Israel Day 17: Lia Swidler

We woke up in the Bedouin tents at 5:30am to watch the sunrise, refreshed from our 6-hour sleep. As we absorbed the breathtaking scenery, and observed the sunrise entering the sky, we gathered on top of a hill and watched in awe. With our lack of sleep affecting our energy levels, we all put in the extra amount of effort to have a meaningful Shacharit service in the desert. The contrast of the bland desert orientation with our powerful prayers allowed for an experience like no other. It was an opportunity to feel closer to Hashem, surrounding ourselves with the simplicity of the nature that we basked in. Everyone stood in silence as we appreciated everything that was around us; the powerful sound of prayer, the unity, and the beauty. This was a truly memorable experience that we will surely not forget.  With the sunrise sinking further and further from our eye sight, and a clear blue taking over the sky, we all could not have been more excited to start our day.
I felt as though Hashem was standing right there with me and as if nothing else mattered besides what I was presently doing right there and then. The combination of the birds chirping, the sight of donkeys in the distance, and just the pure beauty of the sand-covered hills, created such a distinct experience that cannot compare to anything I had previously encountered. 
As we came to the conclusion of our Shacharit service, the silence was deafening and remarkably powerful, encouraging us to Daven personally with as much Kavana as possible, making the most of our opportunity. 
Our early start to the day continued with a delicious Bedouin breakfast consisting of pita bread, hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, cheeses and other components of the Bedouin culture's most important meal of the day.
Within our bus groups, we rotated between Camel riding, having breakfast, and saying prayers.
As my group arrived at the spot for Camel riding, we did not know what to expect. In pairs, we climbed on top of the camels, observing the distinct view of the desert from the unique perspective of sitting on top of a camel! We were taken up rocky hills, inhaling the chilly, dry air, and attempted to take photos whilst balancing on their humps. The laughter amongst us all was contagious as we held tightly onto the handles of their saddles and kept our balance whilst exploring the vast space of the desert. Before we knew it, our long awaited camel rides were over and it was time for the next groups' turns to commence. Our time at the Bedouin tents was coming to an end, and we were to get back on the bus and make our way to Masada. 
We had been told that there was going to be a big surprise for us when we arrived at the top of Masada. No one would give us any hints as to what it would be. As we embarked on our journey to the top, we were all so eager to hear our surprise.
Once we had finally reached the top, the teachers and Madrichim sat us down. We were all anxiously awaiting the surprise when they finally announced what it was. Jonty explained that Joseph Beverly, one of our peers from Masada, had missed out on the privilege of having a Bar Mitzvah and so he had decided to have one on top of Masada, and to share his simcha with the group. The excitement and support given to Joseph was incredible, with all 137 of us circling him whilst he recited his portion. We were given lollies to throw at him, making this unique and rare opportunity even more special. I feel privileged to have stood there and celebrated this special and life changing moment with him. 
All the girls and boys gathered around and danced. We sang, clapped and celebrated a simcha that was truly unforgettable. The boys huddled together and continued to dance- lifting Joseph up on their shoulders and giving him a proper Bar Mitzvah experience.
Once the hype had calmed down, we were seated again to hear Joseph speak. His happiness and pride was something that made the event all the more meaningful. His gratitude for what we had just done for him was expressed as all of IST sat before him, and were surrounded by the beauty of Masada’s breath-taking views. It was truly indescribable. 
After the moving Bar Mitzvah ceremony, we proceeded to a tour of Masada. Hearing the rich history of what took place on the very ground where we were standing, was both interesting and meaningful. Jonty explained that 2000 years ago, the Romans tortured Jews for their own entertainment, abusing them both mentally and physically. They were slaves with continuous, intense labour. The Jews were made to suffer and had to resort to extreme measures, such as fathers killing their families and people committing suicide. They would rather be free and dead, than slaves and alive. Freedom was such a huge factor in determining whether they would continue to live.
After a hot, strenuous walk down the mountain, we got a much-needed lunch at the Masada cafeteria. Being able to sit in an air-conditioned hall was such a luxury! As we all finished eating, it was time for our final stop for the day- the Dead Sea. 
As IST has been my first Israel experience, I had heard so many things about the Dead Sea. The fact that one could simply float in a 'sea' that had a salt concentration of 33% boggled my mind. It was a concept that I just could not grasp, until I could see it for myself. As I entered the water, taking in the mesmerizing view of crystal clear water with a stunning backdrop of mountains, the whole experience felt surreal. I, along with all the girls on the trip, were floating! We all gathered in a floating line while we struggled to get a photo taken- it was a necessity! Enjoying everything that the Dead Sea had to offer, we covered our bodies in mud hoping it would improve the 'softness' of our skin! The results were what we had hoped for with our skin feeling silky smooth. 
After about 40 minutes of enjoying the water, the effects of the salt slowly started to activate. The stinging became unbearable and the pain forced us to get out the water. However, we all reassured each other that it was all part of the experience and something that was bound to happen! 
Exhausted from an extremely vigorous, yet amazing day, we hopped on the bus again to make our way back to Jerusalem. The bus was silent and everyone immediately fell asleep, in an attempt to rejuvenate before what was to come next- the day wasn't over just yet!
On our arrival to the Ramat Rachel Hotel, we had dinner and then enjoyed a Chanukah Party organised by the Madrichim. We ate cake, lit the Chanukiah and enjoyed the festivities that Chanukah brings. It was a great way to end what was truly an amazing day.
I feel so blessed to have had a day like today. I have experienced so many things for the first time in my life- almost all of them are only possible to do in Israel. It has been a day filled with so many positive experiences, and we’ve created memories that will last a lifetime.


Israel Day 18: Raquel Yesner

Israel Day 16: Options