Our First Day in Tel Aviv

By Vince Kiernan, New York University , Israel Uncovered Bus 6 I couldn’t help but let out a glorious sigh of relief when we finally got off of the bus to start our tour of Jaffa this morning. An in-depth orientation at Newark, followed by a 12-hour flight and a holdup at border control (all without a single ounce of coffee, mind you) had me feeling grumpy and claustrophobic, so I was ready to inhale the Mediterranean breeze and start exploring this fabled country.

After stretching our legs and taking some Snapchats of the scenery, the group gathered around our tour guide, who stood on a cliff situated right between the old sandstone buildings of Jaffa and Tel Aviv’s daunting skyline. I was thrilled to be in this beautiful setting, but when our guide began recounting the story of Jacob and the Whale, he instantly lost me and my jetlag turned into apathy.

I had listened to this story a thousand times before. To be frank, hearing about Jacob in this ancient city didn’t feel any more special than it had been in my 3rd-grade Bible Studies classroom. What had I gotten myself into? Had I traveled all this way for some sort of Biblical show-and-tell, where we wander around Israel and learn old lessons in new places?

It didn’t take me long to realize that Israel Uncovered would be a different trip entirely.

Our next destination was the College of Jaffa, where Gal Lusky offered an overview of Israeli Flying Aid, her NGO that brings humanitarian aid to people caught in natural disasters and military conflicts. Through a frank assessment of human rights issues in the Middle East, along with some gruesome photos from the front lines, Gal really challenged my perceptions of Israel. She wasn’t afraid to address the country’s more controversial issues or express her frustration towards the actions of the international community. I left the lecture feeling uncomfortable, but oddly satisfied to be pushed so far outside my comfort zone.

After discussing Gal’s lecture over a falafel and iced coffee, we ascended to the top of the Azraeli tower, where Yitzhak Sokoloff greeted in an observation deck with 360-degree views of Tel Aviv. Like Gal, Yitzhak told the story of Israel through his own perspective. He explained that the nation of Israel is a relatively new geopolitical entity, and with that youth comes confusion about how the society should function. Again, my perceptions of Israel were shattered – I had always thought of this place an as ancient, omnipresent land.

Though we’ve still got a long way to go on this journey, I can already tell that Israel is a far more complex place than I had previously considered. I’m looking forward to fighting off jetlag and diving deeper into this place, as I know it offers ample lessons for growth and learning. Israel is much more than a museum of ancient history – it’s a lively, modern place that deals with some of the world’s most pressing contemporary issues.

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