December 7, 2021.
Gratitude is really powerful. It’s cheesy and cringey, but also beautiful and magical. Lately, there have been so many moments where I’m overflowing with gratitude for this life I have the privilege of living. When Izzy, Katie, Dani and I set out on our ambitious road trip over Hanukkah break, I had no idea how many moments like this I would have.
Starting in the North, we drove to Tzfat expecting to stop in all the cute little shops that make up the old city. Unfortunately, almost all of the shops were closed because tourists couldn’t come into Israel (this was 2 days after Israel “closed their skies” to tourists again after the Omicron variant became a concern). It was both eery and beautiful to walk through the empty streets that are normally packed with people.
Afterwards, we headed to Tiberias where I swear I had the best schnitzel of my life…at a restaurant attached to a gas station. The Google reviews were right when they advised “not to let the gas station deter you”. As we enjoyed one of the most delicious meals of our trip, we witnessed the entire restaurant suddenly become completely silent.
Moment of Gratitude #1: We looked over to the front of the restaurant to see that the staff had all gathered to light the Chanukkah candles. It was so beautiful how the entire restaurant stopped to watch and join in prayer. After the candles were lit and the prayers were said, the whole restaurant burst into song. The pure joy and sense of community I witnessed in that moment was breathtaking. It felt like the entire restaurant was one big family. Getting to experience that moment–a moment where my religious traditions were so publicly and proudly celebrated made me extremely grateful to be living in this country where Judaism is practiced so freely and openly.
We spent the rest of our time in Tiberias hiking Mt. Arbel, enjoying a wine-tasting at Tabor Winery, and relaxing by the Kinneret before heading off to our first campsite: Natura Ecological Farm.
Before setting off for the day, I made everyone peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the road. On our way to Natur, we stopped for a lunch break. We parked on the side of some random mountain we were driving down, hopped over the barrier, sat on some rocks overlooking the beautiful landscape in the north, and ate our PB&J’s.
Moment #2: I don’t know why this memory is so special to me; maybe it just felt really wholesome, maybe it was the beautiful view, or maybe it just finally sunk in that we were really setting out on a road trip across my new home–I really don’t know. I do know, however, that I felt really grateful to be in that moment, completely and fully present, with people who had quickly become my family away from home.
When we arrived at the campsite and took out the tent we had borrowed from our friends, we found that they had forgotten to put the poles in the bag. This setback had us contemplating sleeping outside in the woods with no covering or just sleeping in the car. The manager of the campsite came over and saw our dilemma, and he set up a tent for us to rent for the night. When he saw the super thin mats we brought to sleep on, he said he couldn’t in good conscience let us sleep on them. So, he brought over nicer mattresses for us, free of charge. The night really turned around as the sun went down and the cold set in.
We quickly bundled in as many layers as possible and got to work with dinner. We cooked over our little camping stove, lit the Hanukkah candles, played some card games, and went to sleep.
Moment #3: Waking up to the silence and quiet sounds of nature was so peaceful. We slowly made some coffee and toast for breakfast, and then we just hung around the campsite for a while. I loved the simplicity of waking up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature, with no rush of anywhere we had to go. It was the perfect slow morning.
Before we headed to the south, we bought a new tent and stopped at a hidden hot spring on the border of Jordan. The hot spring ended up being so hot that we couldn’t stay in it for more than a few seconds, but it was still a really fun experience.
Next, we drove south for a few hours until we reached the campsite in Ein Gedi. Setting up our tent in the strong winds was a challenge, on top of the exhaustion setting in from traveling, but nevertheless we prevailed. Our tent overlooked the Dead Sea and it was just so beautiful.
While we were in Ein Gedi, we went to the Dead Sea, attempted to make campfire nachos, and went on a hike. We even woke up to see the sunrise over the Dead Sea.
The next day we loaded up the car once again to drive the farthest south I had ever been in Israel, Timna National Park. This was the part of the trip I was most excited for, and it proved to be just as awesome as I had hoped.
When we arrived at the Timna Park campgrounds, we realized that we broke our tent the first day we had it…and we were having a hard time fixing it enough to get it to stay up. Thankfully our tent neighbors, Ido, Keren, and their wonderful dog Bailey, saw our struggles. Ido came over to introduce himself and immediately got to work on trying to fix our tent. He spoke in a way that assured us he wouldn’t leave until our tent was functioning, and his kindness was much appreciated. After several minutes of struggling, we got it to work!
Moment #4: True to what I have come to learn about Israelis, Ido and Keren proved to be gracious tent neighbors throughout our time in Timna. As a testament to this, Ido gave us hiking recommendations for the following day, and when we didn’t return to our tent until well after dark (because we had gone to Eilat for a few hours), he got worried that we were still out in the desert. He was so concerned about us that he actually went to the front desk to ask if anyone had seen us return.
When we finally returned to the campsite, we could see the concern on his face as he admitted how glad he was to see us return safely. It’s a beautiful thing when random strangers care enough to go out of their way like that. Part of why I feel so safe in this country is because this is how the average Israeli treats others. Ido isn’t a singular kind soul, he’s a product of a culture that breeds and encourages this type of mindset.
The final moment of gratitude: On our last night in Timna National Park, we decided to find a big rock to watch the sunset from. We climbed to the top and sat down to enjoy the view. We sat there for a while, talking about everything and nothing, but I could just feel that we all were on the same page. We all just felt at peace.
We started talking about how lucky we are to be living during a time where Jews could actually live in our homeland. We thought about how many Jews have fought throughout centuries to make this a reality, and how blessed we are to be here, living out the dream of so many others before us. I don’t take this privilege lightly, and I can’t help but feel insanely grateful to be here living this dream life.
Another thing we spoke about was how this road trip opened our eyes to how much more we want to do and see in Israel. As I sat up on that rock watching the sunset, I felt so excited about my future here. I couldn’t imagine moving back to the U.S. in just 7 months. It was on this rock that I decided I want to make Aliyah. I want to become a citizen of this country that has become my home so quickly.
As I put these memories into words over a month later, I genuinely feel it growing in my heart–the gratitude, happiness, and peace I felt that week. I can’t explain why these small moments have impacted me so greatly, but I think I can attribute a large part of it to finally living in the present and truly living my life to the fullest.