The end of the Israel Connect Program

I haven’t had time to keep up with this blog over the past week because it has been incredibly hectic and exhausting. We basically had four half days to see the biggest sites in Israel, and we still had to practice almost every morning at 6:30am.  It was a great experience but I’m glad it’s over and we are finally moving on to the competition stage of the trip!  The opening ceremonies for the Maccabiah Games are tonight but the field hockey games don’t start until the 21st.  Luckily, we were able to organize a scrimmage with Holland this morning.  I was excited but also nervous.  It’s been a long time since I’ve played in a game that actually mattered.  We won 4-1, which was great but the main purpose of this post is to recap the Israel Connect program.  I took about 200 pictures so I’ll try to only post the best ones.

My last post was about our trip to Tel Aviv and the beach so I’ll start with our second day where we explored some very, very old caves. Unfortunately I don’t remember a lot about the purpose of the caves, but I took a lot of pictures because they were really cool looking.  It was hard to pay attention to the tour guides at times because it was ungodly hot, we were all exhausted from getting up early, and my feet hurt both from practice and walking.  Also, we had so little time at each place that they had to fly through the explanations and since I’m not familiar with biblical stories, it was too much for me to follow.  Here are some pictures:

These were just the first set of caves we went through.  We also went through some dark caves where birds and water were stored but my pictures didn’t come out very well.  After that we went through some caves that hadn’t been fully excavated, which meant we had to crawl through very small tunnels and we couldn’t bring anything with us, even cameras.  They told us to wear clothes we could get dirty because we would be practically lying in the dirt, but our coach must’ve done a face plant somewhere along the route!  Actually she was trying to be funny.  Classic Tonj (inside joke on the field hockey team).

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The next day we went to Jerusalem.  I thought Jerusalem was really beautiful, both because of the geography of it (it’s built in a valley surrounded by hills) and the old buildings, but to be honest, I didn’t really have a spiritual experience or feel like I was home.  It’s the holiest city in the world but to me it was just interesting and beautiful.

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Of course the highlight of the trip to Jerusalem for most people is the Western Wall.  However, it was actually really difficult for me.  I wanted to feel something like a higher power or a deep emotional connection to the spirituality of the place, but as I was walking in and I saw the sign indicating where the women had to enter to go to our special, smaller section of the wall and after I had to change into an outfit that covered my knees and shoulders but men could walk in wearing whatever they wanted, I couldn’t help but think that this is exactly the kind of stuff that I hate about religion.  I don’t have a problem with the idea of believing in God as a concept of course, but it’s how God has been used to oppress people that I cannot stand.  I don’t want to be part of a religion that says I’m not as good as a man, and in orthodox Judaism women are horribly oppressed, and not even allowed to study the Torah because that is only for men.  So the Wall was a bit hard for me to swallow.

Luckily, the next day was an adventure day: the Dead Sea, Masada, and dinner in a Bedouin village.  I was not expecting to be so incredibly blown away by the Dead Sea and Masada.  I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting but the vast beauty of the place was almost overwhelming.  If I had any kind of spiritual experience on this trip, this is definitely where it happened.  I was just in utter awe of the beauty and strangeness of nature, as well as man’s ability to accomplish amazing things like building a giant temple on top of a cliff in the desert thousands of years ago.  I definitely want to go back with Wes when he arrives.  The Bedouin dinner was fun but we were all just completely exhausted.  I basically stuffed my face with the delicious food and wanted to pass out, but had to wait an hour or so for the buses to take us back to the hotel.  Thankfully, we did not have practice the following morning.

The last day of our tour was a somber one: Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, and Mt. Herzl, the national cemetery for the Israeli military.  Yad Vashem was very moving of course, and it was good for me I think because it helped me realize that, even though I am not a practicing Jew and I don’t really want to be, I will always be Jewish because it is my heritage and I am part of this community that was victim to one of the most horrific atrocities in history.  As far as I know, all of my family had already left eastern Europe before WWII.  In fact, most of them were already in the U.S. during WWI.  Yet, those who died in the Holocaust were just like me.  It could have been me.  No matter what I think or feel about religion, I will always be Jewish and there will always be people that will hate me for that fact alone.  So in some ways, ending the tour with Yad Vashem was a great reminder to me about why I am here competing in the Maccabiah Games with thousands of other Jewish athletes from around the world.

For the competition phase of the games, we have switched hotels and are now located on the beach in Tel Aviv. Not too shabby, eh?

View from our hotel rooftop

View from our hotel rooftop

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