(I have a bad habit of posting twice in a row. Just under this is my post about my trip home to Florida, Rosh Chodesh Shvat, and Michelle's Vort... so don't neglect it just because I have a bad posting schedule please!)
One of the things that was pointed out to me this year that's particularly incredible about Israel is that, unless you have personal ties outside the country, you never really have to leave. Want history? We got it... the best, oldest, and richest in the world. Want culture? Whatever you want... museums, culture, dining, it's all here and you can have it--kosher or treif, whatever your preference (I hope kosher). Want a tropical vacation? Eilat's beaches are some of the best in the world. Or you can check out Tel Aviv's beach. Nightclubs, hiking (desert mountains or lush tropics, your call), more activism and community service than I've ever seen, more PhDs per capita than any country in the world, advanced technology, great education, oceans, lakes, deserts, SKIING even. The holiest and the most secular. All in a country that would fit inside New Jersey.
I don't even want to think about comparing the offerings of Israel to those of New Jersey.
I'd never been to Eilat before and I was completely blown away. First off, from one mountaintop (where Lynn gave a shiur on emunah [faith] and we said the whole book of Tehillim [Psalms]) we could see Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia in one eyefull. Insane.
The trip really should not have been called the Eilat Tiyul but "Eilat and the Negev" because we spent most of our time hiking in the Negev desert. Now, I thought, oh, MRC "hiking" is nothing. Usually their version of "challenging" means "maybe don't bring grandma." But this was more like scaling a cliff. There were for sure times I just couldn't look down because we were literally climbing a peak and it sloped down at as much as an 80 degree angle on either side. Two hours of it. The second day the hike was just as long but less climbing and more walking and it was also incredible. The first hike was in Machtesh Hagadol ("The Great Crater") and the second day was in the Eilat mountains. Let me see if I have some good pictures to illustrate:
This one gives you a good idea how steep the hike was. Say hi to Sarah! Note the Rabbi's daughter barely hanging on just behind her. This hike was like an advertisement for hiking shoes with good traction. I have no IDEA how we didn't just keep slipping right back down. (If you click the picture you can see it larger... some of these are hard to see so small.)
How gorgeous is this? I can't believe how tiny we are!
Again, showing steepness. Note that this is not the "climbing" part, this is just the straight up walking part. The climbing, which was about a good third of the hike, required pulling ourselves up with our hands.
A break on our way up the mountain. Notice what we are about to climb, in the top center of the picture. THAT'S why we're taking a break!
The way back down was a lot easier, but still... insane.
Teeny tiny sem girls on a huuuuuge boulder.
This is from the second hike. More walking, more breathtaking views, a bit less rock climbing.
Me and my shnookums after the second day's hike. We did it!
Note that my pictures are only from when my hands are free and I'm not about to faint... so the hike was a lot more intense than even this!
After two days of really hard hiking, it was so incredible to be on the beach, lying out. Leia and I were beach buddies and we had an amazing time. We got Heinekens, laid out in the sun, then went SNORKELING!--so amazing--then got ourselves some ice cream while we dried off. Perfect beach day. They played music over the loudspeakers and it was all just us girls in our own private bit of beach.
Then we went to the Eilat Hesder yeshiva, Ayelet Hashachar where we heard Rabbi Rothkopf talk about his experience of bringing Torah to a totally secular, separated (by miles of desert) town. The whole place is very small and it's had a religious explosion. What's really cool about it, he told us, was that you have all these different "branches" of Orthodoxy all getting along there. Someone could wear a Nachman kippa, daven Chabad, and donate to Hesder while learning at yet another yeshiva. That's not something you see in a lot of places... it's really incredible.
After a trip like that all I want to do is make aliyah. This country is just so incredible, you can't help but love it. And I know that any possibility is far off in the future, but it can't hurt to start thinking now! I definitely got a nice wake-up call when I found out that my old roommate, Noelle, has moved to South Africa to continue her work with Keep a Child Alive (check out her blog at http://sanibonasouthafrica.blogspot.com/). And here I'm hesitating about the time I'm spending here, the Jewish homeland, when the best, most life-changing part of my life has been growing and developing as a Jew? Where people actually SPEAK the holy tongue and the greatest Torah minds walk the street with you? I literally had these insane dreams about it last night and couldn't even function this morning because it was getting to me so much. I stayed home and did what I always do when I'm stressed. I did my laundry.