I’m a shoe person. So when I look back on the three months that I spent in Israel my junior year of high school, I can’t help but think of it in terms of the shoes I was wearing at the time. For three months I traveled around Israel, from the Golan Heights in the north to the Negev in the south, and from the Red Sea in the west to the Kinneret in the east, all the while learning the history of the Jewish people in a pair of simple brown Champion shoes from Payless. In the cities of Israel, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Hod Hasharon and more, I wore my strappy “Israel sandals” and experienced first-hand what it was like to actually live in Israel.
My trip to Israel was through the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program and my high school, the American Hebrew Academy. On the Muss campus in Israel, I was learning both the history of the Jewish people as well as secular subjects like math and science. Outside of the classrooms, I was able to explore the cities of Israel on free weekends traveling to Bet Shan, En Gedi and Modi’in where I stayed with friends or fellow classmates. At one home we ate pomegranates that were grown right in their backyard, another time I went horseback riding through the hills outside of Jerusalem and yet another time we caught an outdoor concert featuring a popular Israeli hip-hop band.
Three or four times a week we went on tiyuls (trips around the country to visit historical sites). Every morning the day of a tiyul, I would fill up a water bottle, make a sandwich for lunch and lace up my little brown shoes. Lacking in some of the sparkly shine that made Dorothy’s ruby slippers all that they were, my shoes still seemed to have a little bit of magic in them. In those shoes I was going places: Click, click, click, I was in Kiriat Shmona at Tel Chai, in Sfat at the Ari Synagogue, in Jerusalem at the Kotel, in the water cistern on Masada, in Independence hall in Tel Aviv click, click, click, click. I was learning the history where it took place: the caves the ancient Jewish fighters crawled through during the Bar Kochva revolt, I crawled through too, or the water tunnels built by Hezekiah thousands of years ago, that I waded through. This opportunity to actually relive history made conventional textbook learning seem inadequate.
While my brown shoes were taking me to the ancient sites of Israel, my strappy Israel sandals, purchased on an impulse one night in Hod Hasharon, provided me with the feeling of actually living in the modern day country of Israel. In my sandals I would walk to the store and pick up seltzer or a Kinder bar. Other times I walked to a park and stopped for pizza and got the chance to talk to the locals. I took trips to vintage clothing shops, outdoor shooks (markets) in Yafo and taxi rides into Tel Aviv and Kfar Sabah. It was in those moments, in those strappy sandals, that I was beating the tourist stereotype and just truly living in Israel.
And there were other shoes along the way: my running shoes took me through a week in Gadna (Israeli “boot camp”), my Crocs protected my feet in the Dead Sea, and most of all, my bare feet, touching the ground, feeling the stones, always leading me on an adventure.
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