Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dready Jews Go Home

We are in Cairo right now after making our way through the Sinai peninsula where, naturally, Danny and I would be hit by a freak wind/sand storm that would, naturally, rip the roof off of the room we were staying in on the beach. Waking up in the morning to brush the thick layer of dust and sand off of everything we noticed that, of course, ours was the only one shredded. But so it goes that to be back on the road life is always full of freak storms. That and sunshine, oceans, and incredibly kind Bedouins. But to go back two weeks now and recap how we arrived in Egypt.

In the words of one Andrew B. "Your trip is going to be heinous."
We assumed he would be right, in fact for the three years that we planned this trip we held assumptions that a Birthright trip would be nothing but Zionist propaganda and a crappy tour around Israel. A trip called Israel Outdoors that we knew spent no time camping, a tour bus with 40 Americans making a huge scene all over the country, and very little say in how the tour goes.
Turns out we actually had a good time. Yes, we were surprised too! Our tour guide Hagai (cha-guy... not cha like do the cha cha, but like clearing your throat) was amazing and he made the trip what it was. We heard from other groups along the way how strict and overbearing their guides were, but we had the complete opposite experience. To our surprise also, the group was not 18 year old new yorkers, but mainly folks over 23 from all over the country. Not surprising was the number of instant connections made with people on the tour. First person i saw at the airport I recognized from my cross-country bike tour in 1998. The last time I saw her was when I took her to a Phish show in Philly in 1999. Many more just like that too. The group bonded well and we had a great time together.
BUS BUS BUS. It was our ball and chain, never parting, always there. From the minute we arrived at the airport to the mintute the trip ended it was an undeniable part of the birthright experience.
The propaganda that we had anticipated was kept to a minimum, to our liking, but there is indeed a very simple message that all Birthright participants are pushed towards:

make Jewish babies

And why not? It's like a big summer camp, so go nuts and keep the tribe alive.
The days were jam packed with activities: walks, lectures, bus rides, visits with artists, meals, etc. In ten days they manage to haul you from end to end; the lush green of the Golan Heights, to the burnt amber and dryness of the Negev in the south, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tzvat, Kibbutzes, wineries, clubs, more more more until ENOUGH ALREADY. By the end we all crash and try to remember everything we learned and all the places we visited, but it was all too much and too fast.
Israel is such an amazing place; so alive with people, culture, struggle, fear, love, that being there can be such a sensory overload if you arent prepared. The natural mysitc blowing through the air in Tzvat...

Interlude: As i write this, the time is 12 noon and the call to prayer has just begun all over Cairo. I have heard this only in two places before this: the north of Ghana and in Israel. To me it is an eerie display of complete devotion to God, the most intense form. Mosques on every corner are calling to Allah over the loud speaker, delays and echoes from the competing megaphones create bizarre time lapse effects on the prayer. Long drawn out wailings, not unlike the howlings of coyotes on a silent desert evening. Beautiful music.

...the cosmopolitan mayhem of a Tel Aviv night, the hustle and rushing to get in all the shopping before Shabbat in Jerusalem, seeing 18 year old soldiers with powerful weapons of war and violence, the horror and pain of the Holocaust Museum, the hard yet beautifully simple life of the Bedouin. Everything is so compact and full, there is little escape.

The question that always comes to mind for me is: can you be an aethiest and still be a Jew? Each time i have visited Israel the answer comes fully and simply. Yes. To be a Jew does not mean one needs to believe in the big guy upstairs or go to pray in a temple, or even honor the sabbath. It is a tribal feeling, the community, the sense of belonging to a group of people that spreads around the globe, holding on to identity.
The beauty of this is that while maintaining my independence I still hold the power of tribal connection everywhere i go, and i can do this without needing to change my beliefs about the spiritual nature of things.

Danny and I will be in Egpyt for two to three weeks before making our way back to Israel via Jordan. We are already having great experiences here and truly enjoying Arabic culture. Just on the trip overland from Sinai we witnessed the intensity and barrenness of the desert here; it is everything. We plan on venturing deeper into the country to discover more about this land.
Pictures and stories to follow of course. Literally, i am looking at the Giza Pyramids right now. Soon you will be able to see them too!

I have somewhat lost the motivation to keep up this blog, so this entry is poorly written and short, but for those that enjoy it I am glad.


  1. I LOVE the picture of you guys in mud at the Dead Sea.

    While you've been off on your adventure I did your taxes. You're getting a refund!

  2. I also love the picture of you guys in mud. And sandstorms! Jewish babies! old Phriends! It's so nice to be able to see what you boys are up to, keep up the blog! much love and thoughts from western mass! <3 <3 haley

  3. Dude...your pictures of Egypt are amazing! Keep up the wondering my friend. Life doesnt get much better!