Israel Family Trip December 2017
Nisiya Tova (bon voyage!) to Rabbi Jodie, Rabbi Lee, and everyone from the RSNS community that is participating on our congregational trip to Israel!!
Follow along on this wonderful trip through daily accounts from congregants and from Rabbi Jodie.
See photos in the Trip Photo Gallery.
We arrived at the hotel not long before Shabbat. Some of us chose to go to services, others to settle in, and even others went for a walk to explore the city. This writer can attest to the beauty of Jerusalem’s many different minyanim (groups of people praying); with unseasonably warm weather and windows open, you could hear the wonderful sounds of congregations big and small praying on each street you walked through.
We met up just before Shabbat dinner to hear briefly from four young people who are considered “lone soldiers”: people who came to Israel to enlist in the Israeli Army who have no family in Israel. They came from California, Philadelphia, Miami, and Toronto.
The lone soldiers then joined us for a delicious Shabbat dinner at the hotel, tasting all sorts of new and exotic cuisine (as well as some familiar) and afterwards had a fun and engaging get-to-know-you activity.
Tomorrow: to the Masada and the Dead Sea!
Met the RSNS Community at the airport. Had an easy flight, a few hiccups with baggage, still one is lost. The participant with the lost bag has a fabulous attitude. We met our wonderful guides, Julian and Eitan and two bus drivers, Moshe and Isa.
The drive to Jerusalem was with no traffic and we saw the amazing view as we rose up to the city. Aaron was waiting for us and he looked great! People made the choice to rush to services, take a walk or to have some more time to settle in. Some went to egalitarian musical services, while other went to the Great Synagogue and still others to the conservative movements minyan. A few of us joined Aaron at his shul and experienced a trihitza (seating for single gender and mixed seating). The Roah across each community was felt.
We joined our guides and 4 Lone Soldiers as we welcomed in Shabbat with a niggun (wordless melody). Lone Soldiers are people who join the IDF and have no family in Israel. 3 were Americans and 1 Canadian. All had interesting narratives as to why they choose this path. We had a plentiful Shabbat Dinner with the Soldiers.
We ended the night with a “speed dating” activity. Learning about each person through the values they hold close to their neshama (soul).
Off to sleep. Shabbat Shalom and Leila Tov!!
Early morning wake up!
Breakfast was an array of cheese and yogurt, my favorite being the famous “yellow cheese.” Off to Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As we traveled the path from west to east Jerusalem we encountered the people who live in these most talked about communities. From streimels to hijabs, we saw how the people of Israel live side by side. A beautiful vista overlooking the city allowed us to contextualize our historical connection.
We drove to the desert and experienced Ein Gedi and had a beautiful hike to the waterfalls. We learned about King David and the biblical connection to the land. We witnessed the natural habitat and felt the dryness of the land.
Half our group decided to climb the snake path at Masada (see photo in the gallery) and the other half took the cable car up. The climbers had more time to explore the ruins and both groups got a historical account that helped to reframe the Masada narrative.
Ein Gedi spa was a treat. With the mud, sulfur showers and trolley directly to the Dead Sea, it was a great place to visit. The group floated and saw the amazing salt deposits.
As we journeyed up through the outskirts of the West Bank, we drove through Check points and entered into Jerusalem. Aden Horowitz who has spent her first semester of Junior year in Israel met her brother and the RSNS crew for dinner. What a welcome homecoming.
A quick dinner at the hotel and havdallah with the RSNS Community in Gan Ha’Atzmaut. We entered the old city through the Jaffa gate and went to the light show that allowed us to experience Jerusalem through the ages by image on the Jerusalem stone and music.
Off to Ben Yehuda!!
Shavua tov! Rabbi Jodie
Day 2: Masada and the Dead Sea (lots of photos in the Gallery)
Upon waking up on our first morning of our Israel trip we were greeted with a lavish breakfast display from the hotel - from breads to yogurts, and cheeses to spreads. After hopping onto our tour bus for the day we set off towards the area of the Dead Sea. Our first stop was at a lookout over Jerusalem at the Hebrew University. Being together as a community listening to a few poems and about Jerusalem and learning a little about the city's history, I think we all began to feel how great the trip we were about to embark on would be.
Our next stop was at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve along the Dead Sea - a beautifully preserved area of waterfalls and nature trails.
Next we would head over to the Masada National Park, an ancient city atop a plateau far above the Dead Sea. We had the choice to take a cable car to the top or to hike up. I chose to take the hike up.
Tired and hungry after having most of us hiked and all of us having been in the sun for a while, we had a quick lunch before going for a "swim," or "float" rather, in the iconic Dead Sea.
The day was not over yet though - after an hour bus ride back to Jerusalem we took part in a Havdalah service in a park close to our hotel.
And afterwards saw an interesting "light and sound" show at the Tower of David in the Old City.
To top off the night some of the group wandered over to Ben Yehuda Street to do some Saturday night shopping and exploring, all of us eagear for the next exciting day in Israel to come.
Day 2 Ein Gedi, Masada, Dead Sea, Jerusalem
Hineni (הנני) I am here.
A prolific statement begins our journey as our tour guide, Julian, helps us relive the story of Abraham being called forth to sacrifice Issac. Just as our forefather answered without knowing the ask, we are ready to approach our first day exploring this magnificent city. Rabbi Lee reads us a poem by Yehuda Amichai which sets us in motion . . . “Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity”.
Before boarding the bus, we capture a spectacular view overlooking the city.
Next stop: Ein Gedi Nature Preserve. We mingle with some Ibex and Hyrax. Would you believe this guy is a relative of an elephant? We took a short hike in this desert oasis to view waterfalls of various sizes and to explore the limestone faces that surrounded us.
Masada. Our group splits with some trekking the Snake Path with our tour guide, Eitan, while others followed Julian up on the cable car for a history lesson about King Herod and the fortress at the top.
In the distance, you can see the Dead Sea. Our final bus stop for the day, and a relaxing way to let our troubles float away . . .
We arrived back in Jerusalem at 6pm, but our night was far from over! After dinner, Rabbi Jodie led us in a beautiful Havdallah service in the middle of a large garden area. Arm in arm, we sang in unison as we welcomed the night.
King David’s Tower was our next stop to watch an impressive light show that combined music and projection artistry to weave the tale from antiquity to today. Many went back to our home at the Prima Kings, while others checked out the Saturday nightrumblings of Ben Yehuda street.
We certainly made the most of every moment today. It is magical to watch members of the group connect with one another as they strengthen their bonds to our city, our congregation, and to each other.
I am still amazes each morning that I get to eat a salad bar at breakfast!! The colors and the freshness of the vegetables add a sense of vibrancy to the day.
Christmas Eve. We spent the day exploring the holiness of history and the history of holiness in the Old City in Jerusalem. From visits to the Kotel, the Western Wall of the Second Temple (516 BCE–70 CE) which is governed by the Orthodox Rabbinate, to climbing the walls of the Southern Excavations. From the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the pilgrims singing at the stations of the cross to the Shuk. Shopping in Cardo in the Jewish quarter and eating lunch on Jerusalem stone.
We traveled the Kotel Tunnels, which were built under the Muslim quarter of the old city. We were walking in the midst of a live archeological dig.
All of this before lunch!
We visited the City of David and learned the history of where is all began and how a unified capital of the tribes of Israel was established 3,000 years ago.
With the evening free, people met relatives, friends or just relaxed. It was an exciting exploration of our past that we were asked to incorporate into our present.
Jerusalem: The Holiest of the Holies: In the Yehuda Amichai poem Rabbi Lee recited yesterday, we are left with the sentiment that “Jerusalem is the Venice of God” and today we see that metaphor spring to life as we embark on learning the history of this place.
Our group split today, so I am sharing the perspective of those of us who spent the day learning with Julian as our guide.
We began at the timeline of history and witnessed how this land has been ruled by so many empires throughout the ages. The influence of this can be seen as we traverse the city. We are reminded that Jewish laws are even still based on three ruling powers. Some from the Ottomans, some British and the rest Jewish law. As we look out over the city, you can see remnants of the Ottoman Empire in structures, and the building of the Great Temple and the walls are in the Roman style as they ruled this land once as well.
Temple Mount area: Walking among the ruins of the Temple Mount, we are brought to a section of the Western Wall. Evidence was found that proves Jews were indeed here 2,000 years ago. The words inscribed on the stone tell workers to lay their tools down and get ready to welcome Shabbat.
We are brought to the wide steps of this enormous temple as the young teens in our group climb to the top and descend humming the Rocky melody.
These steps are designed with intention. With an alternating short and long pattern, one was forced to be mindful as they entered the temple to pray. The only people to come in the OUT gates and Walk out the IN Gates are those in mourning. This allowed the congregants to know who needed comfort from their community at the time.
The Western Wall: Continuing along through the gates, men and women are separated as we go down to pray and leave notes at this iconic site. It was quite interesting to see so many people from different nationalities and who clearly practice different religions praying together. On the men’s side, we can see dancing through the openings in the fence as they celebrate a young man’s Bar Mitzvah.
Muslim Quarter: We stroll through this open-air market to see the many wares and smell the spices, roasted nuts and baked goods that are for sale.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher: Shared by four different orthodox churches, this is the holiest place on earth for many Christians as they believe it is the site of where Jesus was crucified, where his tomb resides, and where he rose.
Kotel Tunnels: The Muslim quarter was built next to the Western Wall, but on top of the old city. These tunnels have been excavated to show the remains of what was below that quarter at one time and represent one of the closest places you can get to the two temples.
We eat lunch on our own in the Jewish quarter; some grab street food at a variety of shops, and some choose to sit at the Holy Cafe.
Our day together ends in the City of David having a discussion about Israeli politics then and now. Julian is quick to remind us that there are two sides to every story and each has roots and rights to this land. He believes the only way to do so is to continue having a conversation, and to find ways, although extremely complex, to be able to live in this land side by side peacefully.
Dinner was on our own this evening. Some favorites from the group were the brick oven pizza close to our hotel or eating at a restaurant in First Station which is a new area that took over the old Ottoman railway station.
Another phenomenal day of learning, walking, talking, and understanding the history of our people.
The rain arrived! It is hard not to be thankful for the rain because the country so desperately needs it. But it was pouring, last night and this morning. We stopped by Mt. Herzl Cemetery and learned that there were two sections. The area where significant founders and leaders of the State of Israel were buried and then the military cemetery. What an honor to hear the stories of the people who came before us who had the vision and passion to build this state.
The cemetery once again reinforces how small our Jewish community is in comparison to the world. All our current leaders of the State of Israel can be buried in one central place.
A few short steps from Mt. Herzl was Yad Vashem. We were asked to ponder not just the location but the intention of each exhibit. Even the name of the day that we commemorate the destruction of 6,00,000 Jews was wrestled with. The given name is Yom haShoah v’Gvurah. Remembering the Shoah and the courage.
Most of the RSNS crew explored the museum through the guided tours of Julian and Eitan as they expertly traversed the crowds and had our students who adopted survivors tell the story of their survivor. Some exhibits were closed off due to a Japanese diplomats visit to Israel. Each foreign state person who visits Israel needs to visit Yad Vashem before they engage in state business.
Some of the RSNS crew went to the Israel Museum in the morning after an introduction at Yad Vashem. We explored an architecture exhibit about Jerusalem, Jewish life cycle objects, Jewish ritual objects, 4 replicas of Synagogues from around the world, some modern artists and a quick look at the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We met up and journeyed to a Bedouin tent for lunch. Sitting on the floor on cushions and low benches was a wonderful challenge!
The group had a choice! Some chose to go to the archeological dig and other chose to go on a guided tour of the Israel Museum with Eitan. People love a choice. With Eitan they explored some of the same exhibits that we did and added some of the ancient rooms.
At the archeological dig we learned that a Tel is hill and they are digging out the Tel. This organization that we dug with allows people to see and experience what it feels like to expose objects from the Maccabean times. We dug, we found, we carried, we sifted, and we explored what it was like to be underground discovering history.
Some people explored an olive press while others climbed through caves that were lit by candles. All came out dirty and able to hold on to their connection to the past.
We had dinner at Eucalyptus, a biblical food style restaurant. There were multiple courses with vegetables and meat. The food had a Sephardic flare. We were all able to eat together! A table for 76!!! We celebrated the young adults in our community who had just become B’nai Mitzvah this year. They helped create one of the dishes. Everyone left full and satisfied!
Packing up to leave for up North tomorrow.
Waking up to the opening of the stalls at Machne Yechuda (Shuk) was a special treat. We walked through the neighborhoods surrounding the Shuk and saw how it has changed over the years. From hippie to religious, which is the trend in many communities in Jerusalem. From fish and meat to fruits and vegetables, marzipan rugelah and fresh baked bread to Israeli pants and beer. People tasted, smelled, touched and listened to what was going on around us. The shops that were not opened had interesting murals painted on there metal doors. Experiencing the Shuk as the market opening was a peak into the daily life of a Jerusalemite.
Checking out and packing up we then journeyed to a Druze village. The Druze are an Arab people that number between 1 1/2 to 2 million people. They live in many countries and pledge their allegiance to the country they live in. Israel has about 200,000 Druze citizens. They believe in reincarnation, absolutely no intermarriage or you are outside the Community, and you can at any point chose to be religious. We had a beautiful lunch in their village and had a gorgeous overlook of the north.
Safed was our next stop. A mystical, artist, orthodox city. We explored Synagogues, narrow alleyways, artwork, candles, Jewlery, and the locals living their lives in the old city of Safed.
We ended the evening at Kibbutz Nof Ginosar on the Kinneret. A beautiful kibbutz hotel actually on the beach. The food was excellent and the rooms spacious. We ended the evening debriefing in small groups. We explored challenging moments, moments of surprise, areas or experiences that made us feel Jewish and when we felt a shechechanu (first time) moment.
Sleeping early because we have a 7 am departure.
We woke up extra early this morning since we were leaving the hotel by 7am to make the most of our only full day in the north. As one of our guides, Julian, said: “I won’t say you’ll sleep when you’re dead - I’ll say you’ll sleep when you’re in New York!”
Our day began with half of the group going on a 4x4 ride exploring the Golan region and the other half hiking the Banias nature preserve. The 4x4 riders learned about how Israel pushed back the Syrian Army attackers in the Six Day War in 1967 and secured the Golan Heights. The group leader, Yaniv, lives in the same town his paternal ancestors have lived in since they escaped the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. He loves the Golan and can’t imagine living anywhere in else. The Banias preserve has the largest waterfall in Israel, beehives, and a wide array of trees and trails. After about an hour at each activity, the groups met up at the parking area for the preserve and switched activities.
We then left to go further north to see the border with Syria from 1,165 kilometers above sea level. We ate lunch atop Mt. Bental, which was once a volcano and is now a lookout point for tourists and U.N. peacekeepers, as well as a post for Israeli Army reservists. We entered the reservists’ bunkers and learned that a group of reservists can spend up to a month atop Mt. Bental keeping watch, passing time, and trading watch shifts for cooking duties.
Next, we headed down to the valley for a stop at the Bahat winery and De Karina chocolate factory. While some of us learned how to make chocolate, others learned how the region’s grapes get turned into wine. The chocolate is done in about an hour; the wine, about 2 years. Those of us who attended the wine tour then were treated to a wine tasting of: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and port.
Some had dinner back at the hotel and others went to Tiberias, the largest city around the Sea of Galilee.
Tomorrow: to Tel-Aviv by way of the old fortress city of Acre.
Earliest departure of the trip, 7:00 am!
Everyone experienced an amazing off road Jeep experience in the Golan. We all climbed in small jeeps and saw the cattle, the barbed wire denoting where mines could be and learned to stories of the people who live in this region. Yaniv told us about his family who immigrated to the land after expulsion from Spain in 1492. He grew up and still lives in Metulla. He spoke of the sacred nature of the land and how long his family lived there.
The Banias nature preserve was a wonderful nature walk along side the body of water. The natural beauty amidst the extraordinary conflict is a constant reality check. We learned about the many past attacks in the areas we visited and how essential it is for the Community to continue living. Ice cream, fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and honey combs were for sale in the nature preserve.
Katsarin or Mt. Bentel for lunch. We learned the history of Israel’s relationship to her neighbors. Lebanon, Syria and Jordan up North. The borders are within sight distance and on this clear sunny winter day you can clearly feel and see the closeness between the countries. We met the Australian UN Soldiers. Saw the snow capped mountain of Hermon and climbed in the bunkers.
De Karina had a chocolate making and a wine tasting experience. White, milk, and dark chocolate mixed with nuts, sprinkles coffee and coconut. We rolled and tasted it all. While we were wearing our chefs hats. From the eldest to the youngest we created and tasted the chocolate and the wine.
Back to the kibbutz. Some went to a chefs Arab (Palestinian) restaurant while most stayed at the kibbutz for dinner. Some sang outside with Rebecca and Solomon while others had a drink at the bar.
What a wonderful day, fabulous weather, engaging and eye opening narratives.
We packed up and loaded the buses and left the kibbutz. It was a lovely hotel. In the evening we were able to walk the banks of the Kinneret and see the lights of the city of Tiberius and the lights of the other neighboring countries.
We drove the entire width of the north. From the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to the Mediterranean. Spending the morning exploring the castles of Akko. Knights and castles during the crusader time period. In modern day Israel they use the stages of the castle for a “fringe” theater festival. We had our own with participants from RSNS performing. We learned how challenged people were this past festival because the minister of culture wanted to censor the material of participants and anything anti Zionist was not permitted. Some went through the tunnels in the castle and everyone explored the Arab Shuk with the blue doors on each home and shop. The snaked path led us to the sea. A true small port there were fishing boats and restaurants on the sea.
We began our trek down South towards Tel Aviv. And took a turn off the highway to be dropped in fields that we would pick through the Leket project. These are fields that were planted for the sake of having volunteers harvest them for those people in Israel in need of food. This particular field was beets (sleek). The RSNS Community attacked the field and picked and pulled and twisted off the greens. We filled five huge containers with beets. Hands red with beet juice, finger nails with dirt under them we had a fancy boxed lunch at the local gas station. I am kidding about the fancy, not kidding about the gas station. Everyone was a good sport and we were able to have an authentic Israeli gas station experience. A full bakery, restaurant and convenience store right next to a bus station with soldiers trying to catch a ride.
An hours ride with city traffic we ended our touring in Jaffa. The ancient section of Tel Aviv. The old city on a Thursday night is always filled with brides and grooms taking pictures before their wedding ceremonies. The artists and the view of the city by sea were spectacular. Once again you hear the narratives of Arab and Jewish Israeli living side by side.
The discussions and insights of the guides as we traverse the landscape of Israel adds depth and breath to the overall picture. Learning about army service and privatization of kibbutzim adds to the flavor of the experience.
We had a night to explore Tel Aviv. Many people saw friends and family and some went straight to sleep!
We split up kids on one bus with Julian. Adults on the other bus with Eitan.
Julian took the kids to his kibbutz to experience the behind the scenes life of a kibbutznik. They loved the freedom in which kids ran around, the animals, the collaborative nature of this way of life. Julian and his wife opened their home to our children. They visited Julian’s grandchild, 2 of his 3 children have moved back on to the kibbutz with their families. Our kids ran and played and relaxed in the midst of a welcoming space.
With Eitan we traveled down south and met with the organization EcoPeace (aka Friends of the Earth Middle East). This is an organization our congregation has a relationship with. A joint venture with Israel, Jordanian, and Palestinian leadership working towards having clean water for their communities. Water is something that everyone needs. That we can agree upon. It is a non political way for these three groups of people to work together to better each society. We saw the wall that was recently built to separate the territories and Israel proper. We were at one of the few Check points from the West Bank to Israel. We saw the buses that take the Palestinian workers to Tel Aviv to work and the buses that take the families of those in prison to visit them. We learned that this Check point usually has about 5,000 that cross it daily and it is only about 5 women in that number that cross. The people that cross have to have the correct papers and often times wait from a half and hour-two hours to get through.
We learned about the water crises in the West Bank and how that has a direct impact on Israel proper. That although this organization is looking out for each community, they are also in it for themselves. We spoke about the history that led up to this time. The present day complications.
Lunch on a kibbutz with everyone! We have had such wonderful hospitality across the country.
The kids left to go on a camel ride! What fun and no one fell off!!! The adult bus was supposed to go to Sderot. To see hands on what it means to live in missile distance to Gaza. How this Community lives their lives. At the moment we were to leave, our guides were alerted to the fact that missiles were launched near Sderot. The decision was to not make that stop and to have the discussion on the bus as we made our way back to Tel Aviv. We were definitely living in the “all of it.”
We had time at Shuk haCarmel and since it was Friday the art fair was open as well, Nachalat Benyamin. The adults had the opportunity to eat, walk and shop.
Those who went to Synagogue joined Beit Tefila. A wonderfully progressive Jewish Community that uses modern Hebrew poetry & music to punctuate the service. We sang and danced and prayed and spoke about how we are thankful.
Shabbat dinner at the hotel, we were joined by Maya, our Shinshin from last year. It was a joyful dinner that ended with a fun oneg. Solomon and Rebecca led us in song and then we debriefed about our trip by playing crossing the line. (Tel Aviv/Jerusalem? Salad for breakfast/NO salad for breakfast...). We ended with games in different groups. Each group had to pick a name, do a cheer, create a Masada pose...fun was had by all.
Just some thoughts...Infrastructure is happening all over. A railway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that will be 35 minutes!! The never ending conflict about the role of the Orthodox Rabbinate not allowing work on Shabbat came up when we spoke about the railway. As we keep reiterating, issues are not only what they seem on the surface. Jewish values of rest on Shabbat coupled with the traffic jams that construction creates are at times in conflict with each other.
On the bus ride we heard about some of the challenges going on in the political climate.
No regional representation
No term limits-Bibi since mid 90’s
Buying bonds-money goes to government in power. Supporting the settlements.
We were asked to look deeper than the head lines, be critical, read the editorials.
AIPAC-keeping America connected to Israel, keep IDF strong
JStreet-bring to the forefront the difficult questions, bring the important issues to head, occupation,
NIF-strengthen all aspects of Israeli society. Arab and well as Jewish Israelis. This is challenging for some in the community.
Last Day in Israel
We have two wonderful guides leading us through Israel. When it comes to the complicated issues, Julian has advised "not to listen to sound bytes, but instead be involved in conversation." Eitan introduces a complicated issue as a "machloket," a Hebrew word translating to a dispute, or an argument. This term dates back to the debates the rabbis were having in the Mishna and the Talmud. Jews have been wrestling with challenging questions for ages, and we preserve both sides. We may agree with Hillel, but we know what Shammai had to say.
Our trip has allowed us to see the issues of Israel today up close, our guides have presented them in a way that includes both sides. We become a part of the conversation. We hear the Machloket instead of the sound byte.
We discussed the history and future of the Golan Heights while viewing into Syria and Lebanon. Through an organization called EcoPeace, we learned about collaboration on water issues between Israel and Palestinian communities while standing steps from the (recently built) wall that separates the West Bank. We explored questions about how the government should regulate what is permitted on Shabbat while experiencing Shabbat in Israel for ourselves. We asked ourselves how Israel should grapple with the shadow of the Holocaust while visiting Yad Vadshem. We learned about the experience of Arabs in Israel while eating lunch in a Druze village. We dissected the situation in Gaza as our bus was diverted from a visit to nearby Sderot due to rockets fired in the area. At a closing debrief, Julian asked us to consider whether we agreed with the decision of the Israeli Defense Force when they faced a dilemma during the second Lebanese war. They are both external and internal conflicts, religious and secular questions.
What I appreciate about being here with the RSNS community is to engage in these conversations with a thoughtful, insightful and open-minded group of people. Many have spoken about a change in perspective after having a closer view, myself included. Rabbi Jodie often speaks about being in the "all of it" and the challenges that brings. Through this trip we have experienced the "all of it" together as a community. We have begun to probe the difficult questions, and we will continue the conversation in our larger community when we return to RSNS.
Personally, the weight of these questions has been heavy, but there have been certain spiritual experiences here where it all seems to disappear. Singing at a Kaballat Shabbat service in Jerusalem, praying at the Western Wall, hiking the snake path up Masada, walking the path of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, and seeing the Bania Falls nestled in the Golan Heights to name a few. The feeling at these places is hard to describe in words, but I know it's a feeling you can only get from being here.
As I return to America I hope to take these experiences with me while delving into the challenging conversations.