Fifteen students, two chaperones, two weeks in Israel – and a million memories

Posted on: June 29th, 2017 by tgregory

The group poses for a photo at the Kotel, the Western Wall, early in the trip.

The 15 Nashville teenagers who took part in the 2017 Get Connected trip to Israel returned on June 20 tired but happy and with lots of memories — dancing at the Kotel on Shabbat, hiking to the top of Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, digging for ancient artifacts at an archeological site, making friends in Hadera Eiron, the Nashville Jewish community’s sister region in Israel. 

On the trip were Rachel Cohen, Matthew Friedman, Daniel Saul, Jake Rosen, Jordan Cohen, Becky Hackett, Ellis Brustin, Madeleine Aikin, Rachel Karp, Carter Koch, Joey Frank, Ben Guzman, Sam Oppenheimer, Kaitlyn Stout, and Elliot Tishler. They were accompanied by chaperones Mindy Drongowski and Adi Ben Dor, Nashville’s community schlicha.

Watching the sun set near the Bedouin village.

Here’s a daily account of the trip drawn from updates and photos the teenagers posted on Facebook: 

June 7 

Shalom friends and family! Today all 15 of us flew from Nashville to Newark to Tel Aviv, and then drove to Jerusalem. As soon as we arrived at our hotel, we dropped our suitcases off in our rooms and rushed to our first meal in the Holy Land.

Afterwards, we changed clothes and strolled through the Old City of Jerusalem and discussed our feelings towards the trip. We are all eager to embark on our adventures in Israel and look forward to making lifelong memories and friendships.

• Rachel Cohen 


Rachel Karp holds an ancient piece of pottery found at an archeological site in Beit Guvrin National Park.

June 8 

Being in a place that is the home of some of the most important historical events of all time is awe inspiring. We could look out and view history from the wall of the Old City to the modern borders. 

Jerusalem has been both visually and mentally stunning. We’ve been able to walk through the past in a very real way.

• Matthew Friedman 


June 9 

We started the day with breakfast at the hotel at 8 a.m. Then we headed to the Holocaust museum at Yad Vashem. We ate lunch right below the museum. Next, we visited the cemetery at Mt. Herzl containing the remains of great Israeli world leaders, young soldiers, and famous people of Israel. It was a pretty cool experience. We are currently about to go to the Western Wall to celebrate Shabbat.

• Daniel Saul


The Nashville teens and their Israeli counterparts paint a mural at Haklai High School in Hadera.

June 9-10 

As we entered the courtyard of the Western Wall on Friday evening, there were more people than any of us has expected. Thousands of Jews from all over the world were gathered to celebrate Shabbat and place written notes inthe wall. People were praying in many different ways, from reading siddurs to dancing and chanting. Many of us joined in on the dancing and we all had a great time. 

They did not see us as outsiders, as Americans, or as different. They saw us as one. We are part of the story. So many Jews around the world dream of celebrating Shabbat in Jerusalem, and we were able to experience it as one. It was an incredible, unforgettable experience.

After riding camels, the Nashville teens spent the night in a Bedouin tent.

I woke up at 7 the next morning, put on my nice Saturday morning outfit, and went downstairs to meet Jordan, Rachel, and our tour guide, Asaf, to have an early breakfast before heading out to the optional Saturday morning Shabbat service. The four of us decided to attend this service since it’s not every day we can experience a service in Israel. It was a 15 minute walk to the synagogue, and after entering, the girls went upstairs while Asaf and I stayed downstairs. (Here the males and females are separated during services.) We walked into the main sanctuary, which was a lot smaller than the one I’m used to at Congregation Micah. The siddur I received was printed only in Hebrew, although some siddurs had Italian translations as well. They asked me to help undress the Torah, which was wrapped in a beautiful yellow-gold cloth. We stayed there for just under two hours before returning to the hotel at 11 a.m. to meet up with everyone else to prepare for the study session.

What is Zionism? It’s the re-creation and protection of a Jewish land, known today as the country of Israel. As we sat in a circle on the couches in the hotel, our guest speaker explained to us some history of Israel, as well as the significance of Israeli technologies in the modern world, and how these impact the lives of everyone worldwide, not just within Israel itself.

After the study session, we had about an hour to get ready to go to a museum that has a stone model of the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The stone model was so detailed. It had perfectly constructed small stone replicas of buildings and other places we have visited, such as the Western Wall. When we first got there, I looked for our hotel in the model, but I was soon informed that this was a model of Jerusalem thousands of years ago, shortly after the destruction of the first temple. We then walked into the other side of the museum, which is home to the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of ancient Hebrew writings. There was a photocopy of the scrolls in a circular exhibit in the middle of the room, as well as bits and pieces of the original documents in glass cases surrounding the main exhibit in the center. It was so fascinating to see such old Hebrew writing and how different it looked from today’s.

The group got up early one morning for a sunrise hike in Nachal Havarim in the Negev.

In the evening, we left the hotel and took a 20-minute walk to Ben Yehuda Street, which is somewhat similar to 12th Avenue South back in Nashville, as they both are “hip” streets with ice cream shops, restaurants, and a unique shopping experience. We were given an hour and a half to go have dinner at any restaurant on the street of our choice. Most of us including went to Moshika, a falafel restaurant. If anyone ever travels to Jerusalem in the future, I will recommend eating there if you are looking for some quick, good food. We also enjoyed ice cream across the street. We then went to get some waffles down the street, which we enjoyed on our walk back to the hotel.

• Jake Rosen


June 11 

Today left behind the Holy City, Jerusalem. It was bittersweet because we were leaving a place full of so much of our Jewish history, but what was waiting for us made it worth it. We drove past the hills and greenery of the desert to arrive at the Beit Guvrin National Park where we took part in excavating the 89-cave system. We discovered shells, bones, and pottery that have been underground for over 2,000 years. We had the honor of being the first people to touch these artifacts since the fall of the Maccabees. 

Rachel Karp and Daniel Saul found complete and still intact bowls. Madeleine also found half a plate with a strange crown engraving, puzzling to all. Another amazing discovery was a window leading to a mysterious new cave which we named Nashville. After collecting BUCKETS full of these findings, we created a bucket brigade to haul them back to camp and sift through to find smaller items such as charcoal. 

As a reward for a hard day’s work, we had the privilege of being led by our archeologist guide, Missy, down into a candlelit complex cave where we faced fears and learned about a system used to collect water during rare rain and how they housed pigeons for food and fertilizer inside of the caves. Missy then showed us some of the best finds from the area including the oldest record of Hanukkah which was written in ancient Greek on a huge stone tablet larger than a person. Missy let us take with us some pieces of pottery from the dig to remind us come Hanukkah of the Maccabees that were around when this pottery was used.

Next we traveled to the Salad Trail where we got to pick delicious tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, and herbs – and tried a tried a corn maze. This is amazing considering how difficult it is to have vegetation in a desert. Thanks to Israeli agricultural technology, the gardens here thrive. 

After an already wonderful day of learning, exploring and – best of all – eating we learned about our tour guide’s experience during the Gaza conflict and his desire for peace. He handed us each a pigeon to hold and let us set them free. We all let go and watched them taste freedom in the desert air. Turns out doves aren’t the actual symbol of piece, pigeons are! The English wrongly identified them through a translation slip up. 

After arriving at our hostel, we ate dinner, stopped at the supermarket for Israeli snacks, and looked at a gorgeous view of the canyon from our hostel, a great end to an unbelievable day. We are waking up super early tomorrow to go hiking so I’m heading to bed now. 

• Jordan Cohen


June 12 

Today we woke up before dawn and went for a hike in the desert to watch the sunrise. It was very beautiful! After lunch we headed over to David Ben-Gurion’s grave. Afterwards we when to a crater called Makhtesh Ramon. Again, that was beautiful. There we learned about Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space. Next, we went to a cool soap factory, then headed over to the Bedouin village and rode camels, went shopping and ate dinner! Finally, we had a campfire and went to bed in our Bedouin tent. 

• Becky Hackett


June 13 

Today we rolled out of our tent at 4 a.m., had Bedouin tea and biscuits, and then hopped on the bus to get to Masada. By the time we got there it was we had 15 minutes to get to the top before sunrise. 

Out of breath (at least I was), we made it to the top with some time to spare. We all sat on a wall and watched as the sun began to rise. As it peaked over the top of the mountain, someone began to play “Here Comes the Sun.” It was beautiful. 

We then walked around the remains of a bathhouse, a cistern and some temples and learned about King Herod and the story of the Jews of Masada. We descended Masada via cable car and got a breathtaking view of the mountain and landscape surrounding. 

Next up was breakfast and the Dead Sea. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Dead Sea, only that it’s salty and you float. While both of those things were correct, I wasn’t expecting the water to feel oily and to burn a bit. We covered our bodies in mud and later swam in a freshwater pool as well. 

Lunch and the two-hour ride to Tel Aviv left us exhausted after all the excitement from the morning (the bus ride was very quiet).

We got to the hostel, had dinner, and walked to Jaffa Port. We made wishes on a wishing bridge with our zodiac signs and took some cool climbing photos in a statue.

Can’t wait to meet our host families tomorrow!

• Ellis Brustin


June 14 

Right now, we are all at the homes of our host families, resting after a day of bus rides, museum tours, and meeting new people. We woke up around 7 a.m., packed our bags, ate breakfast, and hopped on the bus to the Palmach Museum. 

The Palmach was created by the British when they were in control of the land to fight the Nazis but was then officially disbanded. The soldiers continued on, in secret, working and training at kibbutzim under the guise of being a youth movement. At the museum, we followed the story of a group of soldiers, walking from room to room and watching a collection of films showing the hardships that the Jews faced after the Holocaust, being shoved into displaced persons camps and struggling against the British mandate that would not permit excessive Jewish immigration. 

People in the squad were from all over the world, some survivors of the Holocaust and some born and raised in Jerusalem. We watched these people’s lives unfold as they helped to fight the Nazis, sabotaged the British, and fought in Israel’s revolutionary war. A theme of this trip has been to put faces and names to the Jews whose lives were lost fighting to keep Judaism alive, and this was an incredible addition to our time spent learning about the holocaust and the IDF.

Next we had lunch in the aqueducts of ancient Caesarea, watching the waves and sitting in the shade beneath the arches. We walked around, seeing the ruins of the ancient palace, the theater, and what used to be a square pool of fresh water for bathing, surrounded by ocean. This port city loved to flaunt its wealth with public toilets and aqueducts and beautiful, intricate floor mosaics.

Back on the bus again, this time headed to meet our host families.  We played a few games to get to know everyone, and then headed back to the houses, where we met the families. 

• Madeleine Aikin


June 15 

Currently we are all at our host families relaxing after a jam packed day of fun. We started the day off with a morning hike up a cliff at Mt. Arbel National Park. Not only did we walk, but we had to climb down the mountain. After around two hours we got back on the bus to have lunch at a mall in Tiberius. 

After that we went to the Jordan River, where we split into three groups to compete against one another. Then we started a drive back to the school to paint a mural in the school and a delicious barbecue dinner followed by an interesting discussing on the Israeli conflict. Enjoy the videos and pictures we’ve posted. Can’t wait to tell you more amazing stories. 

• Rachel Karp


June 18

Since we didn’t have any tours to go on as group while staying with our families, we organized a full group meet up at the beach. We had so much fun. After the beach, the guys all went to a burger place called Humongous, and some of the girls went to a mall to hang out. 

Then almost everyone chose to go to Shir’s house for late night pizza. After the party, we all went straight home and fell asleep the second we got home.

• Carter Koch