Our final spring break update from first-year student bloggers comes from Manaved, who had the opportunity to join the annual Israel trek with a group of Fletcher classmates:
It was late night, and darkness had fallen upon the courtyard at Blakeley Hall. A gaggle of overworked and drowsy graduate students, just recently freed from the clutches of paper submissions and exams, huddled around their suitcases, eagerly waiting to escape the Boston cold.
None of us knew what lay ahead. It was time.
The flight itself was quite delightful, and the meals were heavenly compared to the ramen that I had been thriving on for the better part of last month. The stories we had heard of the indomitable Israeli immigration were put to rest once we passed smoothly through the Ben Gurion airport, and outside into the outskirts of the city of Lod.
Of course, it is obvious that any group of Fletcher travelers has the advantage of having at least one person who knows the local language. Armed with this linguistic predisposition (thanks Sara), we hired a Sherut to drop us off at our hotel.
It was well past midnight, and we had had a long journey. Sleep came quickly, but the morning arrived quicker.
After a sumptuous breakfast, we were all congregated in the basement of the hotel, being briefed on the itinerary by our excellent tour guide Sam. We also had the immense good fortune to have three local students join us for the trek, whose insights on everything from politics to cuisine were invaluable throughout the journey. Due to the suspicious lack of supply of maps in Israel, I was called upon to double down as one, and we went through the wide array of places we would visit over the next few weeks.
We first toured the old city, and the power of different faiths congregating in such a space was palpable. One knew that one was a part of history. This was followed by a poignant trip to Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial museum. After an emotionally charged afternoon, we were treated to the first of many delectable dinners.
Post an optional trip to the Temple Mount, which was attended by almost everyone, we all went by bus to Ramallah. Over the course of the day, we also had the pleasure to speak with a senior Palestinian official who was a Fletcher alumnus. This was followed by a visit to the first microbrewery in the Middle East, where we gladly accepted some samples.
The samples did come handy, for dinner was at the most pleasantly raucous place I have ever been to. We ate like Tolkkien-esque dwarves, and I remain surprised to this day that the tables of the establishment remained standing.
Following a couple of interesting speaker panels, we all boarded the bus for the Dead Sea. As we looked out of the windows into the beautiful expanse of land that is the Middle East, our tour guide Sam went from person to person, having discussions about the complicated state of affairs. After catching up on some of that elusive sleep we checked into our hotel, comfortably situated next to the Dead Sea, and immersed ourselves in the waters.
A lively discussion ensued on the applicability of immigration laws if one of us floated across to Jordan, and as the sun set, we headed back to enjoy the spa and get ready for the much-awaited desert party. By the end of the night, one admits, there is something about standing around a bonfire with your friends, while the striking vista is highlighted by nothing but the light of the moon.
The territory changed from desert to lush green as we entered the Golan Heights, a place that has been a staple in diplomacy-related news cycles. Those of us who were farsighted enough to bring a drivers license were afforded the opportunity to drive up to the Syria border in an ATV, while the rest of us, riding pillion, chronicled the various stages of our ascent. Gathered around an abandoned Syrian outpost, surrounded by graffiti that spoke a ton of unspoken truths, we knew that this was a moment we would carry with us for life.
Evening had set in. The sun was slightly less bright, and we were slightly more introspective. The day ended, as usual, with a dinner fit for royalty.
The end of the trek was fast approaching but there was still a lot left to do. After meeting the Mayor of Tayibe, we were treated to a tour of the beautiful town. A couple of speaking engagements in Tel Aviv awaited us, and we rode to the Hill of Spring.
For those of us who had been to New York, Tel Aviv seemed reminiscent of the Big Apple, perhaps without as great an abundance of dollar pizza. By pure coincidence, we were in Tel Aviv during their yearly Purim celebrations, and we had the pleasure to enjoy the city in all its glory. After a night of admiring the effort that some of the locals had put into their costumes, we retreated to the confines of our beds.
The sixth morning might not have been as gaudy or exciting as the others, but it was one of the most memorable experiences for a lot of us. We drove to Gedera and met Avi, a member of the Ethiopian Jewish community, who was quite the inspiring figure. After partaking in some traditional Ethiopian coffee with the kind inhabitants of the town, we made our way back to the hotel.
The night was spent conversing and dining with iTrek participants from other US colleges at the Tel Aviv pier, where we were serenaded by the soulfully exciting tunes of AWA, an all-woman Yemeni band.
The last day of the trek was upon us, and it felt as if the sun rose a little more slowly. We were loathe to leave the place, and among the cheery smiles around us, there were traces of melancholy.
We toured Jaffa, a city rife with history, and made our way for lunch to the Old Man and the Sea. The food was more amazing than anything I have had in Israel, but I like to think that it was because we wouldn’t be having similar fare when back in Boston.
Eventually, as the plates started clearing up, so did the people. Goodbyes were said, some more permanent than the others. Friendships were solidified, and experiences were lived. Many of us at Fletcher will be making history, but for that one brief week, we were part of history.