We are always learning

We’re always learning.
New Orleans is such a unique place. It doesn’t feel like a part of the U.S. It has such a unique culture. The music is always playing. Songs of a love that is so strong the people can’t stop this passion for this place. A pride exists that unites the community.
The internet won’t connect even though I was promised free access. There are only 2 thin, small towels in the room. The water is not running with a strong force. People are living on the streets on every block. Buildings are being renovated everywhere. The music plays on. The hearts of the people beat hard. And they welcome us with a warmth and gratitude. “Thanks for coming to visit, to work”.
I only stopped at New Orleans to be able to share a small part of the trip with the 24 students who went there to help rebuild. On my way to Taglit-Birthright Israel I wanted to spend New Years with my husband who was staffing the trip. As always, the students taught me so much. They told their stories of their first 4 ½ days. Through their words I heard how they stepped out of their comfort zone to rip up floor boards, strip floors, paint walls. Their pride and effort showed through the spoken word. They spoke to the people; whispering first, voices getting louder and louder……………Were you here when Katrina came? What have you seen?
Tonight the students saved their leftover food and gave it to the homeless. They didn’t do that the first day. Today they grew and stretched and embraced their experience. We all shared something that will forever change us for the better.
The Garden district contrasts the distraught buildings we are working on. Slick and clean with new paint, crisp lines with sculptured gardens…. In contrast to chipped and fragile walls, wires revealing the guts of the buildings, bleeding with pain, and containing stories never told.
Life is fragile. Time goes fast. We are all part of precious communities. I hold close the incredible sacrifice and decision the students made to come here and work during their break. Thank you, Julianna, for all your work and organizing.
We are always learning.
With appreciation and love, Sue

Last night in Israel

It has been our honor to be a part of your children’s (and friend’s) first experience in Israel. This trip has certainly changed their lives and, as this was the beginning of a personal journey for them, we can’t wait to see where it leads.

Maxine and Dana

Shalom everyone!!

With only one day left of traveling around this beautiful and historical land, I can honestly say this has been the most amazing experience of my life. I know all of you at home are probably wondering what is going on over here so let me just set the scene for you for a second. For the past 9 days, 48 of us have been traveling around on a tour bus..from 7 am to late hours of the night. We are all together constantly and I am so thankful to have made so many best friends on this trip that I will be able to carry on relationships with even after we leave Israel. We have visited the most amazing sites I have ever seen and I am sure that all of your sons and daughters will have a million pictures to show you upon their return ( Don’t worry ma, you know I do). I have two experiences that I feel for me stand out above the others. First, the feelings that I felt upson visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It was an unbelieveable feeling being there, knowing that so many of our ancestors had been there. The emotions that I felt during the duration of our visit were unlike anything I could have imagined. The second was our swim in the Dead Sea. While I have never been so cut up from swimming in a pool of water before, the feeling of lying back and having no control over your body floating was unbelievable. Oh, yeah, and the mud wrestling was cool too (haha). Anyways, just a short briefing of my experience. There is simply just too much to tell but I must go for now. Only 2 more days until you get to see us again! It is getting close, no worries☺

Lots of love,
Jen Libbares
Virginia Tech ‘10

In the midst of the NFL playoffs, the VT Chokies upstting loss to the putrid Jayhawks, the stresses of a new semester at school and the new year being rung in, stepping off the airplane on January 4th and leaving all that behind was easier than I thought. The fact that we don’t even know the day or even the time of day back in the States might have something to do with it, but the sights, sounds, smells and everything else in the land of Israel is surreal. With all the craziness in the world today, specifically the Middle East, I never thought I would make the journey, but this was the year that my darling mother’s nagging and persistence finally paid off and she was able to persuade me to go and I’m so glad she did. There are so many amazing places that we have visited and sights that have touched us all.
This trip has not only allowed me to make 46 new jewish friends, but the amazing feelings and emotions associated with the sites and lectures have made me think twice about a lot of the things I take for granted and the life I live in the good old US of A.
I love to travel and it is something I plan on continuing the rest of my life. In one year I have visited the highest elevation on earth (Mt. Kileakahaahhaha or something of that sort), and now I can add the lowest place on earth to that. The only difference is that Israel feels more like home for some odd reason. Maybe because everybody here is Jewish and has a spicy haircut with curly hair, but the overall feeling all over the country makes me think some crazy thoughts I have never thought before. I have enjoyed my nine or ten days here, whatever it has been so far, and it is not because our TV’s only two channels are in Hebrew and I can’t watch MTV or sports, it is because this place has an aura surrounding it that touches everyone that visits it, even a bunch of college kids from all around the lovely state of Virginia. There’s a lot more that I would love to add now but I’m gonna go run and try and catch the Chargers game. I’m sure you all will hear it from my mom anyways, because we all know she LOVES to talk.

Post Script:
Thanks to all the parents for allowing their little hooligans to make this journey and to all the Jews of the 20th centrury that made this trip possible. It is one experience I will never forgot. L’Hitraot and see you soon!

Zak A. Kurtz
Roanoke College ‘07 and Boston U ‘07

and now for some pictures…

Ben Mills and Craig Luxenberg enjoying a camel ride in the Negev
the group at Independence Hall
the group on an army tank at the Armed Forces Memorial
Josh Rubin, Maxine Squires, Ben Mihal, Dave Starler, and Mike Ross at the MegaEvent, where we celebrated the fact that we were in Israel with thousands of other Jews from all over the world, all visiting here for the first time

Yerushalayim shel zahav (Jerusalem of gold)

Jerusalem, if I forget you,
fire not gonna come from me tongue.
Jerusalem, if I forget you,
let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.

Jerusalem is one of my favorite cities in the world and I am so excited to be here for Shabbat! Above is one of my favorite quotes- it’s actually taken from a psalm and Matisyahu popularized it. Below you will find 3 student updates of the trip, as well as a special post from 2 of our visiting soldiers. One of the greatest parts of the trip is that we get 8 soldiers from the Israeli Air Force to spend 5 days with us and teach us about what they do and all about Israel and we get to teach them all about what we do in America. What better way to learn about Israel than from the people who live here, right? They’ve only been with us for a day, and already we’ve had some great conversations.

Anyway, shabbat shalom! Talk to you soon!


Since the minute we all started learning about our Jewish heritage back in Hebrew school, it has been our dream to visit the Promised Land, the land of our forefathers promised to our nation by Adonai. Thanks to the Taglit-birthright: israel program those of us on this trip have been given that opportunity, and its more than we ever imagined. I won’t spend time reviewing what we’ve done so far on this trip, in such a short amount of time it feels like so much. Instead I would like to make sure that my parents (and probably a few others) are at ease, and are not needlessly worrying for our safety. To do this, I would like to explain about the staff guiding us. We have three men that are in charge of taking us around the Land of Milk and Honey, and their names are Benny, Elad, and Yoni. Benny is our driver, and while he doesn’t talk much, I have witnessed him do things while driving a bus that I thought were impossible, and now that he has performed these manuevers, I would like you all to feel as at ease as I am about us riding on the bus. Elad is our protection. All touring programs hire former Israeli soldiers to protect the groups, and not only is Elad a former soldier, but also a first class medic who served as such in the IDF. Finally, Yoni is our tour guide, the one who has already imparted us with so much knowledge in just a few days about the formation, destruction, and reconstruction of our land, and our resliliency as a people. To make you a little more familiar with him, he was born and raised in Queens (that should make you feel better, Dad), graduated from Queens College with a degree in International Relations, has an MA in Israeli Politcal Science, and served as a soldier in the IDF when he intially made Aliyah. These three men, along with Maxine and Dana (who are our staff from Virginia Tech and Richmond) have made this an amazing trip that has given all of us much more insight into the history of our people, and our relationship to all of it.

David Ramras
Virginia Tech ‘11

So I was sitting on the rather long bus ride towards Jerusalem this afternoon, vaguely dozing off, when our tour guide, Yoni, grabs the mic and tells us to look out to the left. Apparently we were closer to Jerusalem than I thought, because right out my window was a fantastic view of the whole city – and let me tell you, that is quite a sight.
While it is fortunate that I was awake enough to hear Yoni’s alert, I wish I had been more tired – the schedule today was originally to wake up around three (!) and go to Masada in time to see the sunrise. This plan fell through due to rain and general haziness, which was rather a bummer, but I imagine I got more out of the overall experience of Masada (which is an amazing place, by the way, with a lot of dramatic stories behind it) than I would have if I had been too exhausted to pay attention to the history.
We then went to the Dead Sea, and, uh, I mean, I knew it was really salty, but nobody told me that the beach was made of salt! I mean it: there’s no sand. While this makes it extraordinarily painful to walk on, and I saw some people end up with lacerated feet, it is also really cool.
The rest of the evening was fairly low key: some downtime and then dinner at the hotel we’re staying at and then a couple hours of tourism on Beh Yehuda street. Now we’re back at the hotel and despite having woken up at seven rather than three, it is nearing my bedtime. So I leave with regards from Jerusalem and a nod to how amazing it is that I’m in Israel at all.

Alexander Corwin
Virginia Tech, ‘11

I admitted early on the trip that I originally didn’t come to Israel to deepen any relations with what I call home with my own eyes, and to hear the tales of all the things that occurred. Last night was spent at a Bedouin tent in the Negev desert and the night out in the quiet and cold desert brought out something that I didn’t expect in such a seemingly barren section. We did an activity where everyone on the bus spred out in the dark and for me, sitting on a cold stone pathway, gripping a small weathered rock, I felt oddly at peace, and realized I wasn’t alone in this land, even if everyone in my group suddenly vanished. The feeling suffused my spirit, my mind reveling in the concept of sitting on the same stones as some distant ancestor, feeling connected through the barricades of time by a single thread. We were Jews, are Jews, always Jews. Israel is where we belong, and I felt like the land itself wanted us there, constantly calling out to us with its welcoming winds. Despite its sometimes harsh terrain, I felt no fear, for it is as if the very spirit of the land is walking with me.

Jessica Harowitz
VCU, ‘10

We knew all of the places that we have been today and we heard all of the stories that we heard today, but every time it is a more special experience for us. This is our first time in Taglit-Brithright and it feels really good to know that the Jews from all over the world really appreciate the country, the histroy of Israel, and the religion, and it doesn’t matter that they live far away from here. Today we were in the Dead Sea, and even though it was so cold, we had a great time. Even when we climbed Masada, that we had climbed before, it did not feel the same because the atmosphere felt so good. Every place that we have visited with the Taglit program looks so different than before because we are with these other Jews who are visiting Israel for the first time. We think that it is very important to continue with this program because it changes the way that they think about our country.

Thank you for an excellent trip we appreciate it so much.

Bat-hen Zohar and Aviran Haham, Israeli Air Force