Bus One-Oh-Fun: A Tale of Two Birthright Shabbats
By Marissa Freeman, OneTable Chicago Hub Manager
Last time I wrote a piece about Shabbat on Birthright, I was back from an incredible 10-days with Bus 24, as a participant. This time, I’m coming with a new understanding of Shabbat’s ability to bring a group together. I’m now back from staffing a Birthright trip with Bus 101 (aka Bus One-Oh-Fun) and still running a holy-high from our time together, specifically on Shabbat.
Our group landed on a Thursday morning. We met up with our Israeli participants and our Bus 101 family finally felt complete. We traveled north to our first hotel where we unpacked, took much needed showers, and launched into getting to know each other. The next day, Friday, was our first full day in Israel and it started with a water hike and kayaking on the Jordan River. By the time sunset came to Northern Israel, we were all ready for some serious down time, so you can imagine how wonderful it was to find a spot overlooking the Sea of Galilee to start Shabbat with a warm breeze and new friends.
As a staff member for this trip, my trip highlights came from witnessing others have meaningful moments. Kabbalat Shabbat with our group, from lighting candles and exchanging Shabbat flowers, allowed us to sit together as a full unit and take a deep breath. Setting some intention with our peers ignited a flame in our group’s willingness to experience the next week together. You can imagine the smile on our staff’s faces when we finished programming for the night and instead of everyone going to sleep, they all stayed up chatting on the shores of the Kinneret. I didn’t think my heart could be fuller – until our next Shabbat together.
The next 6 days flew by. Our days started together with breakfast and bus rides. We blasted Israeli pop songs between destinations and ate entirely too much falafel and schwarma. The Ice Caffe flowed and we hiked, sang, had bus dance parties, and rode camels. We explored Tel Aviv and shopped for trinkets in the Shuk. The days were full and fulfilling, gearing us up for what without a doubt be another incredible Shabbat together, even more elevated than the last one.
For Shabbat, our guide, Bar, shocked us with the most incredible gift. Bar had private access to an exclusive rooftop view overlooking the Western Wall and with all four quarters of the Old City in sight (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Armenian). When we got to the rooftop, the temperature was perfect, not too hot and the breeze was whipping through each corner of the white-stone Old City. Overlooking Jerusalem, we took a huge breath together and the Bus 101 Shabbat committee lead Kabbalat Shabbat while we peered over the Western Wall.
I got emotional – how could I not? My sunglasses covered some of the tears forming in my eyes while I witnessed new friends sitting together and singing the nigun (melody) that Bar had taught us a week earlier. The sun beamed down for the last moments of our Kabbalat Shabbat and everything felt right.
We danced and welcomed Shabbat at the Kotel and then walked back to our hotel together, dancing through the streets of Jerusalem along the way. After dinner, we used our OneTable Shab-bag and our Shabbat committee facilitated a Shabbat-O-Gram gift exchange and shared printed pictures from our OneTable Polaroid camera. Shabbat proved again to be the glue that brought our family together.
As a participant, Shabbat was a time for me to get to know my new bus-friends. As a leader, Shabbat gave me a chance to step away from the chaos of managing 49 participants for ten days straight. The time we had set aside to relax meant basking in the joy that was our time together, creating the perfect glue to bring all of our laughs and lessons from the previous eight days together. Shabbat book-ended our journey and as a participant turned Birthright leader, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.