A Chronicle of touring Israel with a Taglit-Birthright group: Meeting the group
I met the wonderful group of people I would spend the following 5 days touring Israel with on the morning of Tuesday the 20th of January 2009. I choose, however, to begin my story on the afternoon of the previous day.
On that particular Monday afternoon I finally left the office to go home and pack for the trip. Due to my minuscule yet, unfortunately, not completely unimportant role in some newsworthy events taking part in Israel in the weeks before, my going on the trip was not at all certain up to that point.
In a phone conversation I’ve had with Raz, the group’s tour guide, I was instructed to meet the group on the designated day at 8:30 in the Tiberias central bus station, therefore I took the opportunity to pay a long overdue visit to my grandma who lives in Tiberias and spend the night there.
Needless to say, my grandma showed me great hospitality, she even had my uncle come by in the morning and give me a ride to the bus station.
Arriving at the bus station, I figured I’d be able to meet the other Israelis joining the group, this being a central bus station however, meant that there were plenty of young, backpack-carrying Israelis there, and there was no way to tell the ones destined for the group apart from the rest.
After wondering the station for a few minutes I called up Raz and he instructed me to wait for the rest at the Falafel stand beneath the station, and once they’ve all arrived, head down to “The main street where all the bus station are”.
Raz also told me that two of the girls joining the group, Carmel and Dikla, should already be at the Falafel stand. Walking there, I approached the two girls I saw sitting there (God knows how I managed to not spot them before) and confirmed they were indeed Carmel and Dikla.
The rest of our small group of Israelis, namely Avichay, Oz, Daniel and Nirit arrived shortly after, by then I managed to figure out that there should be 8 of us (4 boys and 4 girls to be exact), and that nobody really knew what Raz meant by “The main street where all the bus stations are”.
Sitting there, getting to know the rest of the Israelis was nice enough, but after a few minutes I began to grow impatient waiting for the apparently missing 8th member. I obviously wanted to meet the American group members and begin the trip already, and there was my natural aversion to being late tugging at the back of my head. So I called Raz once more.
Raz informed me that the missing member was already on the bus and that we should hurry up and come over, so I informed everyone and began walking in what seemed like the right general direction of the mysterious meeting spot, having the rest follow me because I seemed to know where I was going…
It didn’t take long for doubts to begin eating at my heart, as I reached the first junction which didn’t seem to intersect with something seeming like the street Raz described. I voiced my doubts to the rest, but carried on non the less until I spotted (read: was found by…), a guy that by the look of the red T-shirt he was wearing and the old Carabine rifle he was carrying, was obviously one of our tour group’s escorts.
The escort (Who’se name I shamefully can’t remember) led the way and finally pointed us at the golden bus who will be our transit and home on the road for the next few days.
Approaching the bus we were greeted with the sight of a tall, bald, unshaved and oh so obviously Israeli guy that left no doubt in our minds as to his identity being that of Raz, our tour guide.
Raz gathered us around, but before he could even say a word, a loud cry was heard from the bus: “I can’t wait to meet all you guys!”, promptly, Raz went on the bus to shut up the caller, when he got back down, we heard him murmur apologetically: “That would be Arielle, every group has a loudmouth…”
Raz gave us a brief but stern introduction to the rules we already knew we must follow: Don’t drink, Stay with the group, Speak English, don’t break any laws (Do drugs and you go to the cops…), Have fun. Completing the lecture he finally let us meet the first 2 Americans in the group, his faithful staff members, Michelle and Sloan.
Michelle and Sloan, after introducing themselves went on to ask for our names and give us name tags, this being the inauguration day, it didn’t take then long to get excited about me sharing my name with the newly elected president of the United States, “well”, I thought to myself, “I probably not gonna need the name tag for very long”.
Name tags hanging around our necks, and to the sound of loud, excited, applauds from the American group members (What a way to make one feel welcome!), we finally went on the bus.
The trip has finally begun.
…to be continued…