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!


Our First Israel Shabbat Adventures: Guest Blog by Lori Stern (with input by Howard)

Boker Tov and Chag Sameach! 

Can’t believe it’s our third full day in Israel (4th full day away) and the jet lag is finally beginning to disappear. 

Howard and I are getting a great overview of the country on this journey and becoming very enlightened to many of the political, religious conflicts and ways of living here. It does not feel as dangerous being in Israel as we originally imagined. In fact we feel very safe and comfortable here.

It is interesting to be in a place where we are not in the minority of a religion. It is sad to see that the Reform Movement is not more widely recognized here and that there is so much tension between the Ultra Orthodox, Modern Orthodox and Reform Jewish movements. The government fully supports the Orthodox schools and synagogues and the Reform Movement is struggling to find its place. 

We have also noticed so much construction and growth and there are cranes everywhere. Technology and tourism are big here. 

The tomatoes and fruits are incredibly delicious! People are happy with the socialized medicine. We learned it is hard to earn the salaries here you earn back in the US and that gas and housing prices are also much higher.
We continued to celebrate our first Shabbat today in Israel after breakfast with a beautiful service by Rabbi Sharon Sobel on the beach near our hotel.

We sang our familiar prayers as we glanced out to the welcoming Mediterranean Sea and listened to the roar of the waves. Joggers ran past us, dogs frolicked in the distance and an older man stopped near our group during the service to take off his shoes and dip his feet in the water. 

As we ate breakfast and brought our luggage down to the bus, we were reminded again it was Shabbat because the coffee machines were covered and one of the hotel elevators stopped at each floor automatically so the Orthodox Jews wouldn’t need to push the buttons.

We then left our now familiar Metropolitan hotel in Tel Aviv and headed out at around 9:15 AM to the countryside to begin our next adventures in the Northern part of Israel. 

Today we passed many trees being planted by the JNF since the forests are being torn down for construction lumber and for the trains. Our tour guide pointed out the names of the colorful cities we passed along the way and we began to see the gold domes and the mosques indicating some of the Arab villages and a few of the mixed Arab and Israeli communities here. 

Our first stop was in a Druze village called Dalyat El Carmel where we got a feel for the friendly people and the delicious falafel, strange bathrooms and strong coffee! Carole-Ann even almost bought a pretty red artsy table but not quite sure how she would have gotten it back to the states! 

Our next stop was at the beautiful Baha’i temple -a world heritage site (and the world headquarters of the Baha’i religion) and the Persian gardens where we saw an amazing view of the large port of the city of Haifa and took some great pictures from Mt Carmel.

It was upsetting to learn that the petro factories are polluting the area and driving people way from this pretty city. 

We stopped at another Arab Israeli town called Akko. After eating a typical Israeli lunch of salads, shawarma and schnitzel on pita and hummus, we finally encountered our first Israel rain storm. So far the weather had been perfect. We next visited the crusader era fortifications. This huge castle-like structure showed us the different periods of time that different groups of people such as the Romans, christians, Greeks Jews and Muslims have tried to win control of this critical port city. The architecture in the fortress was amazing. 

Next stop was another highlight of our trip. At the Lebanese Israeli border we went to Rosh Hanikra where our group took a cable car down to the beautiful blue grotto cliffs and caves. While we were there the sun was setting and again we enjoyed amazing views! Also very proud of Lissie who despite being afraid of heights overcame her fear and was able to survive the ride! It was cool to learn that this was also the sight of the famous bridge explosion that we had learned about in the Palmach museum on Friday. The prestate military forces of Israel blew up this bridge which was a key attack in their war for independence. This visit to the caves helped make the Israel story make much more sense! We also got to see the border patrol gates and were again reminded of how close we were to the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Syria.

A final memorable stop was at a Reform Congregation in a town called Carmiel -another mixed Arab Israeli town where we had havdalah services and lit the menorah for the first night of Chanukah. This was a small congregation of 50 reform Jewish families who were so proud to have finally dedicated their new building and wanted to share their first Chanukah there with us. it was very moving to sing Hanukkah songs with our fellow Jews in Israel, eat donuts and have a short limud study on the meaning of Hanukkah. Visiting this congregation reminded us how hard the Jews and Arabs are working in that town to coexist peacefully. 

As we wandered into our beautiful hotel in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee we were so tired but happy to have seen so many sights in one day. Again it was welcoming to walk into the lobby to the hannukiah. And Howard was quite happy to finally eat some meat at his dinner! Looking forward to our upcoming jeep ride and wine and chocolate tour! 

(Photos will be posted when I have a better internet connection). 

Lead up to Shabbat. Guest Post by Lissie Bubel & Jill Weiss

Today we continued our journey and last day in Tel Aviv, we were eager to start our adventurous day. It was going to be more eye opening because people were less sleepy because were less jet lagged.

The day began with a delicious buffet breakfast and than we ventured to a Palmach museum. 

We were pleasantly surprised to meet a veteran who had fought in the war of independence. Then we not only smelled coffee and shook in our seats but we experienced a heartfelt interactive walking tour and video which let us experience how it was for others during that time period.

After that went to the Nachalat Binyamin arts and crafts fair and the Carmel Market pedestrian mall. Everyone discovered new things, new foods or at least made new memories. We enjoyed the scenery and of course the company of Sharon. 

Then we took a tour of old Jaffa. The landscaping, architecture and Ofer’s knowledge of history about the city were remarkable.

We had a cultural Jewish evening that started off when we meet at a preschool room at a Reform synagogue called Yozma in the city of Modin. It was fascinating and informative in how educational systems are designed in Israel. 

After that, we were invited to participate in a service given by Rabbi Alona Nir Keren. It was a special time to enjoy the feeling of warmth given by her and the members of the Yozma community.

For dinner we split into groups were warmly invited to members homes. We happened to be at a dinner with three rabbis, one cantor, one person who just finished his army service as a commander in the paratrooper brigade in the army and is now going to university to study foreign relations and diplomacy. Another person at dinner was also an officer in the navy who is now studying nutrition. She also works at Yozma organizing the visits with the guests from overseas.

We cannot speak for others but the visit we had was a highlight for us on our Israel journey. Once again, thank you to Sharon arranging this amazing journey. 

(Photos to be added later when I have a better internet connection).