as overwhelming and incredible. Everyone in this young country coming together in Israeli solidarity–it was just amazing.

A few hours later, after this intense reflection in regards to fallen soldiers, a new holiday began. Monday evening marked the beginning of Yom Hatzma-ut, the Israeli Independence Day! It’s kind of strange to have such a somber holiday followed by such a joyous one, but hey–Israelis are a little strange in general 😉

I started off my night in Hertzelia (a city just north of Tel Aviv) where I was met by the biggest festival I have ever seen. I know I said that Purim was a huge balagan, but this festival might have it beat. There were families, men on stilts, bands performing every few feet, children spraying shaving cream onto unsuspecting party-goers, giant inflatable hammers (what?), and animals running loose everywhere. Everyone was wearing blue and white, and everyone had wrapped themselves up in Israeli flags. It was madness! There is nothing even akin to this for the 4th of July in the U.S. It was ridiculous!

We spent about an hour in Hertzelia and then went back to Tel Aviv to meet up with some friends for another Florentine street party. This was just as big as the Purim street party, except this time there were no costumes–just a whole lot of blue and white! My friends and I spent the night dancing in the street, bumping into people we knew, and singing Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem). It was madness. I wish I had taken some pictures, but I didn’t want to bring my camera into that balagan.

The next day was a whole day of barbecuing–every single Israeli goes out to the park/some patch of grass and spends the day cooking up some good eats! We celebrated the holiday by holding a barbecue on the roof!

We roasted up some veggies.

Cooked up a little meat (such a luxury for all those meat-eaters considering meat is usually crazy expensive in this country–it’s all kosher).

Played some shesh-besh.

Also known as backgammon. I’m not sure why, but all Israelis (young and old) are obsessed with this game. Seriously obsessed.

And we dined on delicious potluck salads.

And had a pretty amazing Yom Hatzma-ut!

What a great couple of days 🙂

Have a great week everyone! 

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