January 4 – 6: שָׁלוֹם‎

On the last full day in Israel, our group visited The Israel Museum, which greatly surprised me with its superb modern sculpture garden and collection of antiquities. This museum had a large model of the Old City and housed the Dead Sea Scroll. The Scrolls were interesting to see how they were archived in large cylindrical vats. 

Anish Kapoor

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Walking out of the Dead Sea Scrolls archive, I immediately noticed a bronze Rodin standing in the middle of a sidewalk. As I walked further I could see an Alexander Archipenko and Henry Moore figures overlooking the Jerusalem skyline.  At the top of a staircase I could see a large mirrored object and I immediately cried out ‘Kapoor!’ I walked up the staircase and saw the world invert on the large mirrored stainless steel object. A friend crossed paths with me, laughing saying that this garden is ridiculous – have you seen the James Turrell? I shouted “Turrell WHERE!?” He pointed toward a big white building over yonder and said “You have to enter around it” as I started running at it as we only had about 5 minutes before having to leave on the bus.

James Turrell sign had my heart pacing

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As I ran I passed by a gigantic Richard Serra steel cross intersection. I paused and crept inside of it to feel the sublime fear that it will fall down. I continued for the Turrell and must have ran around the building 3 times trying to find the entrance to realize I had to take another path to get inside it. By the time I got into the Sky Piece, more friends showed up and we got to experience the sky in silence. Compared to the other Sky Piece I saw earlier in the trip at MoMA PS1, this room was made of Jerusalem Stone seating instead of wooden seats – making it a very unique and holy experience. Sadly I was only inside for few short minutes and not enough time to mediate like the last time I was in it.

James Turrell

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When I left the garden I could see other large sculptures and even an array of mirrors on the ground that reflected the sky like a pond.

Israel Haderly- sky pool

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When waiting to get on the bus, my friend told me more about the gardens – how there was a Donald Judd, Claes Oldenburg, Sol LeWitt, and Picasso sculptures hiding about. The entire sculpture garden itself was actually designed by Isame Naguchi! How awesome is that? No wonder it was such a beautiful place to be! As I looked more into the museum’s online catalogue from my phone on the bus, I got sad knowing I didn’t have enough time to go INTO to art exhibitions and see all great modern art collections. Maybe next time – or as we say ever year at the end of Passover, “Next Year in Jerusalem”

Shimon Peres (1923 – 2016)

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The next stop for the tour bus was Mount Hertzle, which was across the street from Yad Vashem. This place was not necessarily a mountain to hike, but a cemetery for Israel’s political leaders. At the entrance was a large tomb for Theodore Hertzle. There were many rocks on top of his tomb that people have recently placed, a way of building up their legacy. We toured the tombs of Robin and his wife, and the newly built tomb for Shimon Peres. The tombs for victims of terrorist attacks was very saddening, and we had a group discussion about how these civilian victims are placed in vicinity of politicians and war heroes.

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For lunch we went to a large shopping mall. I toured the stores and ended up getting some Versace cologne and nice pair of pants. The salespeople here were friendly, but also insistent on getting me to try on multiple versions of the clothing to find right size even though I had no desire to purchase the jackets.


Another activity from the Experience Design trip was added to the agenda – visiting a working studio of Youths at risk who create pottery, jewelry, and art gifts. The studio was also inside of a shopping mall, and was very neat to get an inside look at how glass art is made. The artists showed us how they cut glass, shape it with molds in the kiln, screen print on glass, and use fire to shape it as they wish.

The last group activity for the adventure in Israel was a special talk by Avraham Infeld. As we waited for the speaker to take stage we noticed there was about an hour of time to kill. Other groups were still filling in the theater, but our group was one of the older groups and loudest. Three of us just got on the stage and just started dancing  to the waiting music  – totally unscripted. Like “Club Jay” from before, it didn’t take long for the stage to fill in with others from the other groups, people just dancing out of boredom for fun.

I believe I was the last one to exit the stage, and I gave a special dance with my leather jacket, taking it off half way andI sensually put it back on and gave a bow. Later in the night when back at the hotel, I had several people come up to me and say “You got mad rhythem” and “Nice dance moves”. I didn’t get to see any video from the night, but I have a feeling everyone has that awesomely weird moment burned in their memory of Jerusalem.

Finally the speaker took stage, and boy was that a great speech. He really enlightened me on the idea of Judaism in modern world – how judaism is not a religion but a cultural heritage, and what it means to be a Jew today. I really liked his idea of Judaism as a 5 legged table – composed of memory, family, Mt. Sinai, Israel and Hebrew. A table of 5 legs can technically stand on four legs, and on three, but not on two legs or just one.

January 5-6: Made in China

After our group left the theater and headed back to the hotel for the final night, I realized there will be no sleep if we have to leave by 2am. The Day from before gets carried into this day, and the bags under my eyes grew one day longer. For the final night we did some group discussion about our trip overall togeather and finally split ways. Most of the group ended up throwing a little party in the middle of the hallway of our 12th floor of the hotel. Music blasting by the elevator and me dancing for quite some time.

One of the Israeli soldiers who had been with us had come back in full uniform off duty to say a final good bye. One of the members of our trip who was in US military immediately took the soldier’s assault rifle and broke it down – sticking his finger inside it to check if it was clean. When he removed his finger it was black with dirt, and the guy started to do a funny rant of how US military would go crazy if there was any dirt in a weapon.

I remember having a glass of whisky at 1 am, and then waiting in line at the airport at 3 am. The airport was very very crowded for some odd reason at such an odd hour. When it was my turn to meet with the first of many security checks, the TSA said “You are Andy Warhol? Made in China? But you have American Passport, Jay?” I wasn’t sure if this was a joke or serious but he let me through. The rest of the process through customs through Ben Gurion airport was quite similar. “Made in China? Andy Warhol?”. Even though we arrived at the airport at 3 am, and the plane departs at 6am, I did not get to the gate until 5:30. Very close.

The first plane ride of the day everyone was expecting to sleep. It was just a 3 hour trip to Vienna, Austria, but we did not anticipate there being 8 babies crying and screaming the entire trip. Everyone’s eyes rolled once the babies began crying in unison. I envy those who were able to sleep – but even they snapped when they woke up to the wailing preschool.

When we landed in Vienna we immediately went through customs. I was put through security an additional 2 times. Apparently at the Israel airpot, they wrote SSS on my ticket, so I kept getting “randomly selected for search”. Again, there was question about my affiliation with China and my impersonation of a dead American pop icon.

The long airplane back to the states lasted 10 hours. Most of us fell asleep. I didn’t. I know that I nodded off now and then, but more like half hour nap at most. I watched several movies on the plane but none that great. Suicide Squad was horrible.

Finally arriving in JFK, everyone rushed through customs. Even in America, the scrutiny folks were reading my buttons. One laughed and said “Make love not war? Oh that says… Made in China???”. This guy at least had sense of humor and just let me pass without having to get additional screenings.

Checking in my bags to go to Orlando airport was difficult as my bag are 10 pounds heavier since I originally left, making it “overweight”.  I got into line 3 times just to get my bag weighed as I took stuff out, each time being reminded I am over encumbered. I tried to keep kosher after eating a kosher diet for 2 weeks but the first meal I had at the airport had cheese on the meat without even thinking about what a Reuben sandwich is. Why?

Flight to Florida I slept on and off. I arrived around 9 pm (about  3am in Israel time). My roommate was going to pick me up, but he was working late that night. I found a place to lay my baggage down in the terminal, and just slept on and off on top of my bags until about 2am. We drove home and arrived around 5am (11 am Israel time). At that point I had been up for over 2 days without sleeping in a bed, and at last I could sleep after greeting my meowing cat.

Overall this was an excellent trip. I am very grateful for the Birthright program and glad I got to experience New York City and Jerusalem. Within the same trip I saw the world from the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and hiked around in the Lowest place on Earth! I am very inspired to create new artwork – I have a great desire to paint and make collage once again from my photographs of the many landscapes I witnessed on this trip! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for new artwork as I return to the studio!