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Israel Dialogue Students Reflect on Their Experience

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MarissaMARISSA R. FLORIO

What did you learn about Israel on the Dialogue trip that most surprised you?

It’s an extraordinarily beautiful and incredibly fun place. Nothing like I had ever imagined the Middle East!

Describe the most memorable moment from your trip. 

Our Shabbat dinners were the best. Our whole group would get together on Friday nights for a potluck-style dinner, each preparing a dish. Dragging in extra chairs and tables and all sitting down for nice conversation was the best way to end the week, and it really demonstrated how close we all became over the few short weeks.

What souvenir did you take home that had the most meaning and why?

All the photos I took and the experiences I had were the best things to come home with. I didn’t buy too many “souvenirs” – I spent my money at Topshop instead. No regrets!

Where did you have the best falafel?

I don’t like falafel – blasphemous, I know! But I found plenty of fantastic food regardless.

 

RACHEL HILLER8905347261_75ef06ae2c_b-1

What did you learn about Israel on the Dialogue trip that most surprised you?

I think the thing I learned that surprised me the most was how very integrated into the modern city of Jerusalem the “settlements” on the other side of the ‘67 line are. [the parts of East Jerusalem that became part of the state of Israel after the 1967 war]. In the press you always hear that Israel should split Jerusalem back into the ‘67 lines. You hear people say that it would be easy but that Israel doesn’t want to do that at all. Having been there and seeing that the ‘67 border is along a modern rail line and right in the middle of a thriving city, I realize more now than I did before how much of a tall order this would be for Israel to do. I think that if anything this made me realize that without being there you really have no idea what it’s like in Israel. Without being there and seeing where lines are, where borders used to be, and how much the city has grown, it’s easy to blame one side or the other for the situation. When you go there however, and see the situation, I think you get a better feel for the true complexity and that there isn’t any easy answer or one fix that would solve all the problems.

Describe the most memorable moment from your trip. 

My most memorable moment from the trip was the tour of the Christian quarter of the old city. This experience was new to everyone on the trip, even those who had done Birthright and been to Israel before. [Birthright is an educational organization that sponsors free trips to Israel for Jewish young adults.] What made it so special was that we all knew the Christ story in some way, and some of us had personal religious connections to the sites we saw, some of us had just historical interest in what we saw, and some of us had no real idea what the importance was. So this was one of the tours that brought out the group’s diversity. It allowed us to bond over a very special experience for some of us in the group and gain some understanding of how important Jerusalem is to everyone of all faiths. It also was an eye opening experience for those who did do Birthright. It showed how much more the city had to offer than had been seen on a previous trip to the country.

What souvenir did you take home that had the most meaning and why?

My favorite souvenir was probably my gift for my grandmother. It was a small rosary bead necklace just like ones I’ve seen her use all through my life but this one had a small engraving of Jerusalem on the back. It also happened to be blessed on the anointing rock, which is where Jesus was prepared for burial after the Crucifixion and is said to have the healing power of Christ in it. I myself am not a particularly religious person but found that being able to bring back such a meaningful gift for my grandma was pretty amazing. It also is sure to make her one of the coolest grandmas at her next rosary circle.

Where did you have the best falafel?

I can honestly say that every single piece of falafel that I had on this trip was so far superior to anything I had eaten before that it’s hard to choose a favorite. If I was pressed for an answer I’d say that my favorite — and this maybe because I was starving at the time — was in a small alley in Acre (Akko) in this little tiny place that I don’t even think had a name. Our tour guide set up a quick falafel break after a long morning and this one was particularly warm and delicious.

 

50ELIJAH MUHAMMAD

What did you learn about Israel on the Dialogue trip that most surprised you?

I honestly was so surprised at how calm everyone was. It was just like a summer vacation set in an amazingly historic place. Yes, there were guns and protests but as a whole I couldn’t believe how safe I felt. I could go on walks during breaks for exercise and really go wherever the city took me. Everyone was helpful in getting me back to Ramban Street. I don’t know if the same could be said for Boston natives during the scorching summer. After my horrific experience in the airport [Elijah was profiled by security because he shared a name with someone on a watch list], I thought it might be sketchy that my last name was Muhammad but it never became a problem again. When it did, I got to have some dialogue with people just generally interested in me and why I was there for the summer. I wasn’t expecting to meet people in the grocery store and end up talking for 30 minutes and even exchanging numbers in some cases. I think most people on the trip met someone interesting that they weren’t expecting to. I think that speaks volumes for the place and it’s magic.

Describe the most memorable moment from your trip

The most memorable moment of my trip was my baptism in the River Jordan. I could have never imagined I would be in Israel in the first place and I never expected to get baptized in such an awesomely important place. I’m a Baptist so I was baptized once before but I thought it was important to rededicate myself. The experience was also memorable because everyone on the trip was so excited for me. I was completely overwhelmed with how much it mattered to everyone that I had a chance to experience that. Although heavily Jewish focused, the trip did try to include other faiths and, when it succeeded, it was magical. I was extremely overwhelmed at how everyone supported me as I got to do something so deeply meaningful to my faith.

What souvenir did you take home that had the most meaning and why?

The souvenir that meant the most to was the holy water and oil I bought at the Jordan River for family members and friends. Although it seems like a cheesy gift, it was amazing to see how much people appreciated it. The whole time I was there I remember thinking of how much my grandmother would love holy water from Israel and how much it would mean that I actually got a chance to go. I thought of how clichéd things like that can be until you’re actually in a place that you know so many of your ancestors dreamed of going and never got the chance.

Where did you have the best falafel?

Sadly, falafel and me don’t get along. However, I did make a daily trip to Aldo for their gelato — it is addicting.

Read the rest of the Haverim Fall 2013 Newsletter here.