Rabbi Loren Sykes is the Principal of the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel. In these weekly postings, he gives a description and rundown of what the group is doing day to day, which he hopes sheds some light on what the EIE experience is like.
Israelis are born with an extra gene called the L’Tayyel or Hiking Gene. Ask most Israelis what hobbies they have and, almost without exception, they will tell you they love hiking. It seems everyone here goes out during the Passover and Sukkot vacations to hike the entire country. And we saw most of them during our Sea-to-Sea or Yam l’Yam hike this week. Throughout our trip, we met Israelis and tourists, secular and ultra-Orthodox, Jews and Druze alike.
On Sunday, EIE students were picked up around the country following Seder and the first day of Passover. The first evening of the trip was devoted to setting up our camp for the evening, dinner, and preparing for the next day’s major hike, Mt. Meron. We had a fantastic dinner followed by a bonfire accompanied by roasted marshmallows and lots of singing. We slept outside and, with Safed in the distance, enjoyed a gorgeous night sky filled with stars. In the morning, we had hot tea and cookies before breaking camp and heading off for our first major hike.
Other than t he Masada trip earlier in the semester, I have not been on a serious hike in a long time. At over 1,200 meters high, Mt. Meron is a SERIOUS hike for me. I know this was a serious hike for many others as well. In our group, there were regular hikers, infrequent hikers, those that don’t like hiking and those who don’t “enjoy nature.” During our trek, I had the pleasure to talk with students representing the full range of hiking and nature preferences. There were serious conversations, lots of joking, and general schmoozing along the way. We were also treated to spectacular views from the top of the mountain.
Monday, April 25, was also a holiday for the Druze, who celebrate Nabi Shouab, or Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law. At our Monday camp site, there was a large Druze family, celebrating the holiday in the same way Jews spend the intermediate days in Israel – hiking and barbecuing. I had the privilege of talking with the family. Here, at a camp site in the middle of the upper Galilee/Golan, we were able to see Israelis of all types enjoying the holiday together, something we do not see often enough.
On Tuesday, David Solomon took my place on the trip. Students hiked both Tuesday and Wednesday and all went well. Thursday, they rode bicycles and completed the trip. The last day of Yom Tov, followed immediately by Shabbat, was spent at Kibbutz Hanaton with Ariella Kronish and her family. The group then returned to Tzuba and we started the last month of EIE.
EIE students had an authentic Israeli Passover holiday. They had Seder with families, hiked with Israelis of all kinds, slept under the stars, in tents, in homes, and in youth hostels. They cooked on small camping grills and ate meals cooked by the tripping staff. They enjoyed the beauty of the land of Israel, were challenged physically and, at times, pushed out of their comfort zones. I expect this was a holiday they will remember for the rest of their lives. I know I will. Who knows? Maybe some EIE students even discovered that they too possess the L’Tayyel Gene after all!