Our first full day in Israel started off with a amazing breakfast at the David Citadel Hotel…shushuka, babka, smoked fish, and Israeli salads! Yum! Then we headed, with our newest host Tali Lidar, to our first stop- helping to package food and sort clothing at the LATET’s Food for Life Project. Latet is an Israeli humanitarian aid organization with the goal of providing assistance to needy populations in Israel and worldwide. Poverty and food shortage affects a large portion of Israeli society and Latet’s objective is to strengthen Israeli NGO’s that distribute food and enhance the awareness of the problems associated with hunger. Working on the assembly line together, at their new warehouse, we packed dozens of boxes. It was a great experience, if only for a short time, to be part of this operation.

Next, on to our partnership city of Netivot, south of Jerusalem, learning about various facts from Tali along the way. After a quick stop for a group photo at Netivot’s own Liberty Bell, we went to a local community center to learn about the city, its history, and the impact JFNA has made in Netivot and the surrounding communities.

After seeing the city, we headed off to Kibutz Alumim. We enjoyed a delicious authentic Israeli meal in their communal cafeteria. In addition to learning about the way of life at Alumim and their socialist mentality (give what you can, take what you need), we also heard a number of fascinating stories of their life being so close to the Gaza boarder. One particularly memorable story was how the soldiers, during the most recent conflict, were motivated by having an Israeli community so close to the conflict, while the Kibbutz was able to return the favor by taking care of the lone soldiers who were engaged in combat. It is their drive to live a normal life that is a true symbol of the country of Israel, and their desire to never let terrorism take away their freedom. Before leaving the Kibbutz, we stood less than 3 miles from the Gaza border looking through binoculars at the city with millions of Palestinians, now under Hamas rule.

Then, onto our new hotel in Jerusalem to join our fellow travelers from Jewish Federations of North America and become part of the National Young Leadership Mission for the remainder of our journey.

With the group now over 100 Jews from around the North America, we officially kicked off the week with a dinner and cocktail party at Tel Aviv night club, Zappa. To cap off the night we took to the streets and wandered up Ben Yehuda to enjoy a few beers and some of the true Israeli nightlife in the Machane Yehuda.