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Shuster’s Journey: Shalom from Israel

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As I sit on my porch, gaze at the sky, look at the magnificent view and feel the sun’s rays reach my skin, I have a greater understanding of the huge journey I embarked on just 2 months ago. It is hard to believe that it has been about 2 months since I boarded the plane and arrived to Israel. I know it is cliche to say that time has really flown by, but I cannot think of any other words to explain how quickly the time has gone. From the daily jam packed schedule of just a normal day of school to week long trips, let’s just say I have been a bit busy. Since my last post a lot has happened, including finally settling in to this new lifestyle on KIbbutz Tzuba and being a member of NFTY EIE’s community.

Along with my general studies, I am also learning Jewish History and Hebrew. I definitely feel much closer to my culture and obviously the land of Israel. It is incredible to learn about something in class and then actually experience firsthand.  I know how lucky I am to be able to do this.  Incredibly, I can now walk around Jerusalem and pick up parts of conversations. With my Jewish History class, I go on many field trips that pertain to what I am learning in class. Here are a bunch of the trips I went on so far:

-Israel Museum: Learned about the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Period in Jerusalem

-Climbed Masada: Learned about the story of Masada and saw the amazing views

-Ein Karem (Christian village): Learned about the beginning of Christianity

-Ein Rafa (Muslim village): Spoke with a Muslim women who converted from Catholicism.  Listened to the Iman at the Mosque explain the Muslim culture and beliefs. This was one of my favorite trips so far because I found it so interesting to learn about other religions that are practiced in Israel and around the world.

-Tzfat (Mystical city): Walked around enjoying the many beautiful stores and art work and visited many temples that are related to the mysticism of Judaism.

These are just a select few of the trips I have been on thus far. Additionally, throughout the 2 months I have had a couple of week long trips. On March 1, we packed up all of our rooms and left for Ein Gedi. Ein Gedi is a beautiful destination filled with water falls and swimming areas near the Dead Sea. After a relaxing Shabbat overlooking the Dead Sea we headed to an army base in the South where I participated in Gadna. Gadna is a program for high school students to get the full experience of being in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) for 5 days. Let’s just say it was a really intense experience. The commanders treated us as real soldiers doing exercises and we had daily military duties. I learned a lot about the values of the IDF and got to shoot an M-16 (which was pretty cool). Immediately after we continued south to Eliat. Some say Eliat is the “Las Vegas of Israel.” It was really nice to unwind at the beaches and walk on the boardwalk after the emotionally and physically draining week of training.

When I returned to Kibbutz Tzuba, I got new roommates and had to unpack all my belongings again (which was such a production). The next day my parents arrived and the parents’ week began right away. Somehow I managed a full 11 hour day of school and spending quality time with my parents. It was so great to show them my routine, classes, teachers, new friends and the country. They joined me on many of my Jewish History trips and got to experience a day in the life of an EIE student.  I also got to finally see my family in Haifa for Shabbat.  What a great weekend!  I had been hearing about Friday night family dinners in Haifa since I was young.  I knew they spent every Shabbat together and my cousin Avram played the accordion but it was amazing to actually be a part of it.   I also got to meet my grandfather’s childhood friend’s son who lives in a beautiful area in Ceasearia.  He took us to see the Roman ruins and for a delicious lunch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  It gave me great insight into how Israeli’s really live.

And the whirlwind continues…..about 1 hour after the parents left we had to pack up our entire rooms once again and move out. This time we were beginning our Passover vacation. I had the opportunity to attend a traditional Israeli seder. Of course I missed being home for the holiday but I am so glad I had this experience. I was able to go to an old counselor’s house for the seder. As expected, all of the seder was completely in hebrew but I was actually able to pick up a few new words and communicated with the best of my ability. Lastly, every Jewish holiday no matter where you are in the world comes with delicious food and this was no exception. My day after the seder was spent at the beach in Tel Aviv. You can’t do that during passover at home now can you?

The next day all of the students met at a central location in the north of Israel to start our 5 day Sea to Sea hike (Yam l’ Yam). Yam l’ Yam is a program that most Israeli high school students participate in at some point in their school days and many families do it as well. It is a hike from the Kinneret to the Mediterranean Sea. After 120 hours of a combination of hiking, camping, camp fires, biking, and swimming I finally reached the Mediterranean and could not have been happier. Ze’ev Vilnai puts the amazing views and indescribable feelings into an eloquent quote. “I believe there isn’t a better way to feel the connection to the land of Israel than to walk through it. To cross its valleys, and climb to the tops of its mountains. To wander through its paths, even the most isolated ones. Only when you walk through the land, enjoy its scenery and see in your own eyes….Its old archeological ruins, and new settlements, You feel the real connection to Eretz Yisrael, And longing to this land.” This basically sums up the importance and the meaningfulness of the entire Yam l’ Yam experience for me.

Now I am back at Kibbutz Tzuba. Finally unpacked and settled into my new room with new roommates. I have 3 “typical” school weeks until I leave for Poland. I cannot wait to see what the next few weeks have in store.  Shalom for now….

Stay tuned for more updates throughout the semester. Feel free to email me with any questions at rshuster626@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Rachel Shuster is a junior at Hills West.  She is currently spending her second semester abroad in Israel, studying and living in her ancestor’s homeland.  She will be returning to the U.S. on May 30th, 2013.  This is one of a recurring series of “blog posts” that Shuster will be posting while she is there.