Our Feet Our Standing At Your Gates, O Jerusalem: Our Journey “Home”

Final reflections from Rabbi Sobel and group participants from Temple Isaiah’s Chanukah 2016 Israel trip: A Journey “Home.”

As clear as wine, the wind is flying
Among the dreamy pines
As evening light is slowly dying
And a lonely bell still chimes.
So many songs, so many stories
The stony hills recall…
Around her heart my city carries
A lonely ancient wall.

Yerushalayim all of gold,
Yerushalayim bronze and light
Within my heart I shall treasure
Your song and sight.

Jerusalem of Gold by Naomi Shemer

How does one capture the totality of a journey to one’s spiritual home? The walls have so many stories to tell, the wind carries sweet fragrances, the land cries of blood and sweat, of beauty and nature, of God and spirituality, of longing and hope, of war and peace. How does one encapsulate a journey with friends who become family, a journey where strangers become friends, a journey where “home” now derives new meaning.

We might live in the United States, but we know that we all have a “home” in Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel. 

Home is where we can be ourselves, live out our hopes and dreams with those whom we love and who share the same values and ideals. Yet, at times, home can be fraught with tension and anxiety. We know that we cannot always choose our family members, or choose our neighbors, and sometimes, “home” is not always a comfortable place to be.

We must figure out a way to make our home a place of refuge, a place of peace, a place of serenity and calm. So that all who live within its borders feel safe and secure, knowing we can “kick off our shoes” and live harmoniously with others in our own home. And what about the “neighbors?” How do we live in security in such a difficult neighborhood? There are no easy answers. But we cannot walk away, for this beautiful “home,” is the abode of our Jewish heart. To paraphrase medieval Jewish poet, Yehuda Halevi (c. 1141) “My heart is in the east, and I am in the uttermost west.”

Yes, the walls have centuries of stories to tell. Every peak, every valley, every vista have seen wondrous events. The evening light is more beautiful than one can even describe. The food incredibly delicious. But it is the people – from all religions, all denominations and every walk of life, who add vibrancy, spirit, vitality and uniqueness to this special place.

Carole-Ann Gordon, one of our trip participants and her daughters, Michelle and Rachel Stolowicki, walked to the Old City of Jerusalem the last Friday of our trip. They happened upon a “larger than life” puppet show that exemplified the diversity of the family that lives in our Jewish homeland.

The Many Faces of Israel, Photo by Carole-Ann Gordon

It is our dream, our hope, our wish, that our “family members” can always be walking like this side-by-side, in harmony and understanding, peace and unity.
As the group prepared to depart on our flight home, I shared with them the Prayer for Jerusalem, based on Psalms 122 and 128:

Our feet are standing at your gates, Jerusalem. Jerusalem built as a city bound firmly together, where tribes once went up to give thanks to the Eternal, where thrones of justice were once set, thrones of the House of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love her. May peace be in her walls, tranquility in her towers. May God bless us from Zion and let us see our children’s children and peace upon Israel.

Yes, we too, as North American Jews, feel our feet standing at Israel’s gates. We have one foot in our North American home, and one foot in our spiritual home, the land of Israel.

We pray that God “may bless us from Zion and let us see our children’s children and peace upon Israel” and all who dwell there.

A Few Final Reflections from Some of Our Participants Upon Returning Back to the USA

From Lori Stern, with input from Howard (first time travelers to Israel):

“Thanks so much again for this wonderful trip. Israel is a complicated but beautiful country, full of history, archaeology, culture and wonderful people. It was great to see the extremes in landscape, religion, weather, synagogues, etc.

I will never forget the delicious tomatoes and persimmons, salad for breakfast, hummus and of course, the very ‘interesting’ bathrooms (inside joke for our trip participants).

I especially loved the Palmach Museum, Rosh Hanikrah, the Tunnel Tour beneath the Western Wall, the Chagall Windows, the B’nai Mitzvah service, the Old City, Sarona Market, and the Ari Synagogue and shops in S’fat. Masada and the Dead Sea experience was truly inspiring! We had such a great time with so many wonderful temple members!”

From Ricki Budnick, with input from Larry and Steven (first time travelers to Israel):

“Words cannot express the deep emotions and gratitude I feel about sharing this journey to Israel. You made it a wonderful learning and spiritual experience for our family.

Today was the first time I looked at the blog and was so touched by the moment we shared together. Thank you for helping create a memory that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

You have renewed our faith and reinforced our identity. Thank you again.”

From Michele and Joe Goonan: (first time travelers to Israel):

“Words can’t describe our experience! What a special group we had!

We learned so much about Israel and have a much better understanding about the challenges faced by the many people living there.

It was truly the trip of a lifetime and we feel blessed to been able to make the journey.”

From Ilene and Glenn Steinhauer (first time travelers to Israel):

“We can’t stop talking to everyone who will listen about our amazing experience in Israel.

As a first-timer, it was so hard to imagine what this would be like. It far exceeded our expectations! Thanks for all the hard work you did before and during the trip. We really appreciate it!”

L’hitra’ot Israel! We cannot wait to return “home” again!

 

Israel Day Parade (June 2016)

Every year, Jews of all denominations and political backgrounds gather together to express our support for Israel by marching in NYC at our Israel Day Parade. We stand stronger together!

Temple Isaiah joined with hundreds of other congregations and Jewish organizations to express our support for the State of Israel in New York City with the Israel Day Parade on June 5, 2016. Even though the weather was wet and rainy, it didn’t dampen our spirits or pride!

Israel Pride

Sunday was a gorgeous summer day: sunny, hot, not a cloud in the sky. It was a perfect day for a parade.

Thousands of Jews from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut gathered in New York City to celebrate Israel.

We were young, we were old. We were religiously observant. We were secular. We were Jews of every age, shape, size, political and religious persuasion.

But we all shared one thing in common: Ahavat Yisrael – Love of Israel.

Teen draped in Israeli flag during the 2015 NYC Israel Day Parade
Teen draped in Israeli flag during the 2015 NYC Israel Day Parade
Each group gathered on the side streets along the Upper East Side, to feed into 5th Avenue for the start of the parade, shortly around noon. Each group wore their own colorful t-shirt, marching under their own banner. It was so joyous to see so many of us from all over the Tri-State area.

And who better to begin the Parade than the “YOWies?” – “Yids on Wheels” – a group of Jews who ride motorcycles, raise awareness and “community goodwill” as part of their mandate. Israel and their Jewish identity, along with a love of biking, brings these folk together. Having the “Yowies” begin the Parade was a demonstration that this parade was going to be FUN, it was meant to make us smile and bring joy.

There was no political agenda to the parade: no speeches, no rally “talks”, no fundraising. This was true “klal Yisrael – the community of Israel, the Jewish people, joining together as one united people. It was a beautiful site to see. It was a spectacular event in which to participate.

The only “small political element” that didn’t  dampen our spirits in the least, was a tiny group of Jewish protesters, who were limited to standing in a small cordoned-off area. But their voices were barely heard, their protests seemed…anachronistic, archaic, irrelevant. And they didn’t even cause a stir.

5th Avenue was closed to cars as we marched. All along the way, the NYC police were lined up on the side, not simply providing security, but smiling and cheering us on. It was a display of “NYPD Blue” at their finest! Behind the police stood our supporters, friends and everyone who loves watching a parade!

Israel Parade NYC 2015
Scenes from the Israel Day Parade, 2015
There was music and bands. Radio and TV stations broadcast the Parade so others could share our joy and celebrate Israel with us.

We want others to know that Israel is more than violence and struggle with her neighbors. Israel is more than the headlines we read about in the news.

Israel is a modern, hi-tech, country. The people who live there affirm life each and every day. Like those of us who marched in the parade, the people of Israel are young and old, they are Jews, Muslims and Christians. They are Arab, Druze and Bedouin. They are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular. They are of every religious and political persuasion. And they have much to celebrate.

At the same time, Israel needs our support. We need to visit. Each of us – no matter if we are Jewish, Christian or Muslim, has roots in this special place. We need to discover our heritage. We need to discover with our own eyes the Israel of today and only then, can we truly make educated opinions and work to make peace a living, breathing reality for all who live there.

As Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism once said:

Im tirtzu, ayn zo agada, l’h’yot am chofshi, b’artzaynu, b’Eretz Zion, b’Y’ru’shalayim. – If you will it, it is no dream, to live as a free people, in the land of Zion, the land of Jerusalem.”