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Culture: Israel Learning Expedition

March 21, 2013 -- Guest post from Alexis Kheir T'14, a participant on the Israel Learning Expedition.

The first half of our Learning Expedition was largely focused on the cultural aspects of the region. We spent several days in Jerusalem visiting incredible historical and religious sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Damascus Gate. It's been amazing to be in a place that is so central to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and to learn about the different areas of importance to each religion. On Friday after sunset we took a trip to the Western (Wailing) Wall, the most important site in Jerusalem for Judaism because of its proximity to the Stone of Foundation. It was a moving and intense experience; the energy and dedication of the worshipers surrounding the wall was profound. After the visit to the wall, we had a typical Shabat dinner in a synagogue. The meal is meant to be a celebration and as a result it is an elaborate experience starting with wine followed by many choices of appetizers and main courses!

In general, the food in Israel has been fantastic. I have never eaten so much hummus in my life! Breakfasts at our hotels include an extensive buffet of fresh vegetables and salads, yogurts and cheeses. Israelis do not typically have both meat and cheese in the same meal; typically cheese is with breakfast, but no meat, and meat is part of dinner, but cheese is not. Usually for lunch we grab a falafel or shawarma on the go, sometimes for as little as 8 shekels (just over $2!).  It seems as though most of the food is extremely fresh and relatively healthy.

One aspect of the trip I have found interesting is the diversity I had taken for granted when thinking about coming to Israel. The Jewish diaspora is extremely diverse and as a result, Israel is a melting pot with people from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In addition, within Israel there are Arab-Israeli and Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) populations. Each of these populations pursue different levels of education and play different roles in the workforce and economy of Israel.

My favorite day so far was Saturday, when we visited the nature park, hiked Masada and took a dip in the Dead Sea. The nature park, complete with waterfalls and greenery, was a literal oasis in this region. The highlight by far was the dip in the Dead Sea. The feeling of your entire body floating with ease is truly a unique and incredible experience! Our entire group relished in the therapeutic after effects of our mineral-enriched day and was completely calm and at ease for the rest of the night - as if we had spent the entire day at the spa! Covering myself in mud with a group of 20+ Tuckies was a priceless experience!

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