The start of My Mayanot Birthright Trip to Israel!

After a goodbye filled with both the excitement of Birthright and the nervousness of meeting over 40 new people with whom I’d be spending the next 10 days, I headed into T4 at JFK.  I expected to be one of the first ones there because I was 20 minutes early, but it turned out that I was one of the last ones there. A lot of people had flown into JFK that day so they had gotten there hours beforehand. We stood around for a little while making small talk until it was time to get our boarding passes at the Swiss Air counter. I couldn’t believe this day was finally here!! Over and over I just kept expecting to wake up and it all would have been a dream, but no. I met 4-5 girls and a few guys that seemed nice and we sat at the Sam Adams Bar there and chatted and had a beer. Afterwards we cleared security and made it to our gate very quickly. There we found the rest of our group, which had apparently been drinking on this side of security. As instructed by Rabbi Tzvi and Ricky, we sat in a circle and had to say our names and something interesting about ourselves. This turned into just name and where we were from. They collected the $50 from us for the Israeli staff tips, then told us we couldn’t drink until we got to Israel. For me this presented no problem, but others seemed to have their hearts set on drinking as much as possible before the plane. Me, Rachel, and 3 guys ended up going to this bar area where 2 of the guys did shots (which seemed really risky…) while Rachel and I had french fries. Soon it was time to board!!

Mike freaking out fellow passengers with tefillin at the airport

I was in 36G, an aisle, next to 3 nice girls from the trip. We chatted a bit, all popped an Ambien pill (respectively), had the kosher entree (which had been ordered for us and actually wasn’t so bad)…and then fell asleep. I woke up after 3 or so hours and was just anxious to be there already. I tried walking around but nothing seemed to help. I just relaxed and dozed in and our of sleep until breakfast (kosher again, so this time we couldn’t have dairy of course). Soon it was time to land in Zurich. We cleared security, walked a short distance, and then we were at our gate for the next flight. After waiting a little bit and buying some expensive Poweraide, we boarded. I slept all of this flight, which was 3 hours 40 min. I woke up as we were landing to look out the window – Eretz Israel!!!

Clearing passport control at Ben Gurion Airport was somewhat unnerving because of the stories from Mike and Dave, but I had no problem at all. We collected our bags, met Ami our guide, and headed to the bus. There we collected our cell phones and dropped our luggage. I exchanged 40USD for 140 sheklim which most people exchanged hundreds of dollars. ATM later for me. From there we headed to a brief orientation which was held in a grassy area on airport property. It was a very nice area and there we sat, had juice, bagels and muffins, and Ami introduced himself better to us. We also met Nitzam our security guard and Orly our social coordinator of sorts. All seem very nice. It was great to sit there on the grass after being cooped up for so long on a plane. I could not believe we were in Israel!

From there we took the bus and headed north. It took 2+ hours to reach or hotel, which isn’t in a town per se, but rather on the Sea of Galilee. We are not staying at the King Soloman as the itinerary said, but rather at Ohalo Manor. Rachel, Jackie and I are on the 3rd floor in a decent room with a hostel-type set up. We had a bit of down time for a while and then had to be at the dining hall for dinner. The food was ok, and I mostly had vegetables, hummus, and Israeli salad. Jackie and I sat with the rabbi and his wife and this nice guy Asher. After dinner we went into this large function room and sat in a giant circle and listened to some more about the trip, Birthright in general, and how lucky we were to be here. Birthright has cut back a lot recently and out of 4,000 people who applied, only 1,000 were placed this year. 20,000 were on the Birthright waiting list in total. I feel so, so incredibly lucky to have made the cut, along with most of the others here. For many people, this trip was their last chance because of their age. We played some ice breaker games which didn’t bother me as much as expected and heard that we had to be up tomorrow for breakfast at 7:30 and the bus at 8am!

Birthright group enjoying some Goldstar beers

Although we were all tired, we decided to get a drink and be social. I was a little homesick, but did figure that it was just a passing thing and that to get over it, I had to get out and take some “chances”. We ended up chilling by the unopened hotel bar until this lovely Israeli girl Chen, opened it up for us at 11pm. We had Goldstar beer (Maccabee), talked more with our security guard, and generally bonded. Around 1 we decided bed was absolutely essential so we headed upstairs. We ended up talking til 2 and I also showered…I can’t believe its only been a few hours in Israel!

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