Its been 2 days since we returned home from Israel. I am up most of the night as my mind and body think its day and during the day they think its night! This has been a most exhilirating 8 days. I was privileged to lead 17 of our Confirmation students and 2 adult chaperones who joined me on the trip of a lifetime.
No doubt each of us especially the children, all but 2 visiting Israel for the 1st time, have come back changed Jewishly in the most positive way forever. Many want to return soon to visit, study…many rated the trip 11 on a scale of 1 – 10 and though its possible their answers were tainted by my posing the question directly to them face to face, I am getting feedback that this is their genuine feeling.
Monday June 17th at our final farewell dinner at Tel Aviv’s wonderful Maganda restaurant, I asked each participant to say 1 nice thing they enjoyed on the trip about the person sitting next to them, seating having been random as they entered the restaurant. What emerged from this exercise was a revelation, for example 1 participant said about their neighbor that they had known him all their life since preschool and never said a word to them in all these years, now they realized what a great person he was and wanted to be friends, hang out etc. Our whole group bonded into a tight family, a great by-product of the trip, besides a deeper understanding of their Judaism and appreciation of Israel.
I would like to cite last weekend as an example of the wealth and intensity of our students’ experiences: in a matter of 3 short days they were exposed to what most Jews don’t experience their entire lives:-
- Friday morning we laid tefilin at the Kotel, put prayer notes in the Wall, explored the excavations and walked the narrow stoned streets of the Old City where our greatest sages poured forth pearls of Torah and Talmudic brilliance.
- Friday night at sunset we joined the throngs again at the Kotel. We held our own service away from the Wall so boys and girls could join together equally, as the Kotel is segregated in Orthodox tradition. Then we joined 100s of Israeli soldiers dancing euphorically to Am Yisrael Chai! There must have been 10,000 Jews from the most ardent to secular there, plus some non-Jews who came to witness this miracle of Israeli and Jewish rebirth.
- Saturday we attended the service at the Italian Sephardic Synagogue which houses a 400 year old ark and furniture from the former synagogue in Conegliano Veneto near Venice, which was sent to Jerusalem in 1951. I wanted the students to observe a service so different from ours, we did not recognize a single melody and some words and customs are also different.
- Then for contrast we attended the nearby Ashkenazic Great Synagogue, known for its splendor, its hazzanut and choir. After the service their executive director, a dear friend of mine Rabbi Zev Lanton explained the symbolism of the synagogue to our group and pointed out the magnificent historical mezuzah collection.
- We had a sumptuous picnic lunch at the beautiful Hapaamon Park by the Windmill and toured historical sights like the King David Hotel and architecturally significant YMCA building.
- Sunday we hiked the snake path up Matsada and learnt the amazing history of this last bastion holdout against the Romans, followed by a float in the Dead Sea and camel rides and dinner at Abraham’s Tent which recreated life at the time of Abraham.
- Monday morning Yad Vashem, a solemn tour of the Holocaust Museum, ending in our own ceremony during which I shared stories and articles about my parents and sister who were in the Shoah, to personalize it for our group.
- An hour later we were at the shores of the Mediterranean at old Jaffa and modern Tel Aviv where we witnessed Ben Gurion’s declaration of independence at Independence Hall. The guide dramatically illustrated that after World War II everyone had a place to go home to except the displaced Jewish refugees of Europe. Now we do.
From the Kotel to Matsada, from Yad Vashem to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, our group experienced the lows and highs of 4000 years of Jewish history and modern Israel’s dynamic miracle. We all want to return now!
Here are some memorable associations from our trip:- (inside jokes)
Bari – would you switch seats with me? Always nice
Ben – our blog guru kicked out of 3 stores in the shuk for overeager bargaining
Daniel – hay what’s up Mindel? Anyone have some scissors?
Deena – tell me if you see a walking stick for my Dad’s stupid collection! Back to the Ahava store
Emma – Israeli lookalike blended well with local population
Jennie – I can take care of myself, I burn easily
Jolie – perpetual smile
Jonathan – got spat on in the shuk for saying shabbat shalom to wrong religion
Josh Brody – Dad can I shower in your room, Sababa? Where does he put all that food?
Josh Sherman – 1st one up Matsada (under 21 minutes), went up to find Molly but she wasn’t there
Kayla – ayfoh hasheirutim? No never mind
Kyle – # 1, salty diet, cool shades
Lauren – conscience of the group
Morgan – aka Mindel, always polite, considerate, Brody’s cushion
Nathan – Mr Nice Guy
Noah – great speech about Ilan at farewell dinner, time to call/text Ann
Sari – I gotta keep an eye on my mom
Security at front desk – I don’t do toilet paper
Jill – a decent shower and some fries with it – prefers Dead Sea to Agron Hostel
Stuart – is it cocktail hour?
Ilan our guide – shuttup! They’ll catch up.
Alex our driver – take your feeeet off my seats!!
Hazzan – number off – stick together – curfew at midnight – time to daven, let’s put on tefilin – listen up – you guys are great!
Favorite expressions, words, names etc…
fizzybubbly, Mindel, Vered, can we switch Ilan for Rose? WHERE’S MOLLY? Been replaced by Rose at the olive oil factory.