It’s Not Goodbye… It’s L’Hitraot

I am typing this post from our flight, heading from NYC to ATL.  Our trip has, sadly, come to an end.

For our last night, I invited the group to compose a short essay of their thoughts and reflections on the trip.  Below are a few of them:


From Jim and Leslie Penuel: “The discovery of Israel was amazing.  Seeing our attachment to the Land of Israel grow was wonderful.  Add to that the making of new Temple Sinai friends and you have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Thank you Renee and Brad for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm with us.”


The Dwoskin 5:

“A trip from Atlanta was planned

To visit sites in the Holy Land.

Although it was hot

We saw a whole lot

Renee ensured our experience was grand.

The Dwoskins have had a wonderful time in Israel.  It was an experience that everyone will cherish forever.  Our favorite moment was the Bnei MItzvah; everyone did such a great job and it was a very moving experience.  We also liked rafting down the Jordan River and getting into splash fights.  The Havdalah service was wonderful, even with Elijah’s difficult lighting the candle.

Standing on the border with Lebanon and Syria gave us a new perspective on how it would feel to live here.  The many historical and political lessons from Renee and Rabbi Levenberg helped put it all in context.  Fabulous trip!”


Laura Lee and Myron Dwoskin: “If it weren’t for Elijah’s Bar Mitzvah, we may have never been to Israel, mostly due to security fears.  As it turns out , we felt safer in Israel than downtown Atlanta.  The one exception was a defective camel.

Attending the Bnai Mitzvah of Elijah, Andre and Naomi, overlooking the old cit of Jerusalem, was very emotional.  The kids did a great job.

Israel is amazing!  To think that we walked on the same ground that Abraham walked thousands of years before- unbelievable!

We prayed at the Western Wall- unbelievable!

We swam in The Dead Sea- unbelievable!

We stood on the Golan Heights, looking over the borders of Lebanon and Syria- unbelievable!

At Yad Vashem, we walked on the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto- unbelievable!

All in all, this trip has been a life changing experience for us.  We came here wit the idea of getting more spiritual and we feel like we got a  good start.  Thank you all for your friendship and a special thanks to Rabbi Brad, who we will probably drive crazy with all of our questions.

We will close with the question that has been passed down from generation to generation: ‘Where’s Andre?'”


Cade Lautenbacher: “I came to Israel for my best friend’s Bar Mitzvah.  I had so much fun with my friends.  I couldn’t believe that I was walking where Jesus walked 2000 years ago.  I also had so much fun riding a camel for the very first time.  Everybody was nice to us.  I was surprised that almost everyone spoke English.  It was amazing to meet a lot of new people that all cared for one another.  I learned a lot about a different religion.  I enjoyed eating all the different foods that are only here in Israel.  The tour guides, Renee and Brad, were very nice about sharing all of their knowledge about Israel to us.  Heyo and Peace Out!”


Ethan and Andy Much: “Quite simply, Israel has exceeded our expectations in every possible way.  As the birthplace of Judaism and the Jewish people, it has an abundance of history, archaeology, and artifacts.  It’s people have an unmatched love of life and its streets are always lively.  It is modern as well as ancient, with fantastic modern architecture and amazing technological development.  It has surprising natural beauty and geographic diversity.  All of these positive attributes shouldn’t obscure some concerns, however, including limits to religious pluralism, unresolved regional conflicts, and imperfect treatment of some immigrants.  we have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to experience this uniquely special place up close and in depth.”


Martin Family: “Over 10 days, we’ve experienced the contradictions that have co-existed in this land for thousands of years.  We experienced history- Jaffa, Caesaria, Safed, the Kotel; and we’ve experienced modern times- a bustling and vibrant Tel Aviv, the energy of Ben Yahuda Street.

We’ve experienced pride as we listened to the birth of a nation from Independence Hall; and we experienced shame as we learned about the plight of today’s immigrants.

We’ve experienced sorrow- Rabin Square and Yad Vashem; and we’ve experienced joy- delicious food, great company, sharing a ‘Shabbat Shalom’ at Kol Haneshama, and the simple peace of floating in the Mediterranean.

But most importantly, we’ve experienced the promise of Israel: the promise of her land as we planted a tree; the promise of her people as we engaged with locals from Sea to Galilee; and the promise of her future, as embodied by our Bnai Mitzvah.”


The Sachs 5: “From Jaffa to Jerusalem, we saw it all.

From Maganda to the Waffle Lady, we ate it all.

From starting as strangers to becoming friends with life-long memories, we bonded with all.

From underground water tunnels to sifting through history, we experienced it all.

From Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to planting a tree in Jerusalem, we felt pride in it all.

From rafting down the Jordan River to eating with Abraham, we laughed through it all.

From the shuk in Tel Aviv to Ben Yehuda street, we shopped through it all.

And from the Bat Mitzvah service to the gates of Yad Vashem, we were touched by it all.

Thank you to all of you for making the last ten days so special.  This was definitely a trip of a lifetime and something we will never forget.”


And from me: I could say that the most meaningful part of the trip was the Bnai Mitzvah service- the work the kids put in, the look on their faces, the sincere tears all around.  I could say that that it was the informal conversations we had throughout the trip, turning acquaintanceships into friendships.  I could say that it was learning from Renee, who always teaches me so much about Israel.  But, truthfully, the most meaningful part of this trip was… the food.  From chocolate croissants for breakfast on that first day with the kids to Borekas with Leslie, the ice cream place, the Waffle Lady, Aroma, and I could go on.  Some people make it through Israel with a series of ‘wows’; I made it through Israel with a series of ‘yums.”


It has been a most profound and trans-formative trip, similar to the way that all trips to Israel can impact a person.  This trip will long stand out in my mind for the good times, the great people, and seeing Israel reflected through their eyes.

Until next time, Israel!


PS: Pics, and Steve’s Blog, will be coming within the next several days, once I am on a faster connection.

Published in: on June 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

It Can Be Pretty Damn Hot In The Desert!

We ventured south from Jerusalem today to interact with a very problematic chapter in Jewish history.  Masada, a Herodian fortress in the desert, was the last stand for Jewish zealots who climbed the mountain looking for weapons around 70 CE.  The revolt against Rome was in full swing and Rome was winning.  Having destroyed The Temple, the Romans surrounded Masada.  They built a path up the mountain over the course of 3 or 4 months.  When they broke through the walls of the fortress, they found 960 Jews dead.  Rather than being taken captive, the Zealots agreed to die.  Husbands killed wives and children, a group of 10 men killed the other men, one man killed the other 9, and then that one committed suicide.  It stands as a horrible chapter in Jewish history.

Upon the top of the mountain, we wondered, in small groups and as a large group, what we would die over today.  What issue or value are we so enamored with that we would choose death rather than violate it?  It was a provocative conversation stifled by the obscene heat atop the mountain.  No kidding- it was 104 and that was in the morning!  Needless to say, we all needed the next stop!

Which was… The Dead Sea!  Everyone had a blast, either going in the water and floating or making fun of those who were going in the water and floating.  For the kids, they had all voiced in advance of the trip that they were looking forward to the visit to the Dead Sea the most.  And now…here they were!  Sure enough, it lived up to all expectations, and even exceeded them.

We then went to Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, for an interactive exhibit that took us in the footsteps of the Essenes.  While it was interesting, it was unbelievably hot (still) and difficult to pay attention.

Our final group activity was a Beduin-like experience.  We rode camels, ate great food, and reflected upon our connection with the land.

In all, it was a great but hot day.  And, sadly, tomorrow is our last full day in Israel.    Based upon the comments from the group, we are all aware of what little time we have left and are already sad at the thought of leaving.

Until tomorrow…

PS: Don’t forget to check Steve’s blog, too!

Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Journey Through History

The morning on this, our 8th day in Israel, began as we boarded the bus and sifted through Jewish history.  Literally.  In 2004, the WAQF, the Muslim group that controls the Temple Mount, broke through some ground on the Temple Mount and discarded the rubble.  A group of students in Israel followed the trucks and determined that the rubble was being dumped in three different trash heaps around the city.  And then they collected it.  All of it.

Now the task is ours to sift through and see what we can find.  Our group very much enjoyed this archaeological expedition – some of us hummed the Indiana Jones theme song as we put our hands on history.  Laura Lee Dwoskin actually found a coin that dates back to at least the Roman era- a very rare find!  Congrats to Eden on selecting the bucket of rubble that yielded such a wonderful artifact.

After we finished with the sifting, we went to the Jewish quarter, walking the streets of our ancestors and witnessing first-hand the results of the destruction of The Temple and the burning of Jerusalem.  The emotional climax of the day came when we went to the Kotel, the Western Wall.  In the tradition of the pilgrims who have come before us, we wrote prayers and thoughts on paper and stuffed them in the cracks of the wall.  It was a moment that cannot possibly be described- it is one of those moments that one just has to witness first-hand to truly welcome the gravity.

It was an early day today, affording us the opportunity to do some shopping and dining on our own.  It was a wonderful Jerusalem day, and one that will stay with us for a long time.  For now, though, I am signing off to head to get some great food and some great Judaica!



PS: Don’t forget to check Steve’s blog, too!

Published in: on June 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Great Blog!

Don’t forget to check Steve’s blog, too!

Published in: on June 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm  Comments (1)  

Shabbat in Jerusalem

There is very little in the world that compares to the unique nature of Shabbat in Jerusalem.  Our morning started as Elijah Dwoskin, Naomi Sachs, and Andre Martin became Bnai Mitzvah overlooking the Old City.  While the setting was beautiful, what was truly remarkable was the fact that each of these kids has taken this process quite seriously, as have their parents.  It meant a lot to each of them, as reflected in their speeches, their parent blessings, and the tears that streamed down our faces.  Yes, I did use the word “our” previously, as, between the three of them, there was not a dry eye in the house.  It demonstrated the remarkable observation that, just over a year ago, many of the families did not know each other.  After the connections were made in Atlanta before we left, those connections were deepened throughout the last week.  And, this morning, we were one big family.  And it was phenomenal.  A Mazel Tov to Elijah, Naomi, and Andre- you continue to impress me!

Following the service, a few of us made our way into the Old City to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  It was crowded and hot and special and sacred.  We learned a little about the story of the events surrounding that location- the crucifixion of Jesus, his death and his burial.  Going with fellow travelers Conrad, Cade, Brynn and Catherine added a wonderful dimension to the site, as they offered their own thoughts along the way in the form of personal connection and meaning.  I can say that, personally, it is always a highlight of the trip when we see the intersection of Judaism and other religions.  While we were struggling to understand the relationship between historical fact and religious meaning, our guide, Renee, stated: in most circumstances, the history is reflected in the ritual.  But in this country, tradition makes the history.”

We then visited the Israel Museum, where we studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Aleppo Codex, and explored 2000 years of Jewish history (not the most recent 2000!) in 45 minutes.  Our guide, Renee, was and is amazing.

We had a wonderful lecture with Paul Liptz, a great and talented individual, who spoke with us about the Middle East and the challenges that Israel is confronting.  The group was glued to his presentation and impressed with his insight.

After a Havdalah service overlooking the Old City, many of us went to the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, where we ate WAY too much good food and even saw a concert!

It proved to be a busy day, but a wonderful day.  The blog is shorter tonight so that I can head out one more time to experience Jerusalem as Shabbat has come to a close.

Shavua Tov,


Published in: on June 16, 2012 at 9:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Yerushalayim Shel Zahav

On this, our sixth day, we entered the spiritual side of our trip.  Having spent the past several days focusing on history, our focus shifted to the spiritual quest in Judaism.  We awoke early and began our trip to Safed, the city in which Kabalah was born and where it continues to thrive.  We wandered the alleyways and hills of the city, walking into 500 and 600 year old synagogues.  It was both wonderful to see and to hear the stories of the sages and the communities that worship there and problematic to understand how illegitimate they find Reform Judaism.  I left a few shekels of tzedakah in gratitude for their hospitality, but somehow it felt a little like I was supplying the enemy.

But Safed wasn’t only about synagogues; we also explored the shops and the art galleries, perusing some truly impressive and amazing works.  I also had a great personal moment: I was able to accompany one of the Bnai Mitzvah families as they went to a few shops and finally settled upon a tallis.  This tallis, the one that Elijah Dwoskin will receive tomorrow morning when he becomes a Bar Mitzvah, almost called to him: he tried on several, but it was when he put this garment on his shoulders that his mother (and father) became a bit teary.  He knew, right away, that he had found his Bar Mitzvah Tallis, despite the fact that he still shopped around a bit.  I have been with families when they welcomed a child and when they lost a child; through naming and brit milah ceremonies and bnai mitzvah ceremonies and weddings and funerals and… and I had never been able to see something so touching and personal and transformative as the family ritual that goes into buying a first tallis.  I thank the Dwoskin family for allowing me to witness such an extraordinary event.

Following our departure from Safed, we journeyed to Jerusalem, stopping upon our entry for the traditional ceremony of sipping juice and reciting the Shechechiyanu blessing.  We gazed upon the city – some for the first time – and saw both the hope and the sadness, the promise and the conflict.  It just takes your breath away.  Andre Martin, another of our Bnai Mitzvah kids, put a hand on my shoulder and offered a quiet gaze upon the city.  “Jerusalem” he said.  “It’s the only word that comes close to capturing it.”

We made our way to Mahane Yehuda, the open-air market in the center of Jerusalem, and we had a bit of fun.  I challenged the group to find the strangest object.  They could purchase the object or take a picture of it, but they had to find the strangest object in the market.  It turned out to be a big hit and we all had a blast over Shabbat dinner laughing at the pics that people brought back.  (Steve was the official judge- click over to his blog to see his point of view of the judging!)

After checking in to our hotel, we rode over to Kol Haneshama, a Reform synagogue that has been a great source of inspiration to me through the years.  It is always great fun to share this spot with Sinai members, something I did on the last trip I led as well.  The service was lovely and the music was great.  But the real surprise was bumping into other Sinai affiliates.  We saw Michael Marmur, our Scholar-In-Residence, and I am to deliver a big hug to our community from him.  Another very familiar and friendly face revealed itself midway through the service: Ari Lorge, our intern from two years ago, was also attending services!  It was so nice to see Ari and to update him a bit about Sinai and my family and to hear from him what he is doing.  He was selected as one of three stateside HUC students to serve as a summer intern to help new students acclimate.  It is a highly competitive position that he won and we wish Ari much continued success!

We took the 25 minute walk from the synagogue back to the hotel where we had a lovely Shabbat dinner.  We are also joined by Howard and Cathy Sachs, Naomi’s grandparents (she is becoming a Bat Mitzvah tomorrow!).  They entered the group cracking jokes and having a great time, so they fit right in!

Today was a fantastic day- a day that I have been looking forward to for some time.  The first time many of the participants saw Jerusalem was special, but Shabbat dinner, with all the laughter and prayer and talking and fun… it just all felt so right.

And so begins our foray in Jerusalem.  And the best part is… it will only get better.

Shabbat Shalom,

PS: Happy Anniversary, Lautenbachers!  Thanks for kicking off 21 with us!

PPS: Make sure you check out Steve’s blog at, where a new post will be uploaded shortly.

Pictures Below:

1. Jim and Leslie Penuel, Laura Lee Dwoskin

2. Elijah in the Chair of Elijah

3. Naomi Sachs on the eve of becoming a Bat Mitzvah

4. The Lautenbachers (Brynn, Conrad, Cade and Catherine)

5. Josh Dwoskin, aka: the man

6. The group in Jerusalem

7. Steve Bram, judging the contest (see his blog for details!)

Published in: on June 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Note about the blog

Please note: I will post pics after I post the blog entry.  After seeing the pics, return to the blog and scroll down to see what we did that day!

Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Israel Day 5 Pics!

Check out snapfish:|SYE|OTSI|SAER/s_se=FDR#state={%22pl%22%3A{%22uc%22%3A2%2C%22aid%22%3A6453371026%2C%22vp%22%3A%22g%22%2C%22sb%22%3A5}%2C%22ovm%22%3A{%22v%22%3A%22s%22}}

Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Israel: Nature and Security

Today, our fifth day, was our most active day by far.  While it started with yet another Israeli breakfast (I had shakshuka, one of my favorite dishes!), as soon as we were done we quickly boarded the bus and began our short trek to the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, located on the Jordan River.  We had a nice hike before it got too hot and were able to see the Jordan in all its lush glory.

Understanding the historical significance of the Jordan to the Christian community, we were also to see and get a feel for its significance to the Jewish community, both ancient and modern.  In ancient times, the spot on the Tel Dan Nature Reserve was the site of the Northern Israel cult, which brought sacrifices to golden calves into mainstream Jewish practice.  This is also a spot on which child sacrifice was routinely offered, a practice that we attempted to replicate when Andy Much took his first-born son, Ethan, to the altar.  While Ethan’s mother was not present to stop the near sacrifice, Andy did look up and was able to see a ram caught in the thicket.  Not sure how this will turn out- perhaps we’ll be able to let you know on Rosh Hashanah.

Having spent some time understanding Israel’s relationship with nature on the Golan, we made our way to the Golan Heights to understand the relationship between nature and security.  At first blush, it would seem that there would be no intersection, but we witnessed another story today.  Not only does the Golan present a strategic upper-hand for Israel, but much of the water that makes its way into Israel comes from the Golan.  Whomever controls the Golan, therefore, controls the water in Israel.  As our guide explained today, “Oil we have, we are not worried about oil and oil imports.  For us, our biggest concern is water.”  Thus, protecting the Golan is both an issue of natural preservation and security precaution.

The Golan is a very contentious place in Israel and policy on that piece of land has great bearing on many, many people.  In addition to the water and security issues I mentioned above, there are people who live on the Golan, both Israelis and Druze.  Should Israel return the Golan, the effects could be calamitous for both of those groups.  Yet, at the same time, any lasting peace with Syria will in some way involve a territorial return of that land, and for good reason: how can you say, “We have peace, we get along, but I don’t trust you to keep water flowing in my country.”   I picked up on much conversation amongst our group on this issue and the difficult decisions that will one-day confront all those involved in the Golan.

Owen Dwoskin routinely offers color commentary to the situations in which our group finds itself.  He is quick with a one-liner and many of them are even funny.  Since he successfully identified the fact that Samson took on the Philistines with the jaw bone of an ass, and I did not exactly defend his correct answer, nor, by the way, did I quiz him on this piece of Jewish trivia (I think he likes that it involves an ass), I am passing the next paragraph to him to describe our adventures on the Jordan.

Next the group went rafting down the Jordan.  As we were discussing the significant events that took place on the banks of this ancient waterway (such as the spot where Abraham brought his donkey to the shore to drink and the spot where Sarah washed the dirt from her hair), Myron, the Dwoskin patriarch, proceeded to start a splash war with all the other boats.  Needless to say, the old man lost the splash war. [Editor’s Note: I don’t think so!]

The rafting/kayaking on the Jordan was a real treat, followed by some down-time at the hotel.  We then went on a jeep tour of the Golan and had a great Israeli-style BBQ under the stars.

It was a great day, as the pictures will convey.  Tomorrow we will start our trek through Safed to Jerusalem.  Needless to say, tomorrow will be a very emotional day for many in our group as we fulfill a lifelong dream of stepping foot in this most sacred and scarred city.

Until tomorrow,


PS: Make sure you check out Steve’s blog at, where a new post will be uploaded shortly.

Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pics from Day 4!

WordPress is making it difficult to upload pics, so here they are on snapfish!|SYE|OTSI|SAER/s_se=FDR/s_reg=reg_main_lite#state=%22pl%22%3A%22uc%22%3A2%2C%22aid%22%3A6446429026%2C%22vp%22%3A%22g%22%2C%22sb%22%3A5%2C%22ovm%22%3A%22v%22%3A%22s%22



Published in: on June 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm  Leave a Comment