[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective-part 4 of 11] A Shabbat in Israel


The original journal entry spanned the welcoming of the sabbath and continued through the remainder of Friday and Saturday, July 22-23, 2011. Find it by clicking this sentence.

My first שבת (Shabbat) in Israel was wonderful, and was really only my second time truly getting to enjoy a Shabbat experience. (The first time was earlier in 2011, when KOACH Kallah was at Northwestern.)

Prior to the trip, שבת usually meant going to services on Friday evening and/or Saturday morning. However, in my undergraduate years, I did not take sabbatical time from homework. Therefore, I used to be a particularly nasty hypocrite by going to services but then doing homework at other points of the day!

Though I had enjoyed שבתות prior to my first Israel experience, the fact that I was much more intimately involved with the spirit of the day, and with potentially like-minded people (though I later found out that I was one of the most ritually-observant of the Americans, which wasn’t saying very much…) made it a special experience. Moreover, it inspired me to make future שבתות, even in the States, like this one.

It was really special for me to go to services the next morning, even though there was no מיניין (quorum of 10 Jewish adults, and male since the synagogue on קיבוץ פרוד (Kibbutz Parod) was Orthodox) there [as I said in my journal, I was the only trip-goer who was up at that hour! Ha!]. Getting to take in services with Israelis, though maybe not an initial goal of mine, became a highlight of the trip. I would love to go back at some point, and maybe find a מסורתי (Masorti: Conservative) synagogue to compare and contrast to, say, Beth Jacob, Tifereth Israel, or Beth Hillel-Congregation B’nai Emunah.

Realizing that enjoying שבת involves negative commandments (e.g. don’t use electricity or fire, don’t do “work,” don’t write, etc.), there are also plenty of things that one SHOULD do, such as be joyous, study תורה (Torah), and relax. This relaxation involved icebreaker games on Friday evening, conversations throughout the 25 hours, swimming in the pool on the Saturday afternoon, and playing card games. And getting sunburnt… just joshing about that being relaxing on the latter!

Since Birthright ended, I have refrained from academic or professional work on שבת, but still do other types of מלכות (forbidden work on Shabbat) like driving, travelling by bike, writing, or using a computer for entertainment purposes. However, when I am with Jewish friends, it is much easier to avoid some of these acts. The שבתות that I have spent with my (non-Birthright) friend Sarah’s family this year have been fully relaxing, with reading, walks, Bananagrams, and conversations. No need for computers or TV when this occurs!  Additionally, this was true at Northwestern Hillel in the subsequent years when I would go to Saturday services. (Even though I was usually not good at Settlers of Catan!)

Therefore, the consideration of שבת was one major impact of Birthright on me.

And tomorrow, I will be reflecting on the trip to צפת (Safed) and/or the Independence Museum in תל אביב (Tel Aviv).


Kenosha: 9 days.

Orientation: 23 days.

Day 1: 46 days.

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[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective-part 3 of 11] Take a hike!

July 22, 2011: We hiked in the Golan Heights and prepared for Shabbat after a long day with a few mishaps. The journal intentionally went only from when I got up in the morning until we brought in Shabbat, and so my reflection will only consider that time.

This sentence is a link to the original journal.

And now, I want to reflect on hiking and leading a pack.


In the journal, I referred to the hiking on the Gilabon trail as “great cross training” since I was training for the Wrigley Field Road Tour that summer as well, and I wanted to have some physical activity during the trip in order to make up for the missing cycling activity.

Well, we definitely got THAT (physical activity) during the trip! I did not have a pedometer on me (and I don’t think that any fitness watches commonly existed at the time), but I would imagine that we all exceeded 10,000 steps each day, possibly excluding the שבתות (Shabbatot). Touring around and moving about a lot can still create good exercise!

Prior to this trip, I never thought that I would enjoy the walking as much as I did. Maybe it’s just that I never liked walking alone or preferred biking as a way to get around. Naturally, this would not have worked on the uneven, rocky terrain of the Golan Heights! But, once again, the social  facilitation of my new friends on Birthright gave me a new view of it.

Though I haven’t done any “hiking” (i.e. traversing uneven terrain) with anyone since Birthright, low-key walks with my friends has become a favorite activity of mine in the last five years. You don’t need to spend money in order to have a good time, and there are plenty of scenic walks in Evanston, Chicago, Menomonie, and the Twin Cities (as well as Lincoln, though walks around my block were the most common walk that I took there).

I can understand how hiking on uneven terrain is great training for the IDF soldiers, as this place has been used for training, both historically and even nowadays.

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My sub-group for the trivia contest prior to the hike.

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The hike began with a downhill jaunt, following the red-and-white markings.

Prior to the trip, I was usually a follower in many senses of the word–initiative was surprisingly not really a part of me. On this hike, however, I was at the head of my sub-group, leading the hike with alacrity. Though there was one mis-step which nicked me a little bit, I shook it off easily, laughed it off, and sometimes acted like a drum major with fake Marching Band steps. Marching Band steps didn’t work very well, since uneven ground would not be common terrain when carrying a trumpet!

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Ah, a shady brook (though Brooke was not in my sub-group) :p

Though leading a group in hiking isn’t really “leadership” per se, I still felt that it was an extroverted action that I might not have otherwise had the spirit move me to do. As I said yesterday (and have probably implied or stated at other times in my blog), 2011 was the year which let me know that I’m actually quite open and extroverted!

There’s one more thing that I’d like to reflect on. Though Birthright gave me some major changes and some subtle changes, there were some things which remained the same. That includes my fascination with road signs and distances. During the first two days of the trip, I was particularly interested in the road signs, and it became a mission of mine to catch road signs in my camera lens. On the first day of the trip, I sat on the left side of the bus and had a hard time capturing road signs.

But on this day, and most of the rest of the trip, I took a window seat on the right-hand side of the bus. Nevertheless, my timing was rarely good for catching the signs. So, let me show a Win and a Fail (and also translate if the sign doesn’t have translations).

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Win! The sign shows a roundabout with arrows. Up goes to Har Avital (Mount Avital [and Bental]). Right goes to an IDF base. Left goes to Merom Golan [a kibbutz].

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Fail! Too late to capture the sign. (Five years later, I don’t know what the sign was.)

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Quasifail due to the glare! (On Route 90, this point is 29 km [about 18 mi] to Tiberias, 75 km [about 46.6 mi] to Haifa, and 149 km [about 92.6 mi] to Tel Aviv).

Oh, and another thing: the sign with different destinations and different distances with arrows was atop Mount Bental. And I was fascinated by the Hebrew-and-then-English transliteration of بغداد‎‎ (Baghdad)! Moreover, 240 km is only about 150 miles, which means that Israel is a very small country. Until you are there, you might not appreciate its relatively small size. (In fact, north-south, Israel is only slightly taller than Nebraska!)

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Kenosha: 10 days.

Orientation: 24 days.

Day 1: 47 days.

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[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective-part 2 of 11] Achim Simcha

Five years ago today, I (along with all but one of the Americans on Shorashim Bus 247) arrived in Israel at about 14:30 local time.

The original journal entry can be found by clicking here, and today, I’d like to further reflect on the אחים שמחה (Achim Simcha) that we did upon meeting our Israelis.

Oh, and I have to apologize. I inadvertently lied yesterday, as I DID publish the Chicago-to-Tel-Aviv journal as my second blog post. But, I did edit a few things and mention a few new comments. I won’t make that mistake again!


The convening point at baggage claim, as I mentioned in my journal from five years ago, was called Smile Tourist Services. Despite possibly being a little jet-lagged, I shook off the fatigue, because I was all smiles in this picture! Once all of us Americans picked up our luggage, Dan prepared us, saying something to the effect of, “We’re about to complete our party. Are you all ready to meet our Israelis?”israel 012

However, I did not take pictures of what came next, but I really should have. I don’t think anyone on the bus trip did (or if they did, the photos never circulated to me). Oh well! Heading out from baggage claim, the Israelis were singing a traditional tune that I certainly recognized (printed below in Hebrew, then “Hebrish”, then English):

הנה מה טוב ומה נעים, שבת אחים גם יחד!

(Hinei mah tov u’mah nayim, shevet achim gam yachad!)

Behold–how good and pleasant, to sit in unity as brethren!

However, they probably should have replaced the word שבת (sit) with רקוד (dance)! After some hugs, handshakes, beach-ball tossing, and general happiness, we closed up into a circle, locking shoulders together. ניצן (Nitzan) then instructed us what to do, as we all began yelling:

אאאאאאאאאאאאאאאאאאחים! אחים אחים אחים אחים! שמחה! שמחה שמחה שמחה! …

(Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaachim! Achim! Achim achim achim! Simcha! Simcha simcha simcha! [repeats])

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrethren! Brethren! (x4) We are happy! (x4) [repeats]

Evidently none of us went to MIT, as while we were yelling this, we were also still locked together, jumping in the circle in a clockwise direction. In some sense, this reminds me of the LSE cheerleaders when they huddled up prior to the game, but simply yelled “Hey!” when the huddle broke up.

Honestly, this simple gesture was a HUGE change for me. It involved physical contact with other people, which I had not been particularly comfortable with before. But, I think there are a few things which made this different:

  1. In a new place, I had a different, more adventurous mindset.
  2. The explanation of אחים (brethren) really made it clear to me that I could have an extended family and network of close friends through this trip.
  3. My experiences earlier in the year with the Jewish community really seemed to open me up to socialization and even physical contact!

The Jewish population seems to have a smaller degree of separation than the community at large. Despite the fact that I was always a loser at the Jewish Geography game prior to the trip, I still felt very much at home with this group.

We all wore name tags on this first day, but did not have them for the remainder of the trip, so maybe I didn’t internalize as many names and faces as I would have otherwise liked. But, it was still great to meet everyone on this day, and enjoy the view of the Galilee and sunset as we said traditional blessings. It was much different, and more meaningful, to say these ברכות (blessings) over the wine (בורא פרי הגפן) and the newness (שהחיינו) IN ISRAEL! And then some photos, obviously, were taken. We didn’t get everyone into the photo because the lookout didn’t have enough area. But here’s one of them that I was in.

Galilee minigroup - Jared Garfield

In short, though I had just met all of these Israelis and even most of the Americans on the trip for the first time, I felt like there was an immediate connection, and not just because of the Judaism. I can’t quite put my finger on what the other connection is, however…

And indeed, this was the beginning of a very social trip for me, as well as an opening of myself to other social contexts, both Jewish and not, once I got back to the States. Looking back at it five years later, though maybe I didn’t include as many details as I would like now, I notice how even from the beginning, Taglit unlocked “something” in me.

So, it was a great first half-day in Israel, and thinking back on  אחים שמחה makes me realize, in some sense, what I had been missing prior to Birthright.

I could have written about עשרים ואחת ביולי, but since I did that in a previous post, I figured that I would reflect on something else.

I’m not sure where I will focus the mirror tomorrow, but I’m excited to write it!


Kenosha: 11 days.

Orientation: 25 days.

Day 1: 50 days.

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[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective] The Travel To Israel

A reminder of yesterday’s post before I get started on the Retrospective.

Until the end of the month, I will be writing retrospective posts on my Birthright Israel trip, which occurred exactly five years ago, and fortuitously the days of the week also align (e.g., July 20, 2011 was also a Wednesday)!

I never posted my journal on the day before Israel, so I will post the journal entry here. For the remaining days, the following format will be given:

  1. A link to the original journal entry on my blog.
  2. A new reflection on my thoughts from that day in the five-year retrospective.

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Taglit Five Year Retrospective: Preface

JULY 19, 2011: It was my last full day of work before going on a life-changing experience. That evening, I did some bike training, and got home and fell asleep early due to being up early to catch a bus.

That bus took me to the airport the next day, which eventually landed me in Israel!

Fortuitously, the days of the week from March-on align to 2011. That is, today is July 19, 2016. But July 19, 2011 was also a Tuesday. Because of this fact, as well as five years being a significant anniversary year, I will be posting EVERY day for the remainder of this month.

Here is what will happen:

  • Tomorrow, I will post a previously-unpublished travelogue of July 20, 2011, before the trip began.
  • For the remaining days in July, I will post a new Five-Years-Later reflection on each day from my Israel trip, corresponding to that day. Each post will have the following commonalities:
    • They will have a link to the original journal entry, particularly for new readers of this blog.
    • They will contain new commentary on aspects of that day’s activities and happenings and thoughts, through my current lens.
    • They will all be scheduled to post at 18:21 Israel time (corresponding to 10:21 Central time).
  • The July 31 post will be an overall retrospective on five years of blogging (the “Wood Anniversary”), and will post at 13:00, just like my very first blog post.


Kenosha: 13 days.

Orientation: 27 days.

Day 1: 52 days.

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