Israel Trip 2017 – Day 2

Mifgash 2017   
Day 2
At the Agamon Hula Valley Bird Paradise

Shalom Cheverim
Paradise is blue and warm, and it is here – wish you were too, but we are trying our best to cope without you!  Our plan seemed to have worked for the most part today: although there were some slightly tired children who apparently woke up early (my room is not near the kids’ – brain cells still firing), I did not notice any eyes closing. 
Seriously though, it was a lovely start to the day. The kids went to bed last night as per instructions (at least as far as we know) and not too surprisingly, after being awake for so long, quiet hours started early. Waking up at 7:45 a.m. was apparently easy, as most kids were already awake, so breakfast started a little early. I think most people loved breakfast, since there were lots of different choices, particularly eggs: scrambled, hard-boiled, Israeli omelet, and of course, shakshuka.  I love the many different cheeses (Israel is worth a visit just for its cheese and milk products) and any country that serves chocolate pudding for breakfast is A-one with me (I showed restraint and only had one…gotta pace myself). And for the Israeli salad lovers, there was lots of that, with all sorts of dips containing copious quantities of garlic.  Just going to say this once: I am not a fan (and not because I am a vampire). This is breakfast – just saying (and I know I am in the minority, but such is my strength of character that I can stand against peer pressure).  But for salad lovers there was much to love, and I was happy for them.
After eating, the hotel kindly brought out fresh sandwich buns and the kids made their own lunches (yes, they can do that!) and grabbed some fruit and filled up their water bottles. Around 9:00 a.m. we made it onto our bus to head to the school. They ordered up one of the rare 61-seat buses for us and we all managed to squeeze in for the 15-minute drive to the school. Everyone was in good spirits and I gave the kids a little pep talk: engage with their new Israeli friends, include all King David and Israeli students, pull someone in if you notice them left out, relax and go with the flow, and remember at all times who you represent (we had discussed this back at school, where we asked that they always act appropriately as they represent themselves, their families, their school, their city, their nation, etc. – of course, my speech at school was much longer because I could see how much they were enjoying it).
Meeting each other for the first time!
Arrive at Har Vagai. Kids exit bus onto beautiful grassy area. Grass area is empty. I turn around to hug Har Vagai’s wonderful principal and poof – Israelis everywhere, and our students have disappeared into the mass of bodies and noise. Hosts were finding their new roommates and non-hosts were meeting their visitors. The vibe was excellent (so excellent it was hard to get them to stop talking and move to our first stop) and it was a very warm welcome. To give you an idea how important this Mifgash is to the North, Giora Salz, Mayor of the Etzba HaGalil region, came to welcome us to the Galilee region.  Then school principal, Ravit Rosenthal, gave a really warm welcome to us.  The Israeli students then showed us a couple of videos of their school, and we reciprocated with a film that we had prepared to show them King David (great job Matt Dichter and Grade 11 student Gabe Stern). One thing you need to know is that we are not King David here – we are "the Canadians" (the second "a" is a soft "a" sound, as in "cat").
Already it is difficult to tell the Israelis and Canadians apart
After this group hello, the students (78 of them) broke into four groups and went out to enjoy some "getting-to-know-you" games. I sat about five meters away on a bench overlooking the river – did I mention this place is paradise? Did I mention we all needed to apply sunscreen in the morning? This went on for so long that I lost track of time and went inside to meet with Ravit (I was getting hot). When the first round of games was over they played "The Amazing Race" – which, despite what the name suggests, was not a race – and I think they had an amazing time as they were all together. The game consisted of different stations involving "holy water" (not a religious rite, trust me), rocket launching, flag merging, and then running around in a field (OK, I might have missed some of this, as I needed more coffee). Then it was back to the river to have the scrumptious lunch they had made earlier that morning (did I mention they can make their own lunch?).
The Israeli’s definitely know how to play "get-to-know-you" games!
After lunch there was more hanging out with their hosts as well as more running around, though this time on a basketball court – with a basketball!  We had planned to leave at 2 p.m. – and we did – but what was so very gorgeous to see was that the kids did not wish to separate (no I am not making this up, even if they talk to you like they are "too cool for school").  There was much hugging and the vibe continued to be excellent, which is pretty amazing because they had been together for over 4 hours and considering our travel, tiredness, and the stress of meeting so many people, our students were really good. We teachers commented how proud we were of them (and we told them how well they were doing). 
Crossing the river to get to the banding station.
But at 2:00 p.m. we were off on a new adventure (and it was better to want more time together than the alternative) to the Agamon Hula Valley Bird Paradise. This was a lovely experience that was generously provided to us by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Here we learned about this gorgeous valley that was transformed from a mosquito and malaria-infested swamp into fertile farmland. We were fortunate, as I have been there before when birds were scarce, but they weren’t today – the migration North to Europe was in full swing, and hundreds of common cranes (wingspan up to 2 metres, over a metre tall) were swooping all over, along with storks and lots of other birds (sorry birders, that is all I remember other than lots of different types of ducks and raptors. One had the name Harrier, as the jet with its name flies like this bird, apparently). We also had a wonderfully entertaining staff member show us how the birds are banded and tracked as part of a scientific study. Everyone was able to touch the Reed Warbler before it was released – this seemed pretty popular. Overall, it was a lovely multi-hour visit – the afternoon was just so warm, and sitting on a portable seating area being towed behind a tractor into fields to look at beautiful birds was pretty relaxing, especially considering our energy level.
The group was so focused as they watched a Warbler being banded
Our evening was pretty low-key. We scheduled dinner a bit later than usual, as we did not want the students to go to sleep. Some may have had a short nap while others went swimming. However, at 7:30 p.m. we collected all for dinner – it was "forced awakeness," but we want everyone to adjust to our new time zone as soon as possible. Dinner was a plethora of food choices – many different meats with lots of salad choices including Israeli salad with hummus (I mean, every meal?). Everyone seemed pretty chill, though there were definitely some eyelids that even crazy glue would have had a tough time keeping open. Believe it or not, after dinner there was more swimming – frankly, I felt too tired to even have a shower (but for the record, I managed). However, that is all the energy I have for tonight. Tomorrow is a 7:30 a.m. wake up, with kids having to eat breakfast, make their lunches by themselves again, and then pass room inspection as we check out of our hotel. Tomorrow is a big day – moving to host family day. I wonder who is more nervous, the students or the parents? (I can tell you the answer is not the chaperones, lol). We will take care of the students – and a nice glass of red should take care of the parents.
Lila Tov (when the time comes). Until tomorrow,
Russ

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