Day 4 – Shabbat

Our fourth full day in Israel fell on Shabbat. I think we really lucked out by having Shabbat fall in the middle of our trip, it gave all of us a day to recharge and recover from the first half of the trip, not to mention the jet lag we were all suffering from to various extents. The first required activity was not until ten thirty Saturday morning, although we had to get up slightly earlier to get breakfast, so stayed up a bit later than usual. I think some people stayed up until the early morning, but I was not one of them.

I was still up by eight, and spent a long time grazing at breakfast and enjoying the terrible coffee with the few other early risers. Our first activity ended up being an icebreaker type affair where we shared how strongly we identified with various parts of a Jewish identity, for example how strongly we felt that we should marry someone Jewish. This wasn’t the most popular activity we did, to say the least, and I think we were all glad when it was finally finished.

From the hotel we went on a walking tour of the newer parts of the city of Jerusalem. While we had walked through many of these areas the night before, being out in the day, crossing deserted streets, really made the strangeness of the city keeping the sabbath hit home. To not see more than one or two cars on the road, and all the shops closed in the middle of the day was wild. It was more than wild. It was downright eerie.

We walked past a giant movie complex, they look exactly the same as back home, and then down to a plaza outside of the Supreme Court building. The Supreme Court and other government buildings were built with a lot of space between them, and away from Old Jerusalem, in order to protect them from the rocket attacks by the Palestinians. Yet another reminder of Israel’s history of being under siege.

After getting a history lesson on the supreme court, as well as the development of the government, we walked over to the the Knesset, Israel’s parliament building. Here we talked about the current political climate in Israel, which included some discussions in Hebrew between the soldiers (or arguments, I wasn’t able to tell). We also saw a giant sculpture of a candelabra, complete with many scenes from Jewish history, both biblical and modern.

We took our pictures, then went to find a bathroom. The entire trip could be broken down into travels between toilets. We ended up in a park where we got some active yoga (I did not risk death by trying this) and a game of ultimate frisbee going. I thought that having some experience with touch football would prep me for ultimate; little did I know we had almost two teams worth of people who played competitively. We did our best to split the skilled players up evenly, however it was my team that ended up getting shut out. Despite getting stopped I had a lot of fun; we all did. I also discovered that ultimate is much more demanding on the cardiovascular system than football, with none of that pesky downtime between plays. Sadly it started drizzling after a half hour or so and we packed up to go back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel we closed Shabbat with song and prayer, then went inside for dinner. After dinner we had an activity cooked up by the soldiers, the Israeli version of hot potato which was nothing at all like any hot potato I’d ever seen. We passed a package wrapped in layer upon layer of newspaper around in a circle and whenever the music stopped we would unwrap a layer.. On each layer was a dare we had to perform, which ran the gamut from a dance off (our resident break dancer won this) to a clothes swap. It was a great time.

To end the night we had our free night. On every trip the organizers try to plan a night out in one of the cities. Unfortunately the only night that they could arrange was the night before we went to the holocaust museum, the only night we were not allowed to drink even after all activities for the day had finished. Still, we were able to get dinner and go to some shops in Jerusalem, so it wasn’t a total loss. I got a lox and bagel, which wasn’t nearly as good as the ones I get at home, before wandering around the shops. Like the old city most of the shops were filled with tacky tourist crap, and those that weren’t were far out of everyone’s price range. I saw a choir singing christmas carols in Chinese; talk about a strange sight. We stayed out until ten thirty before going back to the hotel and to bed.