I just had a discussion with Erin about how to write day four, which culminated in: “My takeaway from this day of birthright can’t just be ‘I had mulberries, they were good.'” She laughed, but provided no suggestions.
My day four notes are vague in some places places, scathing in others. Our first stop of the day was Tzipori, an ancient fortress and archeological site.1 We walked along the above and below-ground ruins, toured the museum,2 and took too many photos on the roof. I further disappointed our trip leaders by refusing to take part in a group photo of “all the ladies”.3 I did, however, join a mixed-gender photo later on. There appear to be no surviving copies of this photograph, but I promise it happened.4
I asked Dima what kinds of dye they used to paint the mosaic tiles, specifically. Mineral? Plant? Animal? What colors were they originally? He gave me the “are you really asking that” look and then did his best to provide a professional answer.5
On the way back to the bus, I noticed that five people had split off from our group and were milling around a tree near the parking lot. I walked over.
“What’s going on?”
“We found berries in this tree. I think they’re blackberries or something, but we’re not sure.”
I want you to understand this. These were five grown adults eating berries off a tree that they could not identify. I considered this briefly, equally disturbed by the fact that they must have never seen blackberries outside of a plastic carton, because blackberries absolutely do not grow on trees. I inspected one of the berries.
“These are mulberries, guys.” I had mulberries. They were good.6
We hopped back on the bus for the two-hour drive to Jerusalem. Along the way, we stopped off for the Israelis who’d be joining our group.7
After a quick getting-to-know-you exercise in what appeared to be a quiet park where the locals go to enjoy their lunch hour in peace, we were sent to explore the Jerusalem shuk. We were even assigned a mission- our group’s was to obtain “baked goods” for Shabbat. This in itself was ambiguous. Did “baked goods” mean dessert or bread? We bought both.
I want you to imagine, for a second, the busiest hour of the busiest shopping day of the year. Now imagine that it happens every Friday. Now throw 40 American tourists in there. It was terrifying. The biggest challenge was trying to protect my ankle as I was stepped on, elbowed, shoved, and bumped by the crowd for two hours. The second biggest challenge was staying with my group, who alternately stopped at inopportune moments to take photos of things like avocados, or raced off in opposite directions.8 I went into full Morocco mode, walking in the streets alongside cars, taking shortcuts behind shops, shoulder checking anyone shorter than me (read: kids), and generally trying not to hyperventilate. Unlike Morocco, though, nobody groped me or cat-called as I walked by. Point for Israel.
Our evening consisted of my first ever Shabbat candle lighting, which I don’t remember much about because I’m pretty sure I was making smart-aleck remarks to whoever was standing next to me. This was followed by a prayer circle in the frigid hotel parking lot, which turned into a songs-I-don’t-know-the-words-to circle, which finally became a dance-on-one-foot-because-your-ankle-is-done-trying circle. That last bit actually worked out well, since many Jewish dances only require one foot on the ground.
I didn’t write much about Shabbat dinner in my notes: “Dinner, vegetables, whatever”.9
Our next activity was so upsetting that I can’t paste my original comments here. My grandparents read this blog. We had 15 minutes to learn and choreograph a song in Hebrew and then perform it for judges (Mollie, Jake, and Dima) American Idol style. This was the only time on the trip that I considered walking out.
Later, though, in the hotel lobby, one of the Israelis10 broke out his guitar and the group had a musical night of our own. I sang all evening, sang my way back to my hotel room, sang while I brushed my teeth,11, and sang myself into bed.
- Dima originally described this excursion as a ‘little hike’, which was misleading because it was just a normal stroll past ruins and into a museum. Nevertheless, my ankle was glad for the break. [↩]
- The most interesting feature was the famous “Mona Lisa of the Galilee”, an intricate mosaic set into the floor of one of the ancient buildings. [↩]
- What could possibly be the point? It’s not like we were making a pin-up calendar or trying to reassure paranoid family members back home that there were no menfolk around. [↩]
- Those who know me well will recall that I’m averse to photos of any kind, so it’s a rare feat of peer pressure that catches me on camera. Even rarer without a scowl. It happened several times on this trip, and was one of the miracles of Birthright. [↩]
- If any prospective tour guide employers are reading this, you should know that Dima is wonderful at his job and you ought to hire him immediately because he did not slap me any of the times I asked unnecessarily specific questions. [↩]
- Once when I was a kid, I climbed the mulberry tree in my backyard, picked as many berries as I could fit in a plastic bag, crushed them up, dumped them into a jar, and proudly presented it to my mum as “mulberry jam” for Mother’s Day. [↩]
- We picked them up from the side of the road, where they were standing dejectedly with their suitcases, and then subjected each one to an onslaught of questions and cheering as they stepped onto the bus. One had a guitar case slung across his back. “What’s in the case?” “Um… a guitar.” Obviously. [↩]
- To her credit, Moran, the Israeli assigned to our group, was a champ. She managed to keep the group together up until the very end, when we lost one of the Hannahs. It seemed like an acceptable loss, since there were four more Hannahs to spare. [↩]
- While there were nearly always vegetarian options during the trip, they were also identical at every meal. Lettuce. Cooked carrots. Potatoes in oil. Lettuce in escaped potato oil. They did have harissa, which was an unexpected delight. [↩]
- Orel, though it was days before I memorized his name. [↩]
- Don’t try this at home, kids. You’ll just drool everywhere. It’s not attractive. [↩]