A little more about Israel.
First off in response to Kristen's question about safety in Israel.... Israel isn't safe at times but you just have to be smart about the places you go and the way you travel. For example, we weren't allowed to travel in Arab owed taxi's or on public buses (we only used charter buses), and we weren't allowed in most open malls. Also, we traveled with an army guard when on fieldtrips and there was a guarded gate at the school. I mean, in Israel they have to worry a lot about terrorist attacks, but they also worry a lot less about the kind of murders and gang violence, things like that we worry about in the US. There was one time that really shook me up, when there was a terrorist attack near a mall where our bus had loaded the week before, but we were happy we weren't there and we were safe. In the last 5 years since being in Israel, there have actually been a few terrorist attacks at places I have been in the past, like a club a lot of kids from the trip went to and in a pizza place we had eaten. That really shook me. But you also have to think that there are times when there have been car accidents in a place you have driven or something. It’s all relative to the place you’re from, I guess.
Carah - I agree that the Kotel was one of the most moving places that we visited. I didn't expect to feel so emotionally effected when we visited but I actually cried the first time that we went there because I immediately realized that millions of people had prayed there before me and that it is such a central part of our religion and a place that so many people talk about going to when they get to Israel. I also thought about how when I was younger and went to summer camp the Israeli counselors used to collect our "wishes" and tell us they'd bring them to the wall as it's traditional to do when you are there. When I got there I was moved to see the thousands and thousands of tiny folded pieces of paper and to know that my wishes were somewhere among the hopes and dreams of so many people. Below is a picture from above the Kotel (which of those of you who may not know is the Western Wall and is the only remaining section of the ancient temple, and is such the holiest place for the Jewish religion.
We also had the opportunity to visit the tunnels below the Western Wall which had just opened and were beginning to be excavated which was amazing to see because it's a section even closer to where the Temple Mount was and people had begun leaving letters to G-d there also.
I think it's hard to tell educationally where I enjoyed visiting the most, but I think that climbing Masada is one of my most amazing memories I have. We climbed up “the hard path” before sunrise and it started drizzling as we neared the top. It was seriously one of the hardest hikes I have ever done and I came close to not being able to make it – but we completed it as a group and when we reached the top we davened (prayed) the morning service in the oldest known Beit Knesset (place of worship) in the world. Below is a picture of us getting ready for services that morning:
We then climbed to the top of the viewing tower to see the beautiful land around us. To one side we saw the hike we had just conquered; to another side we could see land for miles and miles and then see it disappear into the Dead Sea. And as we looked into the sky we saw a full rainbow taking over the sky, from one side of the horizon all the way to the other. It was breathtaking. After that morning we traveled around the mountain top and looked at the remnants and an ancient people that were so close to each of our hearts at that moment. So close in fact that we put ourselves in their place and imagines that we were the ancient Jewish people who had been held up as the last people to evade capture and destruction of the Jewish community in Israel. We discussed, for four hours, their decision to commit suicide as an entire community rather than be taken capture and tortured then murdered. We took sides and debated. On that day, one of my favorite days in Israel we sat on the same ground as thousands of visitors had done before and contemplated history while viewing a beautiful landscape.