This morning I was sitting with my fourteen year-old son, and I had a revelation. “Today is the 11th of December. I’m leaving for Israel in exactly two months! Holy crap!” For years I have dreamed of going on a trip to Israel (or just about anywhere, as I’ve never been out of the country) but it just never seemed to be a possibility. I live in East Tennessee, currently, and tickets from here are often in the $1100-$1400 range. In addition to that, we have four kids! All of us going just isn’t an option, as it would cost almost half of a year’s pay for the whole trip (once you consider food, lodging, et al), and I didn’t envision a scenario in which I would be able to go by myself.
Last year (2011), however, I made the decision to go back to school. My wife had gone back already, and was in her second year of her associates of sciences program. With the fact that we are low income, and have so many dependents, there is a lot of government money to help us out with tuition, so I figured now was the time! I was sitting in orientation, and they began to talk about the study abroad program. I wasn’t eligible, since I hadn’t completed enough hours of schooling yet (they pay for half the tuition, so they want your investment first, I guess), but my wife was eligible. I called her, and said that it was something that she should do, to which she responded that she had thought about it but never thought it was a possibility because of the kids. I reminded her that they are my kids as well, and she may never get another opportunity like this again. To make a short story long, she went on the program, spent three weeks in Paris. I stayed home with the kids–that is, until my mom flew out here from California and we all loaded up in the car to embark on a cross-country road trip. With my wife having the opportunity to take this trip, we decided that it was fair that I could take a trip too. Well, I decided, and she didn’t argue at least. My wife doesn’t exactly get excited over a lot of things, so….
This last summer, I was keeping my eyes peeled for info on the best times to fly, best carriers, and best cities to fly out of, in terms of rates. To my amazement, I found that DC was the cheapest airport to fly out of, and during November and February were the cheapest times of year. It was now in the realm of possibility, being $400-$700 cheaper than flying out of our airport. How to pay for the trip though? I could use school money left over after classes were paid for, but I’d rather not deplete those funds so much. I decided to start a GoFundMe fundraiser, and see if anyone would be interested in helping an “older” guy (34) pay for the trip that he is too old to get for free through the organization Taglit Birthright. If you don’t know about Birthright, it is a not for profit organization that sends young jews (18-28) on two week trips to Israel to help build their jewish identities. It is a really great program, but it is limited to those age groups, so I was ineligible. If I engineered my own birthright trip though, I could get it done for a lot less, and be able to see things that I want to see–which may or may not be what Birthright would have me see. In addition, I would be close to Italy, so a round trip ticket to Rome would be affordable. By going to Italy, I could not only see historic sights and eat some great pizza, but, I could also journey to Gaeta, Italy, and search for my ancestors records while enjoying the very same streets they called home!
The GoFundMe project was a partial success, raising about 20% of the $2500 I figured the trip would cost. More would be great–and if any of you would like to donate even $10, I would be most appreciative–but B’H/thank G-d it has been a success so far! This brings me to the point I am at now. I have purchased my tickets to Israel, I will be staying with a friend in Netzrat Illit for part of my time in Israel, possibly visiting a man and his family in Har Hevron, and am still working on people to stay with or places to rent in Tel Aviv, and Yerushalayim/Jerusalem. I still need to procure my tickets from Tel Aviv to Rome, and arrangements there as well. I’m not worried about any of it too much, I know that everything will work out fine and that G-d will provide the answers, but I do need to get off my keister and get some of this legwork done. Two months will have gone by before I even know it!
Some of the things that I would like to do or places to see in Israel:
-Surf! February is supposed to be a good time for surfing in Israel, and I can’t wait!
-My friend Ofer wants to take me to the Golan. He says it is his favorite part of the country!
-Visit the Kinneret/Sea of Galilee.
-Visit the Dead Sea.
-Zichron Ya’akov, a cute seaside community.
-Tel Aviv. I’ve heard that Tel Aviv is a lot like New York, just with more jews! For many, this might not be a good thing, but I’m excited!
-Jerusalem. Old city, new city, arab quarter, the Kotel (western/wailing wall), temple mount (if at all possible), the shuk (outdoor market), and anything/everthing else I can possibly take in!
-Hevron, the biblical territory of Caleb son of Y’funah (כלב בן יפנה)
-Masada, the hilltop outpost where our ancestors fought off the Romans before ultimately killing themselves/each other so as not to be seized by Rome once the siege was complete.
-Visit Ma’ale Adumim, or one of the other settlements.
-Take thousands of photographs!
These are just the things that I can think of, off the top of my head that I would like to accomplish in Israel. With G-d’s help, may I merit to achieve all of this and more within the tight span of two weeks!
Once again, if you would like to help out with some of the costs, I would be most appreciative. I have set up a tier of rewards for those who are generous enough to assist me in this endeavor.