I could not have asked for a more perfect first day in Israel. I thought getting into the JFK airport was confusing and frustrating until I actually had to go inside to accomplish things, which proved to be even more difficult. Meeting my Hillel group went smoothly, as I quickly turned to an obviously more experienced flyer as a solace to both my mother and me. As it turns out, less than half the participants are deaf, and there are around ten that have no ASL background at all, immediately giving me an advantage. I made friends easily and speedily and was welcomed by most everyone, especially deaf and hard of hearing participants, with open arms. Out of other Hillel groups we watched or met throughout the day, ours can definitely be considered the most friendly, open, and kind group here.
The flight from New York to Tel Aviv was slightly uncomfortable and extremely long (about eleven hours), but the plane hosts must have been paid fairly well, as their service was responsive and persistent (but not too persistent). Each seat had its own pillow, blanket, charging dock, headphones, and touchscreen television with hundreds of free games, movies, music, and shows. I took full advantage of the system, which may have hindered my ability to fall asleep. Most of us any got about an hour or two of sleep on the plane. I discovered that I have no problem with flying.
After arriving at the airport and proving identities and intentions, we converted our American money to Israeli shekels and boarded a charted bus to Jerusalem. The drive was beautiful, as is the city. The buildings are mostly made of stone and look similar to one another. I was surprised at how alike the roadways and traffic signs there are to ours in America. Once in Jerusalem, we had ten minutes to change into matching t-shirts and make it to dinner, which I hardly had the appetite to eat.
Quickly after eating, the 40 of us boarded the bus and were driven to an exquisite building that seems to serve many purposes, mostly for entertainment. Our activity for the evening was called the Taglit Mega-Event and it was, indeed, a mega event. Strobe lights and confetti accompanied our group, as well as at least 12 other Birthright groups, into a giant stadium with an overly done-up stage. For the next three hours, hundreds of us danced and jumped and sang all the Hebrew we know along with various performers. They were all spectacular are certainly to be downloaded whenever I actually have internet access (I’m stuck in a Word document for now). By the end, we were completely exhausted.
Now it’s midnight in Israel and I’m sharing a hotel room with two sisters. As soon as they’re done showering, I will attempt to sleep my first night in Israel away. Our wake-up call is at promptly 6:30 am with no tolerance for oversleeping. Tomorrow begins Shabbat and should be peaceful; I’m hoping it is, anyway.