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Volume 20 No. 42
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Seven experiences that stood out from a week in Israel

Kyle Maynard was greeted by many inspired well-wishers when he reached the top of Masada after his more than two-hour climb.
Watching Kyle Maynard, born with the rare condition of congenital amputation, bearcrawl up Masada, a steep climb atop the mountaintop fortress built in the time of Herod the Great. Many are familiar with the 31-year-old Maynard, who was the first quadruple amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics and has been recognized at the ESPY Awards. At Masada, he didn’t have his normal climbing equipment, so he taped towels to his arms and legs for friction. But even in the searing morning heat and with his legs going numb, he persevered and completed the climb in just over two hours, inspiring all those around him.

The fun, fantastic buoyancy of floating in the Dead Sea.

The tour of the Old City, from the power of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, to the emotion of the Via Dolorosa and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Later on the trip, seeing the checkpoints going into Bethlehem and the stark, eerie walls separating the city.

A group dinner at the home of a warm and welcoming Israeli family in the Moshav Ora section of Jerusalem. It featured trays of delicious food, Jewish and Arab children dancing together and elderly Arab women wearing hijabs sitting on an outdoor sofa quietly — and at times looking a bit uncomfortable — taking it all in.

Meeting Laith, a 19-year-old Arab who was home in Bethlehem before returning to medical school in Italy. He expertly sneaked a few of us through long lines of tourists into the Grotto of the Nativity. But he also was a great example of hope. He understands the pain of the past but believes in moving forward, and doesn’t believe that engagement between Arabs and Jews is betrayal. His optimism was encouraging.

At the end of a great week, our entire group celebrating a Shabbat dinner (my first ever Shabbat) at Tash and Tasha, a fun, hip restaurant featuring Georgian cuisine. The night included fantastic food, wine, great dancing, lots of laughs and appreciation of the week’s work.

The delicious cuisine and, of course, getting to know new friends over stories and laughs at the hotel bar.

Abraham D. Madkour