10 Days in Israel

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Traveling. A word that has so much meaning to my family, and one day I hoped myself. I had always had the desire to travel abroad, but never had the time or the money to do so. The opportunity finally came about that I would be able to travel to Israel with a group of 37 people through an amazing organization called Birthright.

I decided to go on Birthright this summer for a few reasons. 1. To finally get a chance to see the world and travel. 2. To learn more about myself and my culture. 3. To experience a country that my grandmother, a world traveler, was never able to visit. About 20 years ago my grandmother and grandfather planned a cruise together and one of the stops was in Israel. However, they never made it to Israel, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer- that she would later end up beating.

After conquering her courageous battle with breast cancer, my grandparents continued to travel both together and apart. They traveled to Europe and even China, but they never made it to Israel. In 2014 my incredibly strong grandmother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She fought with all of her might but eventually lost her battle in January of 2016.

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The loss of my grandmother was hard, she was the most creative, honest, and caring woman I have ever met. But above all, my grandmother was strong. She was always everyone’s rock. She never complained. She was everything that I strive to be. I decided that I wanted to embody the strength and courage of my grandmother, because she is my inspiration.

Volleyball was one of my saviors, I would not be the person I am today without it. There are no words to describe how much strength and support my coach and teammates have given me this semester- so for those of you reading this, thank you. We talk a lot about our values as a team, integrity, humility, compassion, and dedication. Being part of the Geneseo Women’s Volleyball team has helped develop me into the person I am today. I would not have been able to get through this year without your endless guidance and support, and for that, thank you. You are all my family. You aided me in the strength that I needed to carry on and to ultimately step out of my comfort zone and experience the world.

May 19th 2016. I arrived in Newark airport and met the 40 people I would be spending the next 10 days with. The flight over seemed to be endless. It was 10 hours stuck in the middle of two rather large men who I didn’t know. To make things even better, I was flagged at TSA and searched. Once I arrived in Israel, I picked my suitcase up at baggage claim only to find that it was completely empty and that every last thing in the bag had been removed. Awesome. Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t completely freak out- one thing I’ve been trying to get better at on the court as well. Long story short, all of my belongings were in a rather large box at a separate location.

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Look how empty it is!

When I was repacking my suitcase in the middle of the airport at 7 AM I found a luggage tag, boarding pass, and a rock that I didn’t know were in there. They all belonged to my grandmother. The boarding pass had Dotty Walker on it, she was flying from Newark to Paris. Just the first sign that she was with me. I’m not sure where the rock came from exactly, but in the Jewish tradition, rocks and pebbles are placed on the gravestone of loved ones because flowers will eventually die, but rocks last forever. I can also promise you that the rock, and others that I brought home from Israel will eventually make their way to her.

Every day in Israel was amazing. We started in the north and worked our way south. In Israel, the scenery will change every 30 minutes. We started in the mountains. No matter how I try to describe it, nothing will do it justice. No pictures and no words. The country is beautiful, and if you ever get the chance, please, please, PLEASE take my advice and spend a few days to engulf yourself in its beauty.

 

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After a 10 hour plane ride being stuck in the middle of two strangers I FINALLY made it! We started in the north in Tzfat!

 

We spent three days in our first kibbutz which had no WiFi, so ultimately I was forced to get to know 37 strangers who later would become my family. The bonds that I made this summer with 37 strangers is remarkable. In 10 short days these people became my family.

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To tell you about everything we did would be impossible. In 10 action-packed days we traveled almost the entire county. We saw waterfalls, swam in the Jordan River, the Mediterranean, and even the Dead Sea. Something ironic that I learned, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at over 1,000 feet below sea level. A few months ago I was also at a low point, however, even being at the lowest point in the world, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on top of it.

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Just some beautiful falls on a hike and floating in the Dead Sea!

 

I was able to show my new friends my beach volleyball skill while mingling with the locals (thanks coach for letting us practice them on the last day of spring season)! I climbed Masada and was able to see Israel from a new perspective- above. There were no worries there.

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One of the most popular questions I’ve gotten upon arriving home is, “did you ever feel unsafe?”-No¸ I never felt unsafe once. While we were there we traveled with a security guard, two American staff members, and our amazing tour guide, Ofer. We learned about the conflicts in the Middle East, but again, I never worried about my safety.

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Welcome to the top of Masada.

I’m able to say that I have slept in the middle of a desert in a giant tent and it even rained while I was there. I rode a camel, which I named Greg. I’m able to say that I left a note in the Western Wall, I ran around Jerusalem, and experienced the beauty of Tel Aviv.  10 days just wasn’t enough.

 

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This is Greg, the greatest camel ever. Just kidding, Greg didn’t want to get up and didn’t like his picture taken much, luckily he stopped and smiled for this one!

Now for one of my favorite parts, THE FOOD! First off, America does iced coffee wrong, I’ll tell you that right now. I had the best iced coffee ever when I was in Israel, it is more of a slushy than an iced coffee. For breakfast they eat an unreal amount of veggies… and salad… One thing that I wanted when I got home was fruit, lots and lots of fruit. They do however, have the BEST bread in the world. Actually, carbs in general. My diet was a mixture between some type of chicken, hopefully an apple or some other type of fruit, and bread. Surprisingly, not a lot of people keep kosher there.

The last five days our trip we were lucky enough to be joined by eight Israelis. Three of them were IDF soldiers and the other five were college students studying all around the country. Men and women both serve in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), women serve for 2 years and men serve for 2.8. It was an awesome experience to hear people my age talk about their life experiences that are so different than mine. I am in awe at how much pride and nationalism they have for their country, it’s remarkable.

Coming home was hard. Leaving some of my friends in Israel to have more adventures there or to continue to travel other parts of the world. Other friends live in Florida or California. I know that the friendships I made will last a lifetime and we all made a promise that it wasn’t a “goodbye”, it was a “see you later.” Staying in contact is hard when there is such great distance between us, but it is what makes you value your time together so much more when we finally do meet again.

This experience was exactly what I needed and really changed my life. After coming home, I feel rejuvenated and refreshed. I want to see the world and continue to learn more about it. I fell in love with traveling and I know my grandmother would be so proud of me. I learned so much about myself and Israel in 10 days. My hunger for traveling and new experiences is at an all-time high. And to be honest, none of this would have been possible without the love and support from my family and friends. This year has by far been the most challenging one in my life, but I’m thankful that I have come out a stronger person because of it. If this year has taught me anything, it is to love unconditionally and to be grateful and humble.

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We went to an art museum which had art both inside and out. This says love. It’s how I feel about this entire country and every part of my trip.

The rest of my summer will consist of nanning for the same family that I did last year. Three kids ages 4, 6 and 8. They are such great kids. I also work at a local market research firm in my town- so if you get a call from Research and Marketing Strategies, please answer the phone and take my survey!

Other than that, the only traveling I intend on doing is to Canada and hopefully to Florida. My grandparent’s cottage is in Canada and I can’t wait to be reunited with my favorite place. It was also my grandmother’s favorite place. I’m looking forward to getting back in the gym this summer at camps and with my new teammates, but until then I’ll just have to settle for blog updates and stalking your Facebook- watch out!

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Lost Bay, Canada

One final note, I know I mentioned this before but I feel the need to mention it one more time. Thank you to my family, my friends, and my teammates. You are my biggest supporters and I would be no where without you! I love you.

 

Dani Sayler

Senior (oh gosh), Defensive Specialist

Blog 1

Yours truly outside the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. One of the best views in Jerusalem and such a powerful and meaningful day.