Heights, Depths & Alleyways: Masada, Deadsea & The Shutters of Machane Yehuda. Guest Post by Woody Goldstein 

When I awoke this morning, on our eighth full day of this amazing journey through Israel,day (ninth day of actually being away), I was moved by the fact that I was still in Jerusalem. This city has had a profound effect on me. It is an historic and iconic city that we’ve all read about and heard about, since our youth; and now we are all here, about to embark on another day of amazing activities. Wow!

I checked the weather, and although overcast, it was not raining. This was a welcome change after several days of cloudy, rainy weather.

After a moment of breathing in the Jerusalem morning air through my open window, I quickly went about getting ready to join my fellow travelers who, as Carole-Ann indicated, feel like extended family members

Once again, we had an early departure and I definitely did not want to hold up the group, on a day that promised to be filled with more wonderful and thought-provoking experiences. 

Today, for a unique and special experience, we split up into two groups, one for first-time Israel visitors headed to Masada, and the other, along with Rabbi Sharon Sobel, went to Hebron. (Rabbi Sobel will write about her groups experiences in a separate post). As a first-timer, I went to Masada. 

Our terrific travel guide, Ofer, took a few moments to give us an overview of the day’s planned activities and then Avi, our skillful driver navigated his way through the heavy Jerusalem traffic, filled with lots of horn-honking. Soon we were on the highway that would take us to Masada. 

On what turned into a beautiful sunny day, we rode through the Judean desert on land bordering the Dead Sea, and within easy sight of mountains which were inside Jordan. It was so good to learn that the Israelis and Jordanians actually do live and co-exist peacefully. This was but one of many valuable facts and information that Ofer continued to provide throughout our journey. 

Our ride through the Judean desert took us to 300 feet below sea level; a fact that was told to us by a sign which said “-300” and which was further clarified by Ofer. We drove past the Cumron Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It was interesting to reaffirm their significance in Jewish history and learn of other parts of their story, including how a shepherd boy accidentally came upon them in an open cave. 

As our ride continued, we learned from Ofer that the Dead Sea was composed of 36% salt and other minerals. We were cautioned not to put our heads under water since this would cause severe burning of our eyes. Also, he confirmed that the mineral composition of the water would cause us to float, and that it had healing powers.

We drove past the Ein Gedi oasis and learned that the Apple of Sodom, from this region, was inedible. 

After about a 2 1/4 hour ride, including a 20 minute stop at the Ahava cosmetics factory, we were standing at the entrance to the cable car that would take us to the top of Masada, where King Herod’s fortress and castle awaited us. A few members of the group chose to walk to the top of Masada on a trail followed by our ancestors so many years ago. The majority opted for the cable car. 

The short cable car ride to the summit of the plateau, which was approximately 1,600 feet above the desert, provided breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding desert and mountain ranges. 

We then entered this Herod-designed fort. As we walked around the castle, we were shown some living quarters, including painted walls that dated back 2 thousand years. I was in awe, as I touched the original walls I imagined the family cooking in the pit. We were also shown many other parts of the fortress, including its sophisticated cistern water system and rock quarry; and a mikvah. 

In fact the castle-fortress was never used as a fort, but did house 960 Jews who had fled the Romans to live there, in what they thought would be a safe environment. Unfortunately, as has happened so many times throughout history, the enemy, this time the the Romans, 10 thousand strong, come to root out the Jews. 

We were shown the ramp that the Romans used to push their fortress breaking machine high up against the plateau and a picture of the battering ram that caused the breach in the castle wall. When the Romans arrived, they found the Jews dead, since they had chosen to kill themselves, rather than face the horrible fate that would have befallen them at the hands of the Romans. We learned that only the last man committed suicide. After looking at the breach wall, I turned to the wide open plaza and imagined the dead people lying in the open area and in their homes. I could never think of killing my family, but definitely understood the decisions that were made 2 thousand years ago. This was also easier to comprehend having been to Yad Vashem yesterday. Who would not choose to kill their family to save them from the hands of the Nazis?

As we began to return to the cable car, we met our walkers who told us about their experience, and of some people they met. 

We all descended by cable car and returned to the bus for a short ride to the the Crowne Plaza and Spa at the Dead Sea for lunch and some beach or pool time.

After lunch, several of the group took an enjoyable albeit chilly dip in the Dead Sea. From my viewpoint they all seemed to have a good time while being virtually unsinkable. Some of us chose to lounge poolside and take in the Israeli sun. We also learned that a stranger called Howie a ‘stupid American’ for licking his salty hands after his dip in the water. That’s a shame, since he is far from stupid; but as usual Howie took it in good spirits 

Since it was already 3 PM, we boarded our coach bus and headed back to the hotel for some free time and dinner. We returned to our hotel at about 4:30, tired and satisfied from another day of enlightening and moving experiences. But today’s adventure was not over. 

After dinner on our own, we all re-boarded the bus for a guided “Graffiti Tour” of the Machane Yehuda market, or the “center of Jerusalem” as our private tour guide Shuki called it. We walked through the shuk, and experienced its sights, sounds and aromas as the bars took over, since the other shops were closing. The streets with music certainly enhanced the mood of the evening. We even saw some fruit of the region and were impressed by the basketball-size cabbages. When the shops closed, the vendors pulled down shutters, which was a good segue to the next part of our tour.

We met Berel who continued the tour of the marketplace and the told us about various shutter paintings. They were all quite amazing. He also explained the difficulties, and successes of the movement, which started in the Machane Yehuda market, and whose mission is to connect all of us through art. To this end, the paintings include Jews and non-jews, from various walks of life, including mobster Meyer Lansky, who provided money and other resources for Jews escaping countries in Europe dung the 1940s. (Rabbi Sobel’s note: the goal is to paint portraits on the shutters of people who have made a difference in the world. Solomon Souza is the artist who is heading the project. To date, over 200 shutters have been painted.) 

The paintings on the shutters, which we call gates in the USA, were magnificent, and brought new meaning to the word “graffiti.”

I also learned that Berel was in Israel only for a short time, having made Aliyah 6 years ago, when he, emigrated from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This was of particular interest to me since I grew up in that neighborhood. In fact as Berel and I spoke, I learned that he went to school in the same building that had formerly housed the Brooklyn Jewish Center, where I went to Hebrew School and became a Bar Mitzvah. 

The day drew to a close when Rabbi Sobel shared her emotional and prayerful reflections of Tuesday, which included our visit to Yad Vashem. 

As I prepared to retire for the evening I recalled the events of the day and that we are leaving at 7:00 AM tomorrow for the Western Wall, along the southern side, to celebrate Steven Budnick’s Bar and Jill Weiss’ Bat Mitzvah. The wonderful journey continues. 

Rain & Wind: God’s Tears – A Reflection on Yad V’Shem and Mt Herzel

Yesterday was cold, rainy and windy. The weather reflected the mood of the day’s visits.

Our first two hours were spent at Yad V’Shem – The Holocaust Memorial Museum. The visit was particularly poignant because Essie Freilich, one of our congregants on our trips, is a Holocaust survivor; Howard Stern’s father, Harry, is a survivor; and Dan Rakos, another participant, knew that his grandmother was a survivor. 

Each one of us entered the museum with our own personal feelings, connections, senses of loss and longing, worries about the future, hopes and dreams. 

We each wound our own way in and out of the exhibitions, reading, listening, reflecting. Many of us shed tears along the way, or in the ‘Hall of Names’ at the end, as we entered the doorway marked ‘Yizkor – Remember.’

The exhibit hall ends with a symbol of hope: an opening like a bow of a ship, overlooking the hills of Jerusalem. We breathed in the Jerusalem air. 

Before we left the museum site, we gathered our group to recite Kaddish: For life cut short and vision unrealized: we remember. Yitgadal, v’yitkadash shmei rabbah….

But we could not yet dry our tears. 

Our next stop was Mt Herzl, Har Herzl, with Professor David Mendelsonn from Hebrew Union College. 

He spoke to us about the importance of the mountain as a reflection of the values and morals of the civil religion of Israel as a society. 

We learned, through his eyes, that Har Herzl was more than simply a national cemetery. It is a statement of all that is important to Israel over time. 

We visited the graves of Herzl, Rabin, Peres, Hannah Senesh and young soldiers who died protecting the Jewish homeland. 

We learned how the waves of immigrants coming to Israel marked their important values here with their monuments: Moroccan Jewry, Soviet Jewry, Ethiopian Jewry.

And the rain – God’s tears- continued to fall. 

Remember the fallen of the State of Israel, our brothers and sisters, the victims of terror, may the darkness of their loss not obscure the light of peace. …Yitbarach v’yistabach v’yitpa’er…

The wind blew, the rain fell down in torrents and we were chilled to the bone. 

Our morning left us in physical and emotional discomfort. We could easily change our clothes, dry our hair, sip hot tea. 

But it is important to live with that emotional discomfort. To remember that ‘never again’ means we need to fight for human rights wherever people are suffering at the hands of another. 

To pray for peace means doing something physical to turn words into reality, so we do not see more and more graves for 19 and 20 and 30-year olds who died defending their country. 

Our day ended with a visit to the Western Wall and the tunnels underneath. My prayers included a prayer for peace: “Let nation not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

We are in Jerusalem- Iyr Shel Shalom – City of Peace. May peace descend on Jerusalem, on Israel and all the world, soon. 

The Old Becomes New: Beit She’an, Beit Alpha, Jerusalem. Guest Post by Glenn and Ilene Steinhauer

After another satisfying buffet breakfast at Galei Kinneret, Avi and Ofer took us down the Jordon Valley to our first stop, the ancient city of Bet She’an. Strolling down the city’s once elegant boulevard, we visit the Bathhouses, the spas of the 4th Century. Continuing on Palladius Street, the Fifth Ave of the times, we passed what were once designer-type shops and imagined what transacted between merchants and patrons. Did they have January White Sales then?At the intersection of Palladius and Silvanus Streets Mark Saidens discovered Ofer’s replacement, an automated tour guide. Actually, Ofer has no replacement.

Built in the 1st Century, the 7,000 seat theatre had three tiers of seating, with VIPS seated in the more desirable sections and the lower class with their two-fers possibly acquired at an ancient TKTS Booth, in the nose bleed seats.

Each day of our journey brought about yet another bathroom challenge and our visit to Bet She’an was no exception. However, Howard Stern found the best seat in the house and looked quite at home with these facilities.

From Beit She’an, we drove to the ancient synagogue of Beit Alpha in what was once the Jewish village of Ilfa. Built in the 5th century, the synagogue was uncovered accidentally in the fields of Kibbutz Heftziba. And in 1929, excavated by archeologists of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Our group viewed a cleverly produced video about the creation of the synagogue’s intricate mosaic floor laid at the beginning of the 6th century.

On this day, we actually had lunch during lunchtime, a truck stop that provided anything you would want as long as it was falafel or schnitzel.

As we traveled by the West Bank on our approach to Jerusalem, Ofer and Rabbi Sobel shared historic perspectives about the ever changing borders throughout time. It was also interesting to hear that formerly nomadic people, the Bedouins, eventually settled and got stuck in a land between Jordon and Israel, remaining there today.

Our excitement began to build as we approached Jerusalem and anticipated Ilene’s and my first experience to the Holy Land. The bus climbed Mt Scopus where we disembarked and viewed for the first time the City of Gold, the City of Peace. Overlooking the Temple Mount we recited the Sh’hekiyanu (and – Rabbi Sobel’s note: a special prayer for Jerusalem and our sojourn here) and shared challah and wine and hugs.

With the walls beneath the Tower of David as a backdrop, the evening’s Sound and Light Show told the tale of the history of Jerusalem from the time of the Israelite kings to the present day; a most unique way of kicking off our Jerusalem experience. A cool, but starlit sky enhanced the wonder of the show.

As we learn about Israeli life, we’re learning about one another. Essie and Mark are still on their honeymoon. Glenn and Ilene don’t sit next to each other on the bus. And Rabbi Sobel steals tissue boxes from hotels (Rabbi Sobel’s note: actually, Avi, our bus driver gets them for her b/c she has a cold). And I can relate to Orange and Blue (Rachel and Michelle) – I have an identical twin.

We’re looking forward to continuing our journey with our new friends: our journey of heart, mind, and spirit.

Day 4: Sefat, Golan, Chocolate & Wine. Guest Post by Michelle Stolowicki

After filling our bellies with an array of breakfast goodies, we donned our rain gear and departed Galei Kinneret (Hotel) to Safed, known as one of the four holiest cities due to its ties to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).

 As the bus climbed in elevation, the rockscape changed from the camel-colored sand-stone we witnessed as we winded our way through the old passageways of Jaffa, to volcanic rock – as dark as the night’s sky. 

Upon arriving in Safed, we visited an artist’s gallery before entering the meandering alleyways filled with art vendors. We traversed back and forth over the slippery cobblestone pathways and up a staircase to the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue. 

The synagogue was tiny but big in style with its intricately decorated ark and beautiful stained-glass windows. In the back corner sat Elijah’s chair. I took advantage of it and sat on it, hoping the prophecy of finding a mate within two years is true. YOLO. 

From the synagogue, my mom, sister and I stopped into some shops as we headed back toward the bus. One of the shops was a gallery of fine art that contained no modern walls, but walls and archways made of stone. 

Safed, like Jerusalem, is a place where I feel connected to Israel and my ancestors of long ago. To walk the same streets, touch the same walls is a unique feeling I will always treasure. 

From Safed, we continued to the Golan Heights where Opher pointed out the signs warning of land mines along the side of the road. A reminder that Israel is always at turmoil. 

A few of us opted out of the jeep tour and headed to the kibbutz that housed the De Karina Chocolate factory. [While the rest of the group road off in approximately 4-5 jeeps to see the Syrian border and learn of the kibbutz’s history with living so close to the border]* we drank ‘chocolate hafuch’ (hot chocolate with whipped milk) as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. 

[On the jeep tour, the group saw just how large the kibbutz property was. We learned that they raised both dairy cows, complete with an extremely high-tech operation for milking them, and beef cattle. They grew pink lady apples in their apple orchards. They had vineyards where they grew grapes to sell to the local wineries. The kibbutz land had once been part of the land that belonged to Syria. We stopped at a former Russian outpost to have a briefing by Amir and were fascinated to hear him refer to Syria as ‘the country that used to be Syria.’ This phrase was used again later that afternoon when we had our security briefing. It’s as if after the fall of Aleppo, no one here thinks that Syria exists any more.]

When the group returned from the jeep tour, Col Kobi Marom spoke to us regarding Israel’s current political situation and to give us a security briefing. It was interesting to learn that we were situated about two miles from the terrorist organization Al Queda. 

Sometimes life is too serious and frightening, so it was nice to be a little creative, get dirty and make chocolate treats.   

After stopping for a quick bite to eat, we headed to the Golan Heights Winery where Reuben gave us a guided tour. It was also interesting to know that no one knew for sure what grapes were original to the region. 

We concluded our day in Israel with a delicious multi-course dinner at Robergs Restaurant. We returned to the hotel full and happy. 

*Anything witten inside [ ] is written by Rabbi Sharon Sobel. 

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). 

Tel Aviv. Sights, Sounds, and then: Darkness – Guest Post by Michele Goonan

After enjoying a sumptuous breakfast we gathered at 9 AM, still a little disoriented and jet-lagged. Our guide, Ofer, stepped up to the plate despite a mix-up in our program and presented us with hats, maps and journals as we embarked on our journey through Tel Aviv. 

We began in Rabin Square where the prime minister was assassinated on November 4, 1995. This event immediately reminded me of JFK’sassassination. Both events changed their respective countries forever. 

The emotions felt by all of us were comparable to my visit to Dallas’ Book Depository. 

After some reflective time at the sight we began to explore Tel Aviv. We walked and walked and walked up Rothschild Blvd experiencing the ‘White City’ architecture style. 

After meandering through some lovely neighborhoods, we had some time to (walk down Shenkin Street – home of cafes where the poets and writers would gather) – shop in Shenkin’s artsy shops. And we walked some more. 

Lunch was on our own at Sarona Market which reminded me of Chelsea Market in New York City. Each of us experienced different culinary delights. I ate at a Thai restaurant and passed the Irish pub on the way back to the bus. 

After lunch we returned to the hotel for a much needed rest. Typically I can’t be still for too long while traveling so I ventured out on my own and went to the beach. I had fun watching the surfers and families enjoying the shores of the Mediterranean. 

I could not believe I was really here. Visiting Israel has been a dream of mine since I was a young girl and read ‘Exodus.’  I did have visions of Paul Newman rescuing me. 

Our evening activity began as we headed toward the Na L’ga’at theater for dinner and a show. The group was a bit nervous upon entering since this establishment is run by hearing and visually impaired individuals. After choosing our meals from the menu, we were asked to put all our electronic devices and belongings in a locker. 

The tension mounted as we were led into the dining room in small groups. Our waitress led us through a pitch black tunnel as we held onto each other’s shoulders for dear life. As we got to our seats we began to relax – but the blackness was complete. We all thought our eyes would adjust and we would begin to see shadows, but that never happened. Pouring water was a challenge. Once the food arrived we were chatting away and thoroughly enjoyed dinner. 

After dessert, we held onto each other to leave the dining area. It took quite awhile to adjust to the onslaught of light. We had a short lesson in sign language and then entered the theater. 

All the actors were hearing impaired, sight impaired or both. Some have spent their entire lives in total silence and darkened. While watching the performance, we laughed, we cried, we discovered that despite differing abilities we all have the same desires and dreams. None of us can forget this experience and being able to go on stage and share the newly baked bread was a true blessing for us all, bonding our group even more. 

On a side note, I went way over my allotted Weight Watchers Points and walked 13,597 steps according to my FitBit. I can’t wait to see what Friday has in store for us!

Shalom from Israel!

(All photos by Rabbi Sharon Sobel)

Becoming a Family of Travelers – Guest post by Carole-Ann Gordon

Our trip began with expectations of sharing our lives as a community as we tour Israel for 10 days together. 

After traveling from JFK to Tel Aviv in two groups, we joyfully met up at Abdu Hadayag (a fish restaurant in Old Yoffo) for a delicious dinner that became a ‘family reunion.’ Over a multi-course feast, we each regaled the others with our flight adventures. 

Being all together for the first time generated the warmth of a traveling family, not a tour group. 

Sharon greeted us with joy and arranged a perfect get-together: we ate, laughed, met Ofer (our tour guide) and enjoyed ourselves. 
We ended our first outing with sighs of contentment, joy and excitement for the days to follow.
First grounding feeling about being a Jew in Israel: a sweet breath of wholeness upon seeing a mezuzah on the doorpost of each hotel room. 
Sharon’s comment: Bruchim Ha’ba’im! Welcome home!

Our Bags Are Packed – Our Chanukah Journey to Israel Begins! (Follow our Journey…)

It began more than a year ago. Congregants inquired “are we going to have a synagogue trip to Israel?”

We met and discussed, planned and studied, tried to determine the best program to meet the needs for those who wished to travel to our Jewish homeland.

It all comes together tonight as we leave to visit Israel for Chanukah. We are an intergenerational group of 27 participants, ranging in age from 13 to over 80. Some have never travelled to Israel, some have been many times.

We’ll celebrate two B’nai Mitzvah while we’re there: our 13-year will chant Torah at the egalitarian southern side of the Western Wall. This beautiful young man is sharing his Israel Bar Mitzvah experience with one of our 30-year olds: she, too, will celebrate becoming Bat Mitzvah at this time, as she never experienced Bat Mitzvah when she was growing up.

We’ll hike, explore, eat, laugh, bond as a group, learn, eat, listen, learn, explore more, taste chocolate and wine, spend time with the Israeli Reform Movement and eat some more. We’ll marvel at the wonder of modern Israel and all that has been accomplished in such a short time. We’ll learn about the struggles and challenges that exist in the Middle East. We’ll keep open minds and open hearts.

This is not merely a “trip,” or a “vacation,” it is a journey. We are going to connect spiritually, emotionally and physically with the land of our ancestors. We will reflect on our own Jewish identities and what our connection to Israel means to each of us.

And we’ll share our reflections and photos each day – in this space – with you.

I will be turning over my blog to a different person each day to share something from the previous day (a group “journal” of sorts).

So join us on our journey, travel with us as you follow us on this space (beginning around December 22nd).

A Traveler’s Prayer for Our Special Journey*

Let us remember that we travel not for the sake of travel alone, but to have our perspectives on the world transformed.

Let us take responsibility for our actions and words as we observe, learn, listen, struggle, grow and reflect,

Let us arrive safely at our destination – knowing that this is no ordinary trip, but a journey of the heart, mind, soul and spirit. A unique journey to “Eretz Yisrael, The Land of Israel.”

Let us feel the deep and abiding connection with our Jewish roots, that will inspire us to develop a long and lasting bond with the land and people of Israel.

May the sparks of the Chanukah candles ignite a spark of passion within us, which we will bring back home to share with others, so they too, may be strengthened by our learning and understanding.

May we be blessed in our going and blessed in our returning -in safety, peace and wholeness.

*(Prayer based on a similar prayer from AJWS)