On the final day of their 10-day adventure in Israel, more than 40 participants of a recent Birthright group arrived at an IDF base in central Israel. As soon as they got off the bus, they went straight to the kitchen, where they had three hours to prepare lunch for the more than 200 soldiers in the Oketz unit.
Most of the Birthright participants were culinary students or current chefs at universities or restaurants across the United States. Some, however, just really liked to cook.
While all Birthright trips visit key sites -- the Western Wall, Masada and the Dead Sea -- this IsraelExperts group added a special focus on Israeli cuisine.
They visited olive oil factories, dined in restaurants in Jaffa and toured the greenhouses of the Ein Shemer kibbutz. They were also treated to a question-and-answer session with the editor of an Israeli culinary magazine Al Hashulchan ('On the Table'), who discussed seven different Mediterranean and Israeli dishes such as shakshouka, jachnun, halvah and hummus.
When they finished cooking in the kitchen, the participants moved to the cafeteria to help serve the soldiers. Only after every soldier was eating did the chefs sit down and enjoy the fruits of their labor. The soldiers and tourists sat together and discussed Israel, Zionism and their shared interests.
Following the lunch, it was back on the bus. The group stopped briefly at an automated cowshed, where they learned about the Israeli dairy industry. Then it was straight to Ben-Gurion Airport for their return flight home.