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Thursday, April 19, 2018

"I don't know which was better, the jeep rides or this!" - Cale

Image result for alterman silver platter

Our first stop in Tel Aviv was Kikar Rabin. We only spent a few minutes there for the Yom HaZikaron siren. We saw the cars stopping and the people on their balconies, talked briefly about Rabin and the square (we'll be back tomorrow to talk more), and then headed to the Palmach Museum. I don't know if it sank in for everyone - the connection between The Silver Platter and the Palmach Museum and Tel Aviv. It was very meaningful to me, though, to start here on Yom HaZikaron in tribute to the fact that all of the amazingness that TA has to offer was fought and sacrificed for. We even ran into an actual 90 year old Palmachnik who told us about his personal accounts.

Switching gears, we headed to the Taglit/Birthright Innovation Center at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. There are demonstrations and displays of all kinds of hi-tech innovations and a discussion about why Israelis are innovative. It's such an inspiring place. It really reminds the kids how important it is to study computer programming and combine it with Tikun Olam.

After, we went back to Shfayim and prepared for the Mini Israel Canada-Israel Experience Yom Ha'Atzmaut Extravaganza. It was wonderful to see Ross, Nathan, Daniel, and Yael back in Israel and even Mini Israel where I celebrated with them as grade 9 students. And to see Tamar and Sydney who I haven't taught for a long time but are obviously long-time TT-ers. The kids were also delighted to see all their BBYO buddies. Cale went so far as to hint that the party may have been more enjoyable than EVEN the jeep rides (as if that's possible!).

At the ceremony, they showed a video of a survivor who had his bar mitzvah in Krakow during this March of the Living and read Magash HaKeseph. Gil Troy was the keynote speaker and identified seven miracles of Israel. From the revival of Hebrew to the overachieving scientists to the stupifying military triumphs, he brought home the point that Magash HaKesef also makes.

But the transition happened as it does every year. As Gil pointed out, the War of Independence began the day after the UN vote of 1947. The greatest joy had turned into grave sorrow. And now we have the privilege and even the duty to flip that and celebrate what has been served on magash hakesef. They moshpitted for hours, we all had some shwarma and felafel, and finally it was back to Shfayim.

Today we were invited to Osi's former teacher Nechama Weiss's house in Beit Yanai for more celebration. We brought the food, Sami (our driver) cooked it with Rafa (our medic), we went to the beach next door, and ended with dinner in Tel Aviv.

I hope that the TT assembly went well and that the community extravaganza tonight is also as fun as the jeep rides. Chag sameach, everyone!

You can see our live greeting at

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"I’m scared of heights, too, but camel riding is awesome!" - Genesis

According to a few of the botanists we've met in the Negev thus far, the sweetest tomatoes grow in salty water like that of the early days of Be'er Sheva. That's where Tomer's from, too! So take that for what it's worth...

You can think of our trip to the Negev as three key encounters:
1) Encounters with the people
2) Encounters with the rocks
3) Encounters with vegetables

It started Sunday morning with an orientation at Sha’ar LaNegev – The Gates of the Negev institute of Be’er Sheva. It was an interactive introduction to the idea of the Negev, the importance of it’s development, and some of the ways that Ben Gurion’s dream and the country’s needs are being realized in the desert. The idea is that this is a plot of land making up 60% of Israel’s overall territory. If it can be populated and fostered, there’s no telling what potential could be unlocked.

This was something realized by the earliest of olim. It was Ben Gurion’s vision, and it continues to be a key strategy for helping the rapidly expanding population thrive. Cutting edge renewable energy and agro-tech, educational systems, and other futuristic stuff were all part of the presentation. I haven’t been there before and I was pretty busy trying to take pictures, but maybe the kids can fill you in a little more.

With that introduction in mind we headed to Lekiah to see Amal ( After hearing her story it’s easy to understand that while the desert is blooming, there is still a lot of blooming to be done. And with that, I turn it over to Danny and Tomer and their description of the camel rides:

"We entered the Negev and dropped anchor at a Bedouin Camp. We were given an hour to settle in, until soon after it was our turn to hop onto the camels.  It started with a quick video about camel safety, but it was cut short due to the time and lack of sunlight.   It’s too bad we didn’t get to the part of putting on a helmet since we ended up spending half the ride trying to fit Tomer’s helmet on his head while riding a camel.  Let me tell you, it’s not easy.  

Just before we hopped on the camels Danny wished for one to spit on a particular CJA participant. Later in the ride everyone heard a sneeze and turned their head’s to see Danny sitting disgusted on his camel, looking around and saying “Ewww the camel spit all over me.” That’s Karma. He even mentioned how his dad had joked with him saying “don’t get spit on by a camel!”

The camel ride came to an end and we had an amazing dinner.  They brought us these huge plates with koos koos and meatballs and pita."

Just one question for Danny: why did we need an anchor for the desert?

After a yummy meal and a campfire with smores, we zipped up the tent and when we awoke, it was time for Masada.

We skipped the sunrise and arrived at Masada well fed and ready to rock (yes, I’m resorting to puns, now). If you want to see a deep and meaningful interpretation of Masada I would recommend Bread and Circuses from 2015 ( I would like to point out the amazing job Stav did hydrating the kids (and adults). Not one of us could stop doing the pee dance all the way down the Snake Path.

Then it was time for the Dead Sea. People really liked learning the science and doing the mud and floating. But the day wasn’t done yet. Our final stop was Machtesh Ramon, and we’re staying across the street. I just checked and I can see it from my hostel window! Between Masada and Machtesh Ramon, you can see how many encounters with rocks we did indeed have.

Suddenly, it was Tuesday. It started with more encounters with rocks at Ein Avdat before a visit to Ben Gurion’s grave (complete with headstand practice) and a Negev farm. We even got to eat Negev fruits and veggies (sweetest tomatoes indeed!) right off the plants! I’ve never been to Negev greenhouses before and I was in awe. It was hot and not all the science sunk in but it was generally a wrap-up of what we’ve been seeing for the three days – it’s rough here! It’s hard to grow stuff. It’s salty, it’s barren, but it can be done.

That’s Israel, too. They’ve got, and they’ve always had, a rough time. The visit to the Negev has been a perfect metaphor for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut coming up. It’s been salty over the last 70 years, but the sweetest tomatoes grow in the salty water.