My European Spring Break

“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” – Anthony Bourdain

The famous American chef says it all! I just returned back to Israel from my 10-day trip traveling around Europe. Due to Passover, my spring break is about three and a half weeks long. All of this free time allotted for the perfect opportunity to travel, see new cultures, meet new people, eat new food, and learn about the history of each new place. 

As I sit here reflecting on my trip, I could not be more pleased with my decision to study abroad in Israel. My trip actually really put this entire semester in perspective. I constantly struggle with and am sometimes very frustrated with American Jewry. Jewish life in Israel just comes naturally and that is something I love about this semester and want to cherish and appreciate for the remainder of my time here. However, it was very refreshing to see other countries in Europe. I am so fortunate that I traveled with an incredible group of friends and have the absolute most wonderful and amazing parents who supported my trip.

In each country we saw the typical tourist sites, including anything and everything Jewish that the country had to offer. We saw different Jewish communities, visited the ghettos, and also the synagogues. Some of the countries have more active Jews than others, and so many of them are now in Israel. It was almost as if I was tracing back the history of the people who have helped make Israel what it is today. Upon landing in Israel, I could not have been happier to be back in my new home and begin preparing for Pesach, one of my favorite holidays.

It is impossible for me to fully describe my adventures that took place during the past 10 days. We saw and did so much each day and I am even still trying to recap the entire trip. I will try to provide a brief description of the places I went and some of my highlights.

We left on a Friday morning to go to Paris. We had a short layover in Greece and landed in Paris at around 11am. Approximately 10 minutes after landing, I had a Starbucks beverage in my hand and was a VERY happy camper. It has been so long that I thought the cups in Europe were bigger than America. I asked the barista and they are the standard size- I guess cups in Israel are just smaller. Anyways, we headed to our hostel, checked in, and quickly learned the subway system. We went to the Arc de Triumph, walked up and down Champs- Elysees, climbed to the top of the Arc de Triumph for a fabulous view of the city, and then hopped on a bike (with a driver) and headed over to the Eiffel Tower. Our driver was even so kind to take some photographs of us in front of the Eiffel Tower.

The following day we headed to the Louvre to visit the Mona Lisa (semi disappointing, but hey, I saw Mona) and see a bunch of other art. The museum was MASSIVE and easily could have taken all day. We all split up to go see each exhibit that interested us the most. I went to go check out the Islamic art section, as I was a little homesick from Israel and thought that art would remind me of the Middle East (and it sure did). For the rest of the day we walked around, saw some bridges and the Notre Dame. My friends’ French friend met us up for dinner and since France doesn’t really cater to Kosher/vegetarian or even normal food (sorry, I guess I just don’t appreciate French culture…except the French know how to make great crepes), we ended up at a Japanese place. Little did I know that Paris had good sushi (didn’t compare to the excellence that is Israeli sushi though).

Our time in Paris was quick but in my opinion the perfect amount of time. Our next stop was Amsterdam!!! After arriving in the Paris airport, I got in a little fight with the baggage man because apparently my carry on bag was too big, so I’m now 30 euro poorer and never flying airfrance again. No worries though, upon arriving in Amsterdam, a Starbucks was located right outside of my gate, so all issues were shortly resolved.

We picked up our “I am Amsterdam” cards that provided us with free entrance to a ton of museums, a free canal tour, and free public transportation. After checking into our beautiful hostel, we basically flew to one of my favorite sites of the entire trip: the Anne Frank House. Before I entered the museum, I was greeted my two of my camp friends who made a special trip just to say hello. It was such a special moment and it was so great to see them if only for a few minutes. After I said my hellos and goodbyes, I started my journey into the museum that shared a very special story.

Before I describe what I saw, I want to mention that I have studied about the Holocaust in college, visited Holocaust museums all over the US and Israel, as well as visited the camps in Poland. However, I have never been to a museum that showcases such a personal and well-known story. I had to take a second before continuing through the museum to realize where I was and what an incredible experience I was about to have as I retraced the steps of the Frank family.

The house that we visited was where Anne and her family hid during the war. The museum was filled with quotes from the diary all over the walls in each room, and showcased artifacts and letters that were saved after the Holocaust. The quotes that were selected matched each room so perfectly. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, requested that the furniture be taken out before the house became a museum, but the house was filled with other information. I applaud the designers of the museum for showcasing an extremely special and personal story in a beautiful fashion.

After the meaningful tour, we debriefed, critiqued, and complimented the museum and then we went on our free canal tour of the beautiful city of Amsterdam before heading to dinner.

The next day in Amsterdam was jammed packed as we were leaving that same day for Italy. We did the Van Gough Museum (I was very disappointed as all my favorite Van Gough paintings were on loan), the Jewish Museum, and the Botanical gardens.

The Jewish Museum was in a former synagogue in Amsterdam and even had a children’s museum attached. Since I was traveling with a group filled with Jewish Studies/ Education people, we obviously also went into the children’s museum and it was SO INCREDIBLE. Since I have been studying Jewish education this semester, I was able to look at the museum through a different lens and thought it was something very unique. Never have I been in a museum that is solely focused on teaching children about Judaism in such a fabulous manner.

Our time in Amsterdam was super quick, but we definitely saw the city and did as much as we could do. We headed to the airport in the afternoon to fly to our next destination: Venice, Italy.

We landed in Venice and headed to our hostel that was located off of the actual Island. We checked in and learned that on Monday nights the city of Venice is literally dead. There was one pub open that we went to for some small snacks. The owner felt so bad that he couldn’t cook us a meal because the kitchen was closed, but he provided us with some small and delicious snacks.

We woke up early the next day since we only had one day in Venice. We headed to the train station to go to the Island, but someone gave us wrong directions so we ended up asking a nice man to tell us how to get to the train station. He was actually going there so he told us to follow him. Instead of just dropping us off at the entrance, he helped us buy the train tickets and showed us the platform, and then sat with us until we got off the train. He was from Pakistan and is studying at the university in Venice. As he said his goodbyes he said, “I don’t know if I will see you again on this mother Earth, but enjoy and good luck”.

We did a gondala ride in Venice, walked around, and then toured the Jewish ghetto. We saw three gorgeous synagogues that are built above apartment complexes. There is no way to know these are synagogues, but each one is very quaint and only used for one holiday each year. We learned where the Jews hid all the items during the Holocaust and how they were preserved. We finished our day in Venice by eating at a local kosher restaurant and purchased some Venetian Murano Judaica glass items. I should also share that I fell in love with the work of a local artist who moved from Israel to Italy. I met her husband and she has a piece of work that shows a bunch of Synagogues around Europe. I have now visited and toured almost all of them and am adding the poster to my wish list. If anyone misses me a lot and wants to buy me something, get me that (cough, cough, Dad).

Next up was Florence. One of my friends from USY on Wheels in 2009 met us at the train station and took us to a delicious local Italian restaurant for some pizza. I haven’t seen my friend since December of 2009 and it was so nice of him to meet us and show us a little of Florence. I really am so lucky to have met such incredible people during my summer programs with Ramah and USY. Who would have thought I would go to Europe for 10 days and reunite with all these people?

After stuffing ourselves with delicious pizza, we woke up early to go see Michelangelo’s David and a lot of Jesus artwork at the Accademia. It was great to see David, but I thought that overall the museum was very overrated (and expensive). We did what we needed to do and then headed to the Duomo where we climbed 463 steps to have an incredible view of the city. Following our long climb up and down (it really wasn’t that bad), we headed over to the Ponte Vecchio and did some people watching, and of course had some gelato. We also stopped in the leather market and visited a store that a friend of mine and also a friend of one of the girls I was traveling with recommended. We walked in just to say hey and the owner pulled up both of our friends on facebook…it was hilarious.

The next day we went to the Great Synagogue of Florence and let me tell you, the word “great” doesn’t do it justice. No photographs were allowed inside, but it was probably one of the most beautiful synagogues I have ever seen. There was a museum on top, but unlike Amstedam the synagogue is still active (they asked if we would be there for Pesach). And unlike Venice, it kinda- sorta looks like a Synagogue, but in my opinion it looks more like a Mosque.

We ended up meeting up with some friends from Indiana who are studying in Florence before heading to Rome. We were in Rome for three nights and by this time of the trip we were all exhausted. Because we knew that there was so much history in Rome, we signed up for an “Ancity City Tour of Rome” through a Jewish perspective. We met our guide at the synagogue in Rome (which was also spectacular) and he took us all around Rome leading us to the Coliseum.

Our guide told us the history at each site and then added Jewish context. I learned that Jews were forbidden to go watch the fights in the Coliseum unless a Jew was fighting so they could try and save his life. Our guide gave us an incredible speech about the Arch of Titus and explained both Roman and Jewish history to us in the three hours. We also learned where Versace cool!

My European trip was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so fortunate I was able to see so many new places. It is now Passover and it is hard to believe that THIS year I am in Jerusalem. Of course I am missing the wonderful seder that I grew up with in Sarasota, but If I can’t be in Israel next year, let us all hope I can be at home with my family!

I attended my first Hebrew seder (no worries there was english translation, but I did read my part in Hebrew) with my best friend’s cousin and it was quite the experience. The chag didn’t start until around 8pm so the seder went until the wee hours of the morning. Overall it was a great experience with lots of yummy food. 

I still have another 8 days before my classes resume, so I need to catch up on some sleep, homework, and do some more traveling around Israel. Time is flying and I only have about 6 more weeks left. I’m making my final bucket list of things to do in Israel and figuring out the best ways for me to soak in absolutely everything. After seeing new cities, Jerusalem is so very unique and a city that cannot be taken for advantage. I wish everyone celebrating a great Pesach and hope all is well with each of you! If you made it this far in this post, I give you lots of credit! Thanks for sticking around! Lots of love and until next time…xoxo.





Pre Europe Post

Shalom again. Since my last post not too much has been happening in my life. Unfortunately, I have come down with what I think is equivalent to the plague. This put quite the damper on my weekend and the few days I reserved for knocking out my three take home midterms. No worries though, after hours of complaining to my parents and requesting that mother fly out to Israel to take care of me, I somehow managed to get myself together to attend services on Friday led by one of my friends from Indiana who is at Cantorial school here in Jerusalem. I have heard her lead services and sing in IU Hillel’s a cappella group, but there is no way to describe how GORGEOUS her voice was and how beautifully she led the service. She still has a few more years of school- but all of her future congregants are going to be some lucky, lucky people. If only I could have grown up with a cantor that had a beautiful voice and heart like the one and only Julie Womack.

About an hour before Shabbat ended this week, I once again magically got myself together to walk to the Kotel for Havdallah. Mother didn’t recommend it and requested I continue to rest (even though she is miles away she still thinks she knows best and is probably right), but honestly, how could I pass up Havdallah at the Kotel?? It is becoming one of my favorite things to do in Jerusalem. This time there was a larger crowd and they were davening maariv when we arrived (men and women were arranged side by side separated by the mechitza, but the women were silently praying..what’s new there..nothing). Minutes later the men started putting besamim (spices) in the mechitza and it was time for Havdallah. I guess the reason I enjoy this so much is because time and time again I am surprised at how comfortable I feel joining a community of strangers to say the prayer that people all around the world say at the conclusion of Shabbat.

The rest of my weekend was made up of a lot of sleeping and a lot of homework. I have had very minimal work this past semester (and that is probably an exaggeration since all I have had are a few readings and some Hebrew homework) so being assigned three take home midterms and one in class midterm in one week just didn’t seem like real life. Sadly I had to face reality and knock out the assignments. Good news is I only have one more left and it is due after Passover break.

Yep, that’s right, my spring break is quickly approaching (3 DAYS UNTIL STARBUCKS!!!). It hasn’t really hit me yet because I’m not in much need of a break. I’m basically living a five- month vacation here, so my upcoming travels are like a vacation in a vacation. In a few short days I will be on my way to Paris, Amsterdam, and Italy. When I get back to Israel, Passover starts the next day. This country is already starting to get in the mood for the holiday and it is great. My friends went to go buy dried kiwi at the Shuk and our favorite nut and fruit stand that ALWAYS has kiwi did not have any. When my friend asked where it was, the man told us that it isn’t kosher for Passover so they don’t have it. As we continued to walk around the Shuk we saw endless “Kosher for Passover” signs on so many of the stands. A few of the other stands have tons of macaroons and other goods out that are ready to be purchased.

Even the Coke bottles say “Chag Sameach” and “Kosher for Passover”. I discovered this last week when the IU students were asked to meet with the VP of International Affairs in Bloomington who was in Israel for a little lunch. We had a very short lunch with him and I had to leave early to attend class. Before I left I asked why he was here visiting Israel. None of my other friends have had people like this visit from their schools, so I was curious as to why Indiana University located in the middle of nowhere Bloomington was paying all this money to send the guy (and his wife) out here. His response was that he came to meet with Hebrew U and other Israeli universities to basically network and build relationships that can be used for research, teaching, and of course study abroad. He was a very cool and knowledgeable man who was willing to learn and wanted to hear about our experiences. I could not be any prouder to attend a school that continues to support Israel, and not only provide, but also encourage opportunities for students, teachers, and researchers to partner and benefit from this remarkable country. Go Hoosiers!!!!!

I am really struggling to accept that it is April and I go back to Florida “next month”. I am far from accepting it and really need to know the next time I am coming back here before I leave. Of course I am unbelievably excited to go explore Europe, but I think I am going to miss the comforts of Israel. This country has really become my second home (or just home if you want to look at it that way) and it is going to be a whole different experience traveling to a new country. I really hope I don’t slip in an extra “Todah” (or as mother says “toto”) when making a purchase.

Here are some “It’s Israel” moments before I close out this post:

I got a pedicure today (must travel with pretty toes) and the person in the chair next to me was an Orthodox man. Really is a first time for everything.

Last week I stopped at a McDonalds. I realized they are one of the few places in the country that has fountain soda and I reallllyyyyy wanted a Diet Coke from the fountain. It was just as delicious as I envisioned and even had super chopped ice! Ice in this country is also a luxury…Best part of the adventure? My friend was eating ice cream outside and respecting the kashrut issues; I ordered her drink and mine. The cashier literally bagged the drinks for me in a plastic bag. It was hilarious.

Well, that’s it for now. Hope everyone is enjoying whatever Spring weather has come your way. Miss you all! Until next time (after all my travels)…xoxo