Our last day, Monday, came quick. It seemed like just yesterday we were awkwardly gathering around the Palestinian check-in station at El Al in JFK. All packed up to head back to the states, we loaded up Bus 541 and re-entered the hotel for a Gift of Life activity. I think most of us swabbed our cheeks to be added to the bone marrow registry – we were all feeling a bit nostalgic.
Sleep deprived, maybe delirious, definitely emotional, we boarded 541 (I think Erik even participated in the attendance check this time) to travel to the HaShalom Forest for Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies and a closing activity.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvahs were moving, everyone shed some light on their upbringing, what brought them to Israel and how they planned to pay it all forward. It was an amazing setting for such an event ‘back dropped’ by a remarkable view of Jerusalem. It must have been a green screen.
Following Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, we relocated to a nearby courtyard under a few olive trees, still looking over Jerusalem, for some closing thoughts. Each member of the group got up and spoke of one thing about the trip that he or she liked, something that made them think, something they did not like, something they would take with them forever and something small. For something small, I think we’ve all taken that ringing bell with us – I hear it in my sleep (thanks, Geoff).
Halfway through the closing speeches, we were notified that our flight had been delayed by almost five hours. After we processed the news, I think the consensus was that we were glad to have some more time together and we were happy we didn’t have to rush off to the airport. So, we had some time to kill.
*Lauren sneaks out*
Our guides made some calls and booked us an appointment at a Jerusalem theater to learn a bit about a popular historical art form in Israel. We crammed into hot black box room where there was a table full of odd looking masks and hats and about three rows of seating. Ari was nodding off while this “unusual” man put on a loud, strange act based on the persona of the mask he was wearing. The room filled with awkward laughter and we all hoped that we wouldn’t get called on stage to do the same.
Amit, among others, volunteered, while Guy and a few of us were forced up on stage. It was all hysterical, still awkward, and I was called up to imitate Avraham based on our meeting in his art gallery earlier on in the week. Contrary to the vibe I gave off throughout the trip, I’m a generally shy person, so you can imagine my relief when I took the mask off and headed back to my seat after what seemed like a successful improvisation. It was nothing less than a surprising end cap to the trip.
On the bus ride to the airport, Amit quoted Dr. Seuss, saying “hey guys, don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Sadness ensued at Ben Gurion for a number of us. We said goodbye to the Israelis, promising to see them again soon and took a few last second photos together. The line through customs and security was “light speed” compared to JFK, which gave us ample time to charge phones, grab a few beers or some wine and scarf down airport Shawarma or Falafel. Since we were all on standby, we did our best to sit together, towards the back, so that we could spend some more time together on the 11-hour flight home. We were given a free glass of wine once seated and reminisced a bit more before nodding off over the Atlantic Ocean.
We landed at JFK at about 3:00am EST, moved quickly through customs and gathered around baggage claim to pick up our luggage and say our goodbyes. There was a sense of relief and excitement in the group that we were home safely and that the trip was a success. Those goodbyes were joyous as we made plans to regroup in regional pods, while also laying down the foundation for a 541 reunion in the near future.
For the first time in ten days I was without by birthright family. On the four-hour bus ride home I was back inside of my own head, scrolling through photos and flipping through the pages of my field journal. I woke up in Boston at 11:00am and went straight to Whole Foods to grab some hummus and falafel.
If you recall from the pre-trip blog post, my mother was a bit apprehensive when I said goodbye before leaving. Well, she cried when I got home as well. I realize that if it wasn’t for my mother, not only would I likely not have gone, but I doubt that I would’ve had the emotional capacity to gain all that I did from this experience.
It was a blessing to be welcomed by so many intelligent, intuitive people in and outside of 541, to become connected with our heritage in such a holy place, and to create bonds with family whom we hadn’t known before – feelings that we don’t experience at such an amplified level in our everyday lives in the states. The events and activities were enlightening and thought provoking, but the trip was highlighted by the conversations and the people. I hope that we can continue to nurture our new relationships and to build upon our heritage that has led us to this point, that we continue to open our minds and welcome new things, appreciate all that we have and always remember “how great it is… that we’re here… together… in this world.”
Thank you all.
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– Jason Silva