In Judaism, it is the number that represents life… chai. However, it was also how many hours I spent in Ben Gurion airport.
People asked what I did during that time. Certainly going to the restroom 246 thousand times occurred… the fact I already have to go to the bathroom all the time and that increases when I am nervous does not help! Divided my testosterone into smaller containers (I used cheap contact lens containers), repacked my medications. Was harassed by security because sitting in a seat looking innocent is apparently a crime in Israel. I also looked in the bookstore, they had some English books and was considering buying one for my grandmother but then decided to wait until maybe later. Found the shul but did not daven as it was too late for maariv and too early for shacharit. Uploaded things to Facebook as, unlike Istanbul, Ben Gurion had free wifi once you were able to figure out how to connect to it. Called half of the United States or so it seemed proving that I can in fact call the US for free over wifi (part two confirmed!) thanks Vonage! Wrote in my journal. Took video of the model of the Temple. I think the only thing I did not do was sleep.
I learned that one of my friends from bookmooch, a book trading website, was actually going to be able to flying out that day so we were able to meet briefly. It was the first time we ever met in person despite the fact we grew up near the same location and her brother lives not terribly far from me. She gave me good tips on how to keep kosher in Israel. Basically in the supermarket everything is kosher ingredient wise so that isn’t a problem. She said restaurant wise, most restaurants are fine to eat at and the only reason they aren’t labeled as kosher is usually because they are open on Shabbat. Some of course do mix milk and meat so I just need to be careful of that but I shouldn’t worry too much. This information would come in useful later.
I waited for one of the group members who was supposed to come in early that morning. Apparently despite the fact I emailed him telling him what I was wearing, BRIGHT TIE DYE with a black/blue frik and tzitzit, he apparently didn’t get who I was. He originally approached me, said my name, I replied and asked his name and he ignored me and walked off. He said he later figured I didn’t speak English… despite the fact I responded and asked his name. We later did assess that we were the people we were looking for. So that was it and then it was the never ending wait for the rest of the group.
Finally after a zillion hours, we find the rest of the group who all show up.
What a cast of characters. I think we had almost every type of Jew and type of LGBT person on this trip. Jews by birth, Jews by Choice. Orthodox to completely secular. We had a serious lack of women though… one female group leader and one female Orthodox participant… since Orthodox people generally don’t touch the opposite sex I was wondering how that was going to play out. Our group leaders consisted of the director of the non-profit, a cantor, another person who was on the trip last year, and our tour guide. We also for a time had a rabbi briefly but he would later disappear, then come back, then disappear again.
I would grow to be quite fond of the tour guide, Hillel, who MADE the trip for the overly observant “Reform” (I use this phrase loosely) LGBT Jew like me. If it weren’t for him… I don’t even know. Let’s just say that. But of course at the time I didn’t know that. At this time he was still some huge strange dude in a kippah whose English was far too good in comparison to the Israelis I had already met.
After various weird introductions and such which I cannot stand that type of thing, we venture out of the airport. My first actual look at Israel.
And… there was a puddle.
Apparently it rained. Now my partner claimed that rain does not occur in Israel so I took a photo to prove him wrong because I am that weird. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have taken photos of the bus because there are none of those in Israel either. My world traveler partner says we will be traveling by camel. OK dear.
So the drive to the desert was long and we were advised to take a nap. I tried. Really I did. Outside of that one hour nap on the plane, I had been up for what was about 48 hours at least. It was a little difficult with all the noise and the music.
We still have things pointed out by the tour guide.
Eventually things get very… desert-y. Which is actually good when you realise we were kinda in the desert. I would be concerned if it turned into a swamp.
We pull up to this little village thing and we see these rather large brown animals… with a hump. My mind is saying “You are hallucinating. You are not seeing a camel.” Well my mind was right. I didn’t see A camel. I saw a BUNCH of camels. So I stand besides these things… camels… and it dawns on me that they expect us to actually RIDE the camels. So… my sleep deprived self actually keeps saying “Camels. Why are there camels? They don’t seriously expect us to ride a camel? I can barely walk or see straight. And you want to put me on a camel?” The answer of course was yes. At least I had the good sense about me to actually take a video of the camels as well as several photos. According to my camel-mate, I said “I cannot believe I am on a camel” a bunch of times. In all fairness I never expected to ever see a camel much less ride one… in the desert… in Israel. Actually I’m sure if I had memory of the event, I probably would have loved it. Next time can we do this while… I don’t know… I’m awake?
The Kfar Hanokdim accommodations were very cute. We called it the Treehouse because it was kinda was built like one and this is what was outside the room. I was just too tired to fully love on the room (48+ hours remember!), but really that was probably the prettiest place we stayed.
I can’t describe the village to be honest. It felt so oddly familiar that it was almost insane. Maybe it was because I like themed hotels. Maybe it’s because I used to find all the little hiding spots when wandering the Mai-kai’s Gardens. Maybe it is because my parents used to summer out west when I was little. Maybe it is just because I like to camp. Maybe it is because I do a lot of medieval history reenactment, I don’t know but I do know that the village felt right. I want to go to Kfar Hanokdim again.
We did a little listening to one of the people who lived on the village, then did various text studies and I think I came out as a lunatic when I pointed out what words spoke to me and how they reminded me of HaShem telling me I was His. Then we did dinner.
My stomach, always highly suspicious, decided to try the food as I realised I was going to have to eat something and certainly neither the bamba nor the weird pop-rock chocolate that Hillel gave us killed me so I would have to trust people and be adventurous. I do not like adventure. I am the most boring eater on this side of the planet. It wasn’t bad, just I don’t know how they expected us to eat everything as they never stopped serving! I would learn later this is one of those Israeli things, you are going to eat until you burst then you are going to have to take one more bite. After all your mother (and if not your mother someone’s mother) worked so hard to prepare all this!
We went out to wander under the desert. I can’t light a match to save my soul but that’s ok because no one who had matches could light their candle either. Generally if I am going to communicate with HaShem, I do need the dark and silence. I didn’t get silence because of the nigguns being sung. I was actually surprised and how much light there was. In the middle of nowhere I would have expected to see lots of stars but I just didn’t see them. That made me horribly homesick for my skies in Georgia where I could see the galaxies and it was so easy to talk to HaShem. I just didn’t feel Him and that scared me. I couldn’t talk to Him in that desert. I felt very lonely right then. Maybe HaShem didn’t want to talk. Maybe He just wasn’t there.
I slept quite well and the next morning after a really weird breakfast, we started to head out. I didn’t even notice that it was my favourite American holiday, Halloween, which of course is not really celebrated in Israel.
We were supposed to take a hike (Go Take a Hike!) but we instead went to Masada. When I heard that, my ears perked. This place is known to studiers of Jewish history although I admit in my studies of classical antiquity I had never heard of it. Basically the Romans tried to squish the Jews, a bunch of Jews went to Masada, the Romans camped out and built a ramp up Masada and eventually all the Jews were found dead except for a few women and children who basically had no one to kill them.
That was one of those places I wanted photos of but my camera decided to die on me and I left my cell phone in my several pound travel vest in the bus. So I have no photos of Masada. Waaaah! We went up the Roman ramp which really looked nothing like a ramp so who knows how it got it’s English name.
The park was very interesting. Remember I am a history buff and this was my first time wandering around something so ancient and places where ancient relatives of mine once were. As I touched the stones, I could sense the Roman army and I could even sense the Jews present. I could not help but get a little seasick knowing that my ancestors (the Italians) had a hand in this. Just another time when my ancestors killed Jews for no real reason. I think this was my first time being present at the location of a mass suicide. Our tour guide dressed up and put on a very convincing persona as he told the story. I wish I had recorded him.
“I’m sorry guys,” I thought to myself, “My ancestors really should have let you be.”
(Some part of me now wants to get a little cute and for my next SCA persona do a very very early period Jewish persona in Masada. The outfit would be great for summer plus I am more of a fighter in summer. My “real” Jewish persona that I am developing is better for cooler climates.)
After Masada, which I will go back to one day, we headed off to the Dead Sea.
A few of us ate first and when we went to change, it was odd that it was locker room only with no bathrooms. One of the members of the group didn’t even think about the fact I really did need to change in the stalls. To him I was just one of the guys. How nice. Apparently the only person who worries about my equipment is me.
The Dead Sea was… well… salty… and… well… dead… I don’t think anyone can truly prepare you for the fact you really do float… as in I could not even walk into or out of the sea because my feet could not touch the ground for parts. Yet where there was actually mud, it was like quicksand. Seriously. I think the Dead Sea is bipolar. I think this is listed as something to do in Israel so that the locals can laugh at some of us who keep ending up with face fulls of water. So I was in it to say I did it and went out after a few minutes. No mud for me and I’m ok with that.
So we head back to Tel Aviv and ROCKS were thrown at our bus and cracked the window when we weren’t far from a checkpoint. The bus driver was less than amused. (Honestly, I remember this happening on the 30th, but my notes say it was on the drive back to Tel Aviv on 31st).
We arrive at the Artplus hotel (and don’t let the website fool you it was not *that* pretty and I don’t even know where that photo was taken). I don’t think anyone really liked the Artplus but the food was nice and but I am now officially addicted to rugelach because of them. My roommate and I apparently had one of the bigger rooms since we had a corner and we did have a view, but that room was not that big at all! About half the size of my bedroom and a quarter of the size of my bathroom. Everyone commented on the size. I hate to know how small everyone else’s rooms were!
Anyway we had a nice meal, but there was just too much politics being discussed before hand. Politics makes me queasy. I know I had something “different”… I want to say it was either duck or goose so my mother should be proud of me. We learned the shul we were going to was going to the next day was going to be the tour guide’s shul and we saw photos of his family (his kids are just too cute) and we’d meet them the next day at the park.
Lots of other people went out but you know, everything goes on so late in Israel that it was way past my bed time. Scary for a nightowl to say but hey I was tired!