Blog  Experiencing the Holidays the Israeli Way

Experiencing the Holidays the Israeli Way

Experiencing the Holidays the Israeli Way

Indianapolis ResizedRachael C. is a junior from Carmel, Indiana. She is an alum of both GUCI and Kutz Camp, participates in NFTY-OV, and belongs to Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation.

I cannot believe how the time on EIE has passed by so quickly! We’ve done quite a lot of exploring within the beautiful country of Israel.

Over Yom Kippur, we stayed the night in a youth hostel off the busiest street in Jerusalem. We attended evening services at HUC (Hebrew Union College), where I saw a couple of NFTY alumni, including Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation’s own Frankie Salzman. After services, we took a leisurely walk back to the youth hostel, which took about an hour and a half. This was easily the most incredible part of the holiday for me. Not only had I chosen to fast speech rather than food this year (which is something I’ve never done before), we were able to walk in the middle of the street the entire way back. There were no cars on the road besides emergency vehicles, with only people walking and socializing, and children riding their bikes. At some points, all 33 of us EIE students just laid down in the street in a clump just because we could. This was the busiest street in Jerusalem vehicle-wise, and here we all were walking in the middle of the road surrounded by other local Jews who take the night to get together and talk and be a community.

The morning of Yom Kippur, we had the option of going to one of three different kinds of services: Moroccan Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, or Reform. I chose the Moroccan service and it was really interesting. To me, it seemed like the other Orthodox service I’d been to with my family. It was still an incredible experience nonetheless. Rather than fasting food, I decided (along with many of the other EIE students) to try a speech fast. In a speech fast, you don’t speak unless it is the words of prayer or of Torah. This was extremely hard, but to me was very fulfilling and left room for a lot of self-reflection, which is a major aspect of the holiday of Yom Kippur.

IMG_20150925_061857The day after Yom Kippur, we got on a bus headed for Ein Gedi. We spent some free time around Ein Gedi for the afternoon and had an early night in preparation for our Friday morning activity: Masada. We woke up at 4 AM and began climbing Masada around 5:30. We took the Snake Path (the longer way), not the Roman Ramp. The climb took just under an hour and we made it up in time to experience a breathtaking sunrise. We spent about 5 hours on top of Masada, learning a Jewish History lesson about the Jewish ninjas (they weren’t actual ninjas, I promise, but it’s a fun story for the most part). A few other injured participants and I cheated the way down, riding in the cable car, but all in all, it was a hot and fun day. After our tough climb, we floated in the Dead Sea.

After a restful Shabbat, we headed to various host homes for the holiday of Sukkoth starting on Sunday. I went to visit my family in Petah Tikvah, and lucky for me, I was able to hang out with their 4, 7, and 9 year old grandchildren, learning some more Hebrew from them. It was really nice to have some true downtime and to get to know some of the family I hadn’t known about for most of my life.

Tuesday morning came around and this was when the REAL fun began: ים לים (yam l’ yam- sea to sea), consisting of five days and four nights of camping out in the open and hiking in the forests of the upper Galilee from the Kinneret to the Mediterranean. The hiking was long and hard, and due to some knee issues and being sick on the last day, I had to miss a bit of it. However, it was an incredible experience, and I’m so glad that I did it. On our last night, our nature expert, Nemo, brought us out into the quiet and dark night and sat us down alone with about 15 feet between the people next to us. We sat alone for about an hour, thinking, reflecting, facing any fears we may have, finding ourselves and letting our senses adjust to the lack of light and sound. That hour was a bit terrifying for me, but also gave me a good opportunity to think about all the things I don’t have time to while I’m surrounded by people all the time. It was nice to just sit for a while, and this gave me time to think about how amazing it is to be here, in Israel. This gave me time to think about how lucky I am to have the opportunity to live here for four months. I’m not a tourist, I’m a Jew living in Israel, being immersed in the culture, learning and falling in love with the country of my ancestors, generations and generations before me. I can’t think of a better way to be spending my semester.

ים לים ended, and we made our way to Kibbutz Hanaton for Simchat Torah, where we bonded with some Mechina participants (a gap year for Israelis before they go to the army) and some other members of various groups similar to EIE for college-aged people. There was a lot of bonding throughout the two week break we had and seeing as this was after ים לים, we had all seen each other at our worst and Simchat Torah gave us the free time to get closer than before.

You can read more from Rachael on her blog at