Genesis Challenge Israel 2013 – what a trip! I don’t quite know how to sum up what was without doubt two of the best weeks of my life so far in a mere blog post, but here goes – my best stab.
I’m not ashamed to say that I was, originally, somewhat reluctant to go on the trip. A booze-filled, lads holiday to the hedonistic islands of Ayia Napa or Ibiza seemed like a no-brainer when compared to two and a half weeks touring round Israel with a bunch of Rabbis, involving numerous hours of Jewish learning in stuffy run-down classrooms.
How naïve I was.
This was not two weeks spent solely in yeshiva. This was not two weeks spent sightseeing a country most of us were already familiar with. Technically, this wasn’t even just two weeks.
In fact, this was 17 days of banter, self-improvement, stimulating conversations, spiritual learning, bonding, and – most importantly – fun.
From Rabbi Hill’s instance on repeating the overall cost of the trip, to Rabbi B’s simply exceptional frisbee skills. From Jacob Betito’s incredible ability to be both frum and cool, to Joel Marks’ bellowing of any Israeli song at every opportunity.
We were a family; a community. We reflected and improved upon ourselves. We respected, understood, and intellectually challenged one another’s views on everything from the existence of God to the intricate details regarding the Skittles man and his rare condition (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mb5Tq3lO1pI).
We grew as a community, becoming closer to our original mates, as well as forging new partnerships and making lifelong friends. For instance, some of my new friends include WiFi (in the lobby), Goldstar, and that scrumptious strawberry and banana juice.
An original gripe over sleep deprivation was soon replaced by an embrace for Jerusalem’s vibrant night-life, and the finest bars Crack Square had to offer. The obsession with litre-sized beers and exotic cocktails was even shared by some of the Rabbis, who were spotted indulging in Israel’s finest lager in the deepest, darkest corners of Zolly’s.
A running theme of the trip was self-reflection and self-improvement. This was certainly, at least in my case, achieved – or so I like to think. The talks we were afforded the opportunity to hear were always stimulating, intellectual, and provoked interesting theories and, sometimes, heated debates. I think it’s safe to say the subject matter of these lectures differed somewhat from what is often heard in university houses. A welcome change? Surprisingly, yes.
We tried our very best to stay awake and alert in all the activities, but this was inevitably easier said than done. After all, students are simply not used to waking up at 8am every day after an amount of sleep often branded virtually illegal in the student bubble. We compensated for this by nodding off as soon as we collapsed into those awfully carpeted coach seats, or whenever the umpteenth mention of the Kaballah became just a tad too much to bear.
Frequent singing of, and dancing to, every Israeli song under the sun was the name of the game most evenings. Separate circles, of course. Rabbi Hill’s relentless smashing of his drum rendered everyone a little bit fearless of what may happen were they to cross paths with the great man, and Rabbi Shua’s simply sensational rapping skills never ceased to amaze and thrill chanichim, madrichim, and Rabbinim in equal measure.
The buzz-word around town for the final part of the programme was most certainly ‘soulmates’. Rafts of people were seen queuing around the cobbled streets of Jerusalem, desperate to find out who they were compatible with in order to start planning their Simcha sooner rather than later. However, the odds are stacked against any newly-formed Genesis couples beating Rabbi Hill’s world-record meeting-to-engaged time of…if you want to find out, go and find him and he’ll tell you.
Once the slightly awkward, yet refreshing, stay at our host families was done with, attention shifted to the mystery activity for our final night. I say ‘mystery’, but in reality we had all known exactly what it would be ever since we climbed up and down Masada on our last night of Israel Tour. Nonetheless, our excitement was not to be quashed, as, on only a few hours sleep and countless Red Bulls we trudged up Masada in our masses to embrace the sensational views and say our goodbyes.
An amazing experience, shared with amazing people. Thank you all!