After staying the night right on its shores, we spent the next day exploring some of the communities along the Sea of Galilee. We started in the city of Safed and visited the worshiping place of Isaac Luria, who is considered the founder of Jewish Mysticism. There, the women of the group had to “dress modestly” for the first time of the trip, which would become a common theme when visiting historical religious sites. The women in the group mostly took it in stride rather than getting upset at what could be interpreted as sexism, and they felt like they were always comfortable and welcome in the places we visited.
We entered the Golan heights after that and took a jeep tour of the area, which is located on the Syrian border and has been subject of many conflicts throughout the years, including the Six-Day War in 1967. The jeep tour was extremely bumpy on the rocky terrain, with some people occasionally flying out of their seats due to ineffective seatbelts, but the landscapes were beautiful and our tour guides were able to provide some entertainment. At one point, after passing a sign in English, Hebrew, and Arabic that said “Caution: Minefield” our tour guide jovially looked back and said “You know what it says in Arabic? Picnic area.” Rabbi Spilker, sitting in the back with me, looked somewhat appalled while the rest of us laughed and the bumpy ride continued.
The jeeps parked at an overlook, where one of the tour guides who has lived in the Golan Heights his whole life told the story of the land and how it relates to him. We all thought his story was great, and he accepted at the beginning that he had biases and that this was only one side of the story. Through his stories and the tour itself, we were able to get a good picture of this coveted land in a short amount of time. It was also a reminder after starting in the Utopian, carefree city of Tel Aviv, that much of Israel is still defined by conflict and occasionally danger.
“I admired their aiblity to live with danger and not feel totally crazy about it,” Batya said. Sara saw the Golan Heights as part of a sense of “optimistic fatalism” that defines Jews living in Israel, a sense of happily living in the moment because it could be over tomorrow.
Our next stop was the Jordan river, where we went kayaking or rafting. I was in a raft with my family, steered by my dad and sister, with my mom and I relaxing in the middle watching them do all the work and occasionally helping out with a sarcastic comment about their ineffective boating skills. Part of the fun of the rafting was seeing the other families joining us in our struggle to get through the river without getting stuck near the shore. Eventually we completed the journey and went on to home hospitality, coordinated by the Partnership Together (or P2G) program, which allowed us to enjoy dinner with an Israeli family and get a glimpse into their life.
My family went to a Kibbutz which was the home of a family of four — a mother, father, and 16 year-old twins. The father spoke a little English, the mother spoke almost none, and the daughter didn’t really speak at all, so most of the task of communicating fell on the shoulders of their 16 year-old son Sean, who impressed us with his maturity and ability to navigate two different languages. He was about to depart to Milwaukee to help teach people about Israel, so we gave him some tips about midwest life while he shared his family’s stories about living on a Kibbutz.
The home hospitality was a powerful experience, in part because, whether we want to admit it or not, for most of the trip we had been in something of a tourist bubble, going to most of the big spots and being able to communicate in English everywhere. This experience gave us the chance to see what life is really like in Israel. Everyone in the group agreed that it was a very positive experience and something truly special from the trip that we will remember.