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Three weeks have come and gone. It seems like just yesterday that I was packing my backpack and heading to Pearson, yet it also feels like it’s been forever since I’ve been home. Life is funny that way I guess. 
After my ten beautiful days on being introduced to Israel through Taglit, I spent a day and a half winding down from group travel and soaking in the last few days with strangers who have become dear friends. And then Israel got an extra dose of love when The Zupnik party of one turned into the Zupnik party of three. I spent three days showing Mom and Dad around Tel Aviv (which they thought was insanely hot) and then we headed to Ein Bokek which is by the Dead Sea. At that point we no longer thought Tel Aviv was hot. We walked out of our car into Ein Bokek at 9pm and it was 42 degrees…AT 9pm!! It genuinely feels like a heater is on you at all times. The next morning we all woke up bright and early and made our way over to Masada. I enjoyed round two a lot more because it was a lot quieter (because of the hell-like heat) and so I was able to explore and learn a lot more. The Dead Sea was our next adventure which my parents had VERY opposite experiences with. My dad sat down to float, immediately decided he hated it and went to the pool. He laughed as he remembered that many years ago his mother had travelled to Israel and came back and reported that she did not like the Dead Sea. He now understood why. My mother on the other hand loved to float. The heat on the other hand, not so much. 


From Ein Bokek we traveled to Jerusalem. We spent a full day shopping, and then another full day at Yad Vashem. As long as I live and as long as I continue to study and read I don’t think I will be able to understand and comprehend the level of hate it took for the Holocaust to take place. It was my second time at Yad Vashem and this visit one particular thought stuck with me. The holocaust did not take place in dark, hidden places. The oppression, the humiliation, and the extermination took place in broad daylight. Whilst entire neighbouring populations went about their normal lives. It wasn’t just the Nazi’s who are responsible for the inhuman and despicable treatment of human beings, it was everyone who stood by and did nothing. That idea alone is why I believe that the responsibility of bearing witness is so important. Ignorance is sometimes more dangerous than hate, because without it hate cannot flourish. 

After that tough and taxing day a little ray of sunshine in the form of a 6’7 man child named Matthew came into town. Our party of three turned into four and we took the old city by storm the next day. We spent six hours walking through the four quarters. 

Because we did a tour we were able to visit Temple Mount, which is something I never expected to do. Security was super strict going into Temple Mount- shoulders, necks, elbows and ankles all needed to be covered and you were not allowed to touch members of the opposite sex- even for a picture. Despite all of this or maybe because of this the area surrounding Temple Mount and the Muslim Quarter was probably the most peaceful area we were in all day. It didn’t have the hustle and bustle that the other quarters did but I guess when entrance is extremely limited to outsiders that will be a side effect. 


From Jerusalem we made our way south to Eilat where Matt got his first taste of desert heat. Our bus ride there ran into a detour and ended up being seven hours instead of three and a half so by the time we got there the only thing on our minds were: where can we get beer?! Eilat is like the Niagara Falls of Israel. Super touristy, a boardwalk filled with carnival like games and shops, and Vegas style hotels on the water. We had an early night as the next morning we were up early and ready to go as our tour picked us up to head to Jordan. 

The border to Jordan is ten minutes from where we were in Eilat and it was one of the more chill borders I have been too. It was a walking border meaning you go through security, passport checks etc and then you have to walk about five minutes through no mans land and cross into Jordan. All in all the hardest part was carrying our bags in that heat. We met our driver and he took us and a group of about 15 off to find the lost city of Petra. Arriving in Petra was a bit surreal. Tucked away in a town is the visitors entrance which then leads you into the winding canyons that leads to the lost city. It’s easy to understand why this city was actually lost for a long period. The day in Petra was incredible. Seeing a world wonder is a privilege and standing amongst the remains of a once bustling city that dates over 2000 years old is a humbling experience. While we were there I couldn’t help but laugh that back at home my fellow Canadians were celebrating 150 years, while I was standing in a town that dates back to 312 BC. What struck me most about Petra was it’s size. When we rounded the corner and saw the treasury for the first time I couldn’t help but gasp. Standing at about 40m tall the Treasury is a work of art. Coupled with the fact that it was built BY HAND and without cranes or lifts or modern tools and I was blown away. The treasury, while the most famous site, is only a small stop on the whole tour of Petra. In all we walked about 12 km that day, visiting ancient tombs, theatres, and marvelling at the ancient aqua-duct’s carved within the canyons. Our first day in Jordan was a pretty impressive one. 

After a well deserved nights sleep the four of us, and our two new Aussie friends Kelly and Bianca, took off for day two’s adventures: a water hike. We drove about three hours into the desert (a hour of it down the scariest, most windy road I have ever been on) and ended up in this little river oasis between the mountains around us. We walked about two hours through what felt like a hidden jungle. It wasn’t as strenuous as the day before but it was harder because you had to concentrate on every step. I was SO impressed with my parents who tackled that hike like it was a piece of cake. (It was not). 


Day three led the six of us (named by our guide the adventurers) to Wadi Rum. We had no idea what to expect from this day but I think collectively it was all of our favourites. Wadi Rum is the largest valley in Jordan and is often nicknamed the Valley of the Moon, as walking through it makes you feel like you’re in another world. Films like Star Wars and The Martian have been shot there due to its other world like nature. We took a jeep across the desert and explored caves, mountains, and dunes. I did some of the scariest free climbing of my life but it was worth it for the #views. 


We drove back to the border around 6 and security going back into Israel was a heck of a lot stricter than leaving it was. Israel does not mess around with security (understandably so). After saying goodbye to Kelly and Bianca we made our way back to Eilat where we went out for one final dinner as a foursome. 

A final day in Tel Aviv spent at the beach and pool awaits us before Mom and Dad say goodbye and head to the airport tonight. It’s been such a special ten days with them; they’ve impressed me so much with their spirit and willingness to try anything. They really are the best travel companions and I feel pretty blessed to have the kind of parents who would come on this adventure with me. I know these will be memories we share forever and I’m so glad that Israel was a place we all got to experience together. 

Matt and I have a final day and a bit in Tel Aviv and then tomorrow night we are off to Budapest to begin our European adventures. 

I’m glad we will be back in Israel mid august because I’m not quite ready to say goodbye yet. It’s a country that has surprised me, challenged me, and welcomed me. And I have been inspired by its resilience and chutzpah every single day I’ve been here. When I hear the word Israel now it will mean so much more to me that just another country. It’s a place with deep meaning, strength and a people I’ve come to love. I know that Israel can sometimes be a dividing subject but I feel more confident than ever in standing beside it (which does not mean I will always agree with it). 

Yom Tov, and big love to all. 

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Taglit (Hebrew for discovery) or Birthright as many people know it was something I knew I was going to do since I was a little kid. I didn’t know much about it except for the fact that it was a free ten day trip to Israel paid for by various donors so that Jews across the world get to experience what life is like in a Jewish state. I got accepted and soon it was time to leave. I walked into the airport in Toronto having zero idea what to expect. But I was hesitant because is anything in life really free? I thought there MUST be some strings, some cause I’d need to support, or some pledge I’d have to sign. I didn’t grow up super Jewish and I come from a multi faith home, would there be other people like me or would they all start singing in Hebrew spontaneously and in cue? As the plane left Israel and I settled in for a comfy 11 hour flight I thought to myself: what did I get myself into? 
Fast forward to ten days later and I’m thankful for how wrong I was. Birthright was the gift of a lifetime simply because it gave me the option to explore something I’ve never been given the chance to before. And while there were a few spontaneous Hebrew sing offs I also managed to come out with lessons that will last a lifetime. 

1.) It is okay to go on an adventure alone

The majority of people will be by themselves or only with one other person but when you go alone you’re free to do whatever and are so much more open to meeting and getting to know those around you. 

2.) Everyone’s Jewish identity will look different. And that’s okay. 

Before birthright I had pre conceived notions that being Jewish meant a certain thing and that I was not it. I was wrong. I only have one Jewish parent and it’s paternal which I thought meant I was less than. My trip leader quickly dissuaded what she calls, an antiquated thought. I can proudly and confidently say I’m Jewish. There were people on my trip who were orthodox, many who grew up attending Hebrew school, some with only one Jewish parent, and some with two but who grew up very secular. But we were all Jewish. 

3.) Jerusalem is a magical place

No matter what religion/background you come from Jerusalem is a must do. It’s incredible that the worlds three largest monotheistic religions converge in one spot. The Muslim, Jewish and Christian quarters intertwine together to create the masterpiece that is the Old City. It’s a messy relationship and one that doesn’t always work- but it sure is a beautiful one. It’s like walking in an open air museum, and everywhere you look there is another story to be told. Above all the most beautiful thing to me was the power of human connection. At the western wall I was taken aback by the amount of people who all felt connected to the same thing. And I know that’s true in the other quarters as well. As much as we are all different we are so much more the same. 

4.) There is beauty in tradition

Judaism is built on tradition. As a millennial I think we often equate the word tradition with the idea of outdated. But while in Israel I learned how wrong that is. My biggest lesson would be the idea of Shabbat. I was fortunate enough to spend Shabbat my first week in Jerusalem. Friday morning I hit the machane yehuda market (more on this later) where people were getting their challah, flowers, and sweets for Shabbat. In the midst of the business everyone wished me Shabbat shalom. That craziness of the market was juxtaposed with a quietness like I’ve never seen only a few hours later. The city literally shuts down by 5. Every. Single. Week. Can you imagine that happening in Toronto? We can’t even seem to turn off our lives for a few hours let alone for a full 25. As I spent that Saturday morning and afternoon with my friends in the park I realized something about tradition: it’s beautiful. It’s usually meant to preserve something special. In this case time with those you love. 

5.) You’ve never experienced a market until you’ve been to the ones in Israel

From Machne Yehuda in Jerusalem to the Carmel market in Tel Aviv, the country is full of markets that will light your senses on fire. You’ll smell every single spice imaginable, see more candy than any candy store you’ve ever been to, get the best fruit smoothies I’ve had to date, all while walking past stands that sell vintage denim shorts and art and jewelry. As a first time shuk go-er you will probably immediately buy a Hamsa bracelet and something with a Star of David on it (I now own both) but the second and third time you go you will see the beauty in just wandering and watching. Mind you it’s busy as hell and you will be hotter than you can imagine. But visiting the shuk will be an experience you won’t soon forget.

6.) Interacting with locals will improve your trip significantly

The five days that we got to spend with the IDF soldiers assigned to our trip was the best five days of the trip. It’s one thing to read and learn about the conflicts going on in a country. It’s another to visit that country. But when you get to visit that country and walk around and learn from the people who live and work in it everyday it’s a whole new thing. Before birthright all I knew about the IDF was that it was mandatory service. Taglit gave me the chance to learn so much more. The IDF is filled with all different types of people from different walks of life. But they all are willing to die for their country and I think that’s pretty incredible. Can you say the same about your country? 

7.) Israel is so much more than a conflict zone. 

Yes Israel experiences a lot of conflict. And yes you will see soldiers everywhere you go. And yes it doesn’t have peace agreements with multiple countries that surround it. But that’s only a part of its story. Israel is a country of innovators- it has the second highest rate of start ups only after Silicon Valley. It is a country of nature- rivers and mountains in the north, cliffs and caves in the desert, the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. Israel has it all. I’m so thankful that our tour guide Karen showed us the beauty of Israel and how deep it is. Israel is also a country filled with people just like you and me. It’s people aren’t walking around everyday thinking of conflict and war, they are thinking about everyday life. Want to know what my Israeli friend and I spent the week talking about? Boys. Life here may be a different reality than I’m used to at home but I was reminded that at the end of the day humans are all the same. 

8.) You won’t want to leave when it’s over. 

Israel is a country that gets under your skin. It is a place that touches the deepest parts of your soul and teaches you something new everyday. I extended my trip two months- with two extra weeks in Israel and I am SO glad I did. Ten days on Birthright is simply not enough. That’s because for the Jewish people (no matter where you are in the world) Israel is more than just another country- it’s a place you can call home. You have the right to a citizenship and the state was created for you. That concept really hit me while on Birthright and it’s something I’m STILL blown away by. 

9.) Never give up

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “chutzpah” used before. It’s used to describe someone who has a shameless audacity. Israeli’s have chutzpah. The desert covers over 60% of Israel. In 1955 President Ben Gurion challenged his people to make the Negav a site for innovation and growth. At this point there was nothing there. It was dry, vast and VERY hot. You’d think he was nuts. But not the Israeli’s. They tried and failed and then tried again and eventually the Negav became a success story. Today it is a site for innovation. With army bases, global organizations, investors and startups moving south, the region is slowly making its mark. They built thriving spaces from nothing. Chutzpah. 

War is a constant threat here. And like I’ve mentioned before serving in the IDF is mandatory. Everybody serves their country despite the cost it can have. Here’s the thing about Israel though: you are always serving. Even once one finishes there years of mandatory service they are in the reserves for a few decades. Meaning they can be called back at any time. No matter who they are. A CEO of a start up can be called back and has to serve. That’s wild to me. Yet people choose to stay here. That doesn’t dissuade them. The threat of war, the process of serving, the trauma of serving, none of that dampens the spirit of people here. Chutzpah. 

10.) Learning is a lifelong process

Being in Israel set my brain on fire. I probably asked about 100 questions every single day of Birthright. Yet when it finished I still had 1000 more. Ten days isn’t going to wrap Israel and Judaism up in a neat little package for you. Like my tour guide Karen liked to say “it’s a lasagna” there are many layers. Birthright lit a spark in me to know more about my Jewish identity and the importance of Israel. It’s now on me to go home and continue to ask questions and learn more. Travelling to new places should do that to you. If you feel like you’ve learned everything once you’ve left a place you probably missed a lot. Don’t stop asking questions and NEVER stop being curious. Knowledge is what really separates us all and I’ll forever be indebted to Birthright for giving me the gift of not just a trip to Israel but a wealth of knowledge I’ll carry with me for life. 

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Spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year. Flowers are blooming, the weather is getting warmer, and the darkness of winter is beginning to lift. However for more than 33 million people spring represents a whole lot more. For more than 33 million people spring means one thing: College Basketball.
Over the course of three weeks in March, 68 teams vie for the chance to rule the universe of college basketball. It is a sporting event like no other, no other event in the world can match it…underdogs will rise, brackets will be busted and the world will watch as college kids, yes KIDS, see their dreams come true. There is a reason its called March Madness.

March Madness

March Madness; Quick Facts

But why do people care so much?

1.) You get to play along.
Even if you aren’t playing in the tournament you are able to have a stake in it. Millions of fans and non-fans alike follow the excitement by carefully selecting a bracket that details who they think will win in each game. These brackets are so prominent that a number of Presidents have even filled one out.

For Matt Patriarche, 25, his bracket was important enough to drive 21 hours to Florida. Patriarche is a teacher and he spent his March break driving down South to watch as many basketball games as he could:

“There is just something about March Madness. You connect with it on a different level than any other sporting event. Maybe because the players are in College and thats a relatable thing, or maybe because the upsets can be so big. You never know what is going to happen. And thats really exciting.”

And while Patriache’s bracket was just for fun, there can be a large amount of money waiting for those who bet right. The amount of money that is attached to #MarchMadness is astounding. There are so many types of bracket bets, from small ones to big ones, from free to expensive. The amount of money that circulates within the tournament and the amount of bets that can be made allow for non-basketball fans to get into the game. It is estimated that 9.2 Billion dollars was wagered on the 2016 tournament. That is on top of the 8.9 Billion dollars that is estimated to have been wagered illegally on the tournament last year.

2.) The Speed
March Madness is the largest national single-elimination competition anywhere in the world. Every game somebody is sent home. There are no second chances. And that makes the tournament a do or die situation. People love to watch total knockouts, and this is a tournament that is filled with 67 of them. The tournament is set up with four regions, with 16 teams in each region seeded 1-16 based off their performances in the regular season. The four teams that advance out of each region battle it out in the #FinalFour, one of the biggest events on the U.S. sports calendar each year. Because these games are single elimination, anything can and does happen. As previously mentioned a lot of people make bets, and the majority of those bets are wrong. Late night host Jimmy Fallon phrased it perfectly while writing a “thank you note” on his show: “Thank you march madness upsets. for giving sports anchors a chance to be just as wrong as weatherman.”
Upsets are common and sometimes a number 15

Twitter reacts to Villanova’s loss

seed defeats a number 2 seed early on. The games are built on excitement. This year there have been HUGE upsets. No.1 seed Villanova lost to No.8 seed Wisconsin and No.2 seed Duke lost to No.7 seed South Carolina.

 

 

 

3.) The Stories
There is a huge human aspect to #MarchMadness. The players are in the college age range bracket. These are kids and the audience gets to watch them live out their dreams. And in #MarchMadness these dreams can happen to anyone. In this years tournament No.7 seed South Carolina is in the #FinalFour. This is a big deal as the Gamecocks haven’t won a NCAA tournament game since 1973. Everybody loves an underdog and South Carolina is just that.


NCAA Footage of South Carolina’s Road to the Final Four.

 

March Madness is more than just basketball. It is an event that spans three weeks and captures the attention of the world. The money, the upsets, and the human connections all play roles in making people mad about a game of ball.

Will you be watching? Let me know.

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