My second month on this journey included a lot less teaching and a lot more traveling (seriously – a lot less teaching, due to the Jewish holidays I can count the days I’ve been in class on one hand). Don’t get me wrong, October was incredibly busy; between Masa events, endless holidays, and trips around the country, it feels as if we haven’t even had a spare minute to grab an Aroma coffee.
The month started with Rosh Hashanah with my family in Gan Yavne. Luckily for me, I have an endless supply of family in Israel to spend holidays with and who load me up with boxes full of leftovers to bring home to my eager roomies. What amazes me about holidays with my family is the infinite supply of food. Sure, anyone who comes from a Jewish background is used to have an irrational amount of food at the table during Shabbat and holidays, but I’m talking a whole new level of food excess. I don’t recall one hour during both Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot where there wasn’t some sort of delicious Israeli food covering every inch of the table. I had to be rolled back home to Rishon when the holidays ended.
After a couple sporadic school days separated again by Yom Kippur, we had our 10-day break for Sukkot. I spent more time with family and visited a cousin in the beautiful city of Netanya, and then we had an organized trip to the north of the country. We visited the ancient city of Tzipori and spent two beautiful (read: sweaty) days hiking the Golan Heights through scenic mountains, rivers, and gorgeous waterfalls. The highlight of north tiyul was the surprise visit to the De Karina chocolate factory, where we all got a chance to tour the gourmet chocolate factory and then get our hands dirty with a chocolate-making workshop.
From the northern most part of Israel, we trekked all the way opposite end. My roomies and I rented a couple of absolutely minuscule cars, stuffed them with snacks, plugged in our music (the road trip usual: Disney songs, Israeli pop music, classic 90’s hits, etc.), and made the half-day trip down to Eilat. It felt so liberating to drive after months of relying mainly on public transportation, and the drive down to the southernmost tip of Israel was the ideal road-trip route. We drove through the middle of the country and made a stop at both Sde Boker and a lookout over Mitzpe Ramon. Sde Boker, Ben Gurion’s burial site, is a garden oasis stealthily tucked away in the middle of the desert. Rather than be buried in Jerusalem with all the other prominent Israeli leaders, Ben Gurion wanted his burial site to reflect his vision of seeing the desert flourish, and walking through the quiet garden on a path winding through a variety of local flora and wildlife one can appreciate that his dream was accomplished. After spending too much time ogling the views on offer at the burial site and teetering on the edge of the Mitzpe Ramon crater, we finally made it to Eilat.
Eilat is a peculiar place: it’s not a special city compared to other places in Israel, the beaches leave a lot to be desired, and the Red Sea is absolutely freezing, but there is so much to do in around the city that it makes it a worthwhile stop. On our first night we walked around to explore our surroundings and then had a delicious Asian dinner to celebrate a couple birthdays. The next day we spent at Coral Beach Nature Reserve where we got to do some snorkeling. After spending this summer backpacking and snorkeling at every chance I got, I felt like a seasoned veteran at staring at fish and coral, but I have to say even after being jaded by the crystal blue waters of Southeast Asia, the Red Sea definitely holds its own. The water is so clear and clean and the sea life is some of the best I’ve ever seen. The next day, joined by a few other MITF friends who also came down to Eilat, we all rented a boat together and set sail on the sea for a short sunset swim tour. We had a blast diving off the boat, sharing some beers, and having our pictures taken on the bow pretending we were Jack and Rose on the Titanic. (What? Isn’t that what everyone does when they’re on a boat?)After lazing around by the sea for a few days, we decided to do a couple hikes to get a different view of Eilat. The first hike, Mount Tzafahot, was a sunrise hike so we had to be out of the hostel by 5am. We got sketchy directions to the base of the mountain, and after driving aimlessly down an unpaved and unlit desert road, we lost phone signal somewhere past a camel ranch and had a slight meltdown when we took a wrong turn at what was probably Egypt, but we finally made it. Once at the top of the mountain, we were rewarded by the view of the sun rising over two continents and four countries. We all felt incredibly lucky to be exactly where we were as we sat there together overlooking Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. After another hike through the Red Canyon and a drive through the Hai Bar Safari, we found ourselves exhausted and back in Rishon preparing for another week of school.
Yesterday was Halloween, but there were no sweets, costumes, or parties. We’ll have to wait for Purim for that. However, there was a Masa mega-event in Jerusalem for the thousands of Masa participants scattered around Israel. We took our seats in an auditorium full of young adults from over 60 countries here to volunteer, learn, teach, or intern for varying lengths of time. At first, we thought that we might have been tricked in to attending an event full of speeches and mandatory applause on a night where most of us would rather be dressing up, but we were delighted to be treated to a night of dancing and performances by top Israeli artists. We may have missed out on Halloween ghouls, but the spirits in the auditorium were high.After a busy month of eating, more eating, and traveling around the country, it’s back to business as usual for us English teachers. But hey, when you’re living with your best friends in a short distance from the beach and amazing food, business as usual doesn’t seem so bad.