Scavenger hunt brings New York's connection to Zionist history alive

The "Amazing Israel Race," held in celebration of Independence Day, was the first of its kind here.

flags 88 (photo credit: )
flags 88
(photo credit: )
"I was at the center of the first Israeli government, yet I met my better half in the Big Apple. It may not have been the Kotel or a nice synagogue, but it was a legal chamber in which to get married." This was one of 12 clues given to 80 Jewish students from universities in the New York City area and birthright-Israel alumni who traipsed around the city in search of Israel-related history on Sunday. The "Amazing Israel Race," held in celebration of Independence Day, was the first of its kind here. The participants were divided into 16 groups that competed to be the first to reach the final destination. Although the final clue didn't take them to Israel, it did bring them closer. Each member of the winning group receives $500 toward a ticket to Israel. Second place winners get an Ipod filled with Israeli music, and third place brings a $50 Max Brenner gift certificate. But figuring out the clues wasn't all that was required. When the groups reached Manhattan's Municipal Building, where Paula and David Ben-Gurion were married, they were given a glass to stomp and then asked to explain the reason for this Jewish wedding tradition. If they couldn't, they had to wait 10 minutes or find someone in the area with the answer before moving on to the next location. At Golda Meir Square, the searchers were met by a volunteer holding three blondish "old lady wigs," three "old lady dresses" and three copies of famous speeches by the late prime minister. One member of each group was asked to don a wig and dress and impersonate Meir, including delivering an impassioned speech to the entire square. One clue pre-dates Israel's independence: "I'm a forgotten place, from a forgotten language, from a forgotten time. I contained the second biggest stage. They even changed the name of my neighborhood although the Tribes of Israel still live here. The best Jewish deli in Manhattan [the 2nd Avenue Deli] is now gone and has left me all alone. Your grandparents used to visit me in my golden days. No one understands me any more. I am a remnant of a forgotten time yet I still stand here like a rock." Several hints led the clever to a stone at the corner of 12th Street and 2nd Avenue that says: "Yiddish Theater, May 1926." But that's not all. Once there, students had to find someone to translate these two sentences into Yiddish: "Can you do me a favor?" and "Can you help me?" Another clue brought participants up to date with contemporary Israeli society: "I kicked Starbucks out of Israel and now want to beat them out of their own turf. I'm in a mispronounced street that knows where the money is." At the recently opened Aroma cafe at the corner of Houston and Greene streets, participants were asked to identify Israeli cultural personalities including A.B. Yehoshua, Etgar Keret, Lior Ashkenazi, Idan Reichel, Ehud Banai, Yael Lapid and Tal Friedman. They were allowed to ask anyone at the Israeli cafe for assistance. Then came the final clue: "A day and a united vote 2,000 years in the making... Kaf Tet B'November." At UN headquarters, the groups were taught about the revival of the Jewish state, including about the several plans for a Jewish and an Arab state. Students were tested on which countries voted which way on the 1947 partition plan. Out of 15 countries listed, they needed to guess seven correctly to move on. The idea for the race came to World Zionist Organization emmisary Ofer Gutman while he was walking by Manhattan's famous FAO Schwarz toy store. On the sidewalk, Gutman noticed a plaque dedicated to a Hagana headquarters. "I thought to myself, there are so many Zionist-connected monuments in New York, and thought of doing a scavenger hunt," he said. The scavenger hunt was cosponored by the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund and the American Zionist Movement. The $20 registration fee will go toward the JNF fund for rebuilding Israel's North. "When people come back from birthright they get the Israel bug, and they are always trying to find ways of getting involved," said Ira Glasser, campus programs coordinator at JNF.