From The Group!

Okay, not everyone in the group has written something. But many have. You have heard from the leaders how we felt about the trip…now hear from the travelers!

Michael Streger

How could a place to which I have never been feel so familiar? Entering this trip I promised myself I would not have any preconceived ideas of what Israel would be, and I have discovered that Israel has been so much more than I could ever have imagined. I discovered an Israel that is filled with proud people, that possesses landscapes that enfold and embrace us, and a rich history that tells OUR story. As if that was not good enough, standing next to LaWana as she beautifully read Torah, and knowing Abigail and Edyn will one day do the same, was a high of a lifetime. It has been so great to share all these special moments with all our newfound friends.

Cathy and Alan Gottlieb

Thank you to Rabbis Levenberg and Perry and 28 of our fellow congregants for helping us realize our dream of traveling to Israel. The experiences we shared, the knowledge we gained and the friendships we formed are memories we will always hold close to our hearts. We feel truly blessed to have taken this journey with you.

Akbar Kassam

As a Muslim, my eyes and mind opened on this lifetime experience. It will be my honor to show my friends and family back home that Israel is truly a land of peace, acceptance, and open arms to all. I am humbled by Temple Sinai for the love it showed to my family, and we will keep these memories forever.

Philip Karlick

As a first timer to Israel, having grown up with Zionist grandparents and family, having friends that come to Israel for years…nothing did prepare me for the wonders of Israel we felt and saw together. I loved being with Susanne for my first trip and made many strong friendships.

LaWana Streger

While on the Family Track in Israel, we met a lovely family. Ayva and Abi hit it off right away! While in Jerusalem I took a picture of the two of them sitting next to each other in front of a beautiful pink flower garden. This picture – two little girls, one Muslim and one Jewish. This, to me, is what childhood innocence looks like!

Marc Cohen

I am sad because it is the last day of the trip. One of the highlights for me was watching my son floating in the Dead Sea and seeing the grin on his face from ear to ear.

Susan Barry

After a day of climbing Masada and lathering up with mud at the Dead Sea, I am so RELAXED! Shared experiences in this incredible country with our Temple Sinai community and new friends as well has made this trip so great! What a life trip! Aha! As we kept saying to one another: “now we are family.” I return more informed, more recharged than ever to embrace Judaism and to be a supporter of Israel. Thank you (todah) to our dear rabbis Brad and Elana! And thank you to our incredible guide Ronnie; you taught us so much!

Simie Faskowitz

I was awestruck by the contrast of the beautiful old ancient and biblical sites along with the amazing modern infrastructure all around the country. I loved interacting with the Israeli people and was so happy to see Arabs and Israelis getting along and living normal lives. It felt extra special getting to spend this special time with my husband Larry for our 30th Anniversary along with our Temple Sinai family. I certainly won’t wait another 15 yrs to return to Israel.

Ron and Maxine Rosen

This was my 7th and Maxine’s 5th trip to Israel. We had many experiences, which were outstanding. The Shabbos service and the dinner were very special. The B’nai Mitzvah ceremony was a very emotional experience. The love in that room was palpable. Ronny and Asher did an outstanding job. Many thanks to Rabbis Brad and Elana for leading a wonderful trip.

Larry Faskowitz

It has been 15 yrs since my last visit to Israel. I can’t believe how much growth and western comforts and modernization has taken place since my last visit. Also I felt SO SAFE everywhere i went. Being able to walk alone thru the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem late at night is not something I would feel safe doing in Atlanta. Seeing first hand what Israelis have accomplished technologically, socially, and culturally was inspiring and makes me feel so proud to be Jewish. Being able to share this experience with my wife Simie and Our fellow Temple Sinai members on the special occasion of our 30th Wedding Anniversary made this trip even more special. Can’t wait to return ( less than 15 yrs next time)!

Terri Heyman

This was my 5th trip to Israel. I was so excited to see and do so many new things, especially with my boyfriend, Marc and his son Alex. The most meaningful part of the trip to me is the friendships and memories I have made. Some of the memories include dining and watching the sunset on Tel Aviv beach and over Jerusalem, watching all the men and woman turn into children climbing on a tank at the an IDF base, floating in the Dead Sea and covering ourselves in mud like little children. The friendships will last a lifetime.

Phil Klein

Our trip to Israel has been the most moving experience I can remember. So many wonderful places that we as a family that were both beautiful and emotional. Being able to have our son Ty’s Bar Mitzvah in Israel was probably the highlight of our trip. Yad Vashem was an incredibly moving experience as well as a powerful reminder how easily history can repeat itself.

Betty Klein

Sharing our son’s Bar Mitzvah overlooking old Jerusalem with our Temple Sinai family will always be one of the most memorable nights for our family. The entire ten days were filled with one after another sacred and amazing site visits, bringing us closer to our Jewish identity. We’re so glad that we had this time to spend together as a family and with our rabbis guiding and teaching us.

Ty Klein

The trip to Israel we took with our parents was exciting and fun. For us it was my Mom’s and my first time, and for my Dad and sister it was the second. My sister went in 8th grade and my dad over 40 years ago. I heard from my sister about her trip and I was really excited to go. However, I was excited because it was for my Bar Mitzvah overlooking the old city atop of the Hebrew Union College; it was amazing and breathtaking. I told my mom I want to live in Israel. I had a great time and wish to go back some day.

Susanne Katz-Karlick

It’s so complicated.  This idea and this belief.  Being, practicing, believing as a Jew.  What is easy is traveling through this maze with friends I love to be with, learning and bewildering together.

Cindy Derso

I heard said before I went that,”Israel will change you.”  I’ve traveled pretty extensively in my life & each experience out of my environment has somewhat “changed me”.

However, as a Christian, going to where Jesus walked, taught, lived, & died, enabled me to receive Israel with all its sights sounds, smells, & tastes with a heightened sensitivity. Kneeling & touching the stone slab over where Jesus was buried, powerfully connected me & my humanness to my spiritual Father & Lord.

That’s an experience only Israel can offer & I am very grateful.

Marcie Reale

I can not put into words my impressions of Israel because the biggest impression I have is a feeling. I was not expecting nor was I prepared for the incredibly deep emotions I experienced on my first visit to Israel. I have traveled enough of the world to many various places spanning several continents, but never have I felt the way I did in Israel. It was a bond and a sense of belonging that I can’t explain. It was like coming home even though I was far far away from home. I don’t know if I would have felt this as strongly had I not been with the group I was with or the particular trip/itinerary I was on. I was able to connect by experiencing Israel through the young at Yemin Orde, the old at Yad LaKashish, and all my ancestors who came before me at every historical sight we visited. To walk the paths of Abraham and Isaac, Sarah and Rebecca was an experience that cannot be put into words because there are no words that are enough for the feeling I had.

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Published in: on June 19, 2015 at 3:50 am  Comments (2)  

An Ending…and A Beginning

In many ways, it ended where it all began. Our Family Tour group started the morning at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial and Museum. Needless to say, it was a very emotional morning as we were masterfully led through the museum by Yoram, our guide. We began by walking into the museum and gazing upon a film – actually, a collection of films edited together – depicting Jewish life in Europe on the eve of the Nazi rise to power. These home movies were of individuals and families and school groups just enjoying normal life. And then we turned to walk to to the exhibit – actually, Yoram said, “We literally turn our backs on them, and their way of life. We will now immerse ourselves in the world that they didn’t know would be their future.”

Yad Vashem, in a controversial move, ended the formal museum experience by steering visitors into a room dedicated to the birth of the modern State of Israel. There are really two camps- one camp that states that the western world was experiencing a simultaneous refugee problem and guilt over not interceding to assist the Jews. Thus, the solution was to establish a State for the Jews. There are others who argue that the mechanics were already in motion to build a State and that Israel would have come about even without the tragedy of the Holocaust. By including a room about Herzl and Ben Gurion and the Declaration of the State at the end of the exhibit, it is clear where the Museum stands.

Which is why I opened the blog as I did above. We started our journey on day one with a visit to Independence Hall and now, on our last day, we end looking at, and discussing, the same images, speeches, and historical events.

We also spent some time at an Archaeological Dig, where the majority of our group got down and dirty with our history. In fact, we were excavating a cave dating to the days of Judah Maccabbee…and the Hanukkah story! Our amazing guide at this site helped us to understand the dig and what we accomplished today.

In all, the dig proved to be the ideal final stop on our tour before a celebratory dinner. The purpose of the dig, at least for volunteers like our group, is to help us connect with Jewish history in a tangible way. And that was a major part of the purpose of this tour: we have studied the history of our people, we have engaged with words of Torah that were lived in this land, we have celebrated holidays intended to (partially) connect the people to the land. And yet there was a disconnect for many of us. That disconnect, as a result of our directly touching the Land of Israel, is no more. We have immersed ourselves with Israel and Israeli culture and the ancient struggles and contemporary challenges of the State of Israel.

On our way to the airport, I offered this prayer, a reflection on our collective Sinai path through the winding ways of Israel. I include it below as a fitting conclusion to my own journaning through this trip. Our next posts will be written by members of the group as I share their reflections.

From the flight,

Brad

A prayer for our Journey Home

It was that kind of Israel day

When our feet were sore from walking;

When our eyes wanted to close;

When our heads were full-

Of information. Of questions.

When the sun painted the buildings gold,

When it rested on the mountains of the Golan or the Mediterranean Sea or the rooftops of Jerusalem.

And it was in that moment that I realized my trip had become a journey, a pilgrimage, to re-claim something I thought I lost or to take possession of what has always been intangible and is now to me important.

I breathed a sigh unheard by others, just for me, just my release.

I cried tears of joy and of sadness.

I laughed at jokes and at my companions.

We fought. We laughed. We grew.

They said that the trip would transform me.

And it has.

I have been impacted by the stories.

I have been inspired by the land.

I have been transformed by the encounters with others.

It was that kind of Israel day,

When the world was full of possibilities.

And I lowered my head and I lifted my eyes;

I thanked God for this amazing and beautiful life that has led me to this moment.

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam, Shehechiyanu, Vekiyamanu Vehigiyanu Lazman Hazeh.

We praise You, God, who has given us life, who has given us health, and who enabled us to reach this very moment in our journey.

The view from the end of the Holocaust Memorial Museum's main exhibit. Looking down upon a beautiful and bright Israel.

The view from the end of the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s main exhibit. Looking down upon a beautiful and bright Israel.

The view from atop as our excavation begins!

The view from atop as our excavation begins!

Our last presentation of the tour, highlighting that the dig, and the tour, used the history of Israel (both the people and the land) to make modern Israel come alive. Our Judaism...is now tangible.

Our last presentation of the tour, highlighting that the dig, and the tour, used the history of Israel (both the people and the land) to make modern Israel come alive. Our Judaism…is now tangible.

Published in: on June 17, 2015 at 7:30 am  Comments (1)  

Time

We all know what this means…

image

Time to go from one home to the other. I will blog again in a day or so.

Warmly,

Brad

Published in: on June 16, 2015 at 9:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Our Little Day Trip

With an early start to our day, we boarded the bus and made our way to Masada. A Herodian fortress in the desert not far from Jerusalem, the site was actually the last refuge for Jewish zealots who were fleeing the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. The zealots made their way to the top of Masada – 960 of them – with Rome not too far behind. They held out for months atop this desert oasis, aided by cisterns filled with water and a fear of Rome beneath the mountain. But Rome did not give up, and when they eventually broke the retaining walls to the fortress, they found that almost all 960 Jews had committed suicide. It was a terrible and sad chapter in the history of Israel and symbolized the end of the Jewish revolt.

A number of members of our group actually climbed Masada, following in the footsteps of our ancestors who sought refuge from the destruction of Jerusalem. We sought understanding, as this controversial site is both revered and disdained. There has been a shift in recent years in Israel to de-emphasize Masada; the truth is, we are not dieing for Israel, we are LIVING for Israel. So marking this site, while important, should not be the site of the swearing in ceremony for the IDF (which it once was), nor should it be the battle cry of modern Israel. A better slogan than “Masada will not fall again” would be “If you will it, it is no dream.”

We then experienced Bedouin hospitality and a delicious lunch, followed by a trip to…The Dead Sea. The lowest point (above ground) on earth, we had a blast painting ourselves in the healing mud and floating in the salty sea. Truly a wonderful experience that brings to a close a major item on our group’s “to-do list.”

Tomorrow we will close our trip. It is hard to believe that the trip is coming to an end…

Warmly,
Brad

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Craig and Phil enjoying Beduin hospitality

Craig and Phil enjoying Bedouin hospitality

IMG_1041 IMG_1053 IMG_1047 BOORing....! girls IMG_1039-1 6

I'm going to climb WHAT?

I’m going to climb WHAT?

Climbers from our group take a break before reaching a sunny stretch up Masada.

Climbers from our group take a break before reaching a sunny stretch up Masada.

Michael and Phil join me in a pose during our climb.

Michael and Phil join me in a pose during our climb.

Published in: on June 16, 2015 at 3:11 am  Comments (1)  

A Blessed Day, A Challenging Day, But A Good Day

As the morning began, we were all still spinning from the wonderful and meaningful Bnai Mitzvah service last night. I have been to a fair number of services, and for sure each of them is special and memorable in their own way. But there was something about the way this community came together and embraced our three Bnai Mitzvah, that something truly sacred was created. And, thankfully, the luster did not wear off over night and people were still speaking about the most significant moments from the service the night before. I count myself as truly honored to have been a part of such a moment.

Our family track assembled on the bus after breakfast and made our way to the City of David. This is an archeological park that enabled us to better understand how King David captured a small Jebusite city called Jerusalem and how that seed has blossomed over the years to become the Jerusalem with which we are all familiar. Of particular significance to me was the moment when we assembled atop of what would have been one of the houses reserved for the elites in the society, just below where King David’s palace would have been, and gazed upon the homes built into the side of the hill across the short distance of the valley. It was there that the story of King David and Bathsheba came to life, for we could see how easily he would have been able to spot the beautiful Bathsheba had she been bathing on the rooftop of her home. And it brought to live the Leonard Cohen lyric from his song, Hallelujah: Your faith was strong, but you needed proof/you saw her bathing on the roof; her beauty in the midnight overthrew you.

I have to admit my own discomfort with visiting the City of David. A privately owned area, under the administration of the Settler affiliated Elad group, the behavior of the administrations has been utterly distasteful. While years ago they began purchasing homes from the Palestinian population living near and, at times, on the property, they have since taken to engaging in scare tactics to intimidate those still residing in the neighborhood. They have even used the military and the local police to challenge the safety and security of the Palestinian populace. Our group saw none of this, but my knowledge of their practices makes me conclude that it was a mistake for our group to visit this spot. I don’t want to reward those behaviors and will strike this spot from any future visits to Israel until the intimidation stops. My own minor decision may not change much, but at least they won’t receive any funding from my groups visiting their city and paying the admission fees to the park.

Many of us in the group walked through Hezekiah’s underground water tunnel, the tunnel originally used to deliver water to the inhabitants of the city from the Gihon Spring. The tunnel was a fun experience and we learned a great deal about how King David used the tunnel to bring his soldiers into the city to ultimately capture it. He did not have to scale the walls and it proved to be an excellent military move.

We were then able to board our bus and make our way to the Kotel, or the Western (or Wailing) Wall. Widely touted as the most sacred landmark to the Jewish people, the retaining wall of the Second Temple is also the spot where people put folded-up pieces of paper with prayer written upon them into the cracks between the stones. Many in the group found this to be another spiritually moving moment in our trip, as the Wall is one of the more visible landmarks in Israel. I would venture to say that, before we knew as much about Israel as we now know, this visit was the most anticipated by our travelers.

Following the Wall visit, our group ventured to the Western Wall tunnels and many of us stayed behind to play a fun scavenger hunt in the Old City. It was a fun way to learn about the city as we ran around answering trivia about this amazing place. Needless to say, we earned a much-deserved trip back to the hotel and a relaxing night.

Following dinner, Rabbi Perry and I made good on a promise we made to the adult-only track and took them to the Waffle Lady. Enjoy (and salivate over) the pictures below.

Warmly,

Brad

Pomegranates!

Pomegranates!

Hezekiah's Tunnel

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Brad and Sarah-Anne Seligman Kotel Selfie

Brad and Sarah-Anne Seligman Kotel Selfie

Craig and Preston Seligman at the Kotel

Craig and Preston Seligman at the Kotel

Craig and Preston Seligman at the Kotel.

Craig and Preston Seligman at the Kotel.

Dinner with the Gottliebs, Barrys, Blooms, and rabbis

Dinner with the Gottliebs, Barrys, Blooms, and rabbis

Alan and Cathy Gottlieb's Waffle

Alan and Cathy Gottlieb’s Waffle

Jon and Susan Barry say

Jon and Susan Barry say “yum!”

Larry Faskowitz enjoys his waffle as Maxine Rosen awaits delivery of hers.

Larry Faskowitz enjoys his waffle as Maxine Rosen awaits delivery of hers.

Marc Cohen and Terri Heyman enjoying waffles

Marc Cohen and Terri Heyman enjoying waffles

Judie Jacobs and Eleanor Schwartz enjoying waffles

Judie Jacobs and Eleanor Schwartz enjoying waffles

My waffle!

My waffle!

Published in: on June 14, 2015 at 11:33 pm  Comments (1)  

Shabbat – Jerusalem Style!

The Waffle Lady Riseth. But more on that in a moment.

Our Shabbat in Jerusalem started by imitating the behavior of God: we rested, at least a bit, sleeping in and enjoying a later breakfast. After we had another nourishing breakfast, we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the church is actually on three spots that are imperative to an understanding of Christianity: the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, the slab of rock on which Jesus was placed to be purified for burial, and the cave into which his body was placed. The place was mobbed – on Shabbat, with not many Jewish options, tour groups often seize the opportunity to learn about Christianity.

Rabbi Perry and I insisted that our tours visit this spot, the most sacred spot in Christianity, for two reasons: first, it will help us to understand our neighbors, as being in an historically relevant spot often provokes questions and provides a more detailed understanding of others. And second, because we believe that many of Christian friends back home will naturally wonder about our trip, and while they may have a passing understanding of the Wailing Wall or the Golan Heights or Tel Aviv, they will most certainly have a personal connection to this church. Thus, by our visiting, we have given our tour the opportunity to connect with others back home in a more meaningful way.

While we were in separate groups, and I am with the family group. Some of our members are Christian, and while the Jews in our group made their way through the church with ease, asking some questions but experiencing the site as tourists, our Christian travelers had an altogether different experience. I spoke with one member about her thoughts and, with tears streaming down her face, she told me that she could not find the words to express what she was so profoundly experiencing. But you know what? She didn’t have to – her tears said it all.

We then had some down time in the Old City, taking lunch and doing a bit of shopping. But before we knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready as LaWana Streger, Preston Seligman, and Ty Klein were becoming Bnai Mitzvah!

We gathered at Blaustein Hall at the Jerusalem campus of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. It was a wonderful bookend to our Reform experiences – first meeting with Rabbi Miri Gold, then attending Shabbat services at Kol Haneshamah, and finally uniting our two tracks where my path, as well as Rabbi Perry’s path and Rabbi Ron’s path, to the rabbinate all began. It is a beautiful space, overlooking the old city, and Rabbi Perry and I both enjoyed seeing the collective “gasps” as our groups entered the room. It really does take your breath away.

But the beauty of the space honestly and truly pales in comparison to the beauty on the bima. This was one of those amazing ceremonies. Three incredible students, each a wonderful personality and each with an inspiring story, and each with a support system that was enviable. Our students (two teens and one adult) and the family members who blessed them from the bima were open and honest about the blessings and the challenges that they have each addressed to get to this point. Needless to say, the tears were streaming. After the ceremony we had a lovely dinner and, though it was scheduled to end at 8:00, the majority of us stayed well beyond and chatted about the ceremony, the people, and the trip. Our guards down, we embraced each other anew.

A few of us went out later to one of my favorite haunts, the Waffle Lady. And, yes, she did once again rise to the occasion, recruiting 10 new adherents to her tasty treats. A fitting and delicious end to a wonderful (and delicious!) day.

Shavua Tov from Jerusalem,

Brad

With the Bat Mitzvah! Yay LaWana!

With the Bat Mitzvah! Yay LaWana!

Mazel Tov to the Bar Mitzvah boy; have a waffle!

Mazel Tov to the Bar Mitzvah boy; have a waffle!

Waffle Ladies! With Brooke, Sarah-Anne, and Grace!

Waffle Ladies! With Brooke, Sarah-Anne, and Grace!

Abi and her Waffle!

Abi and her Waffle!

Love and Waffles!

LaWana and Michael enjoying a post-Simcha treat!

Published in: on June 13, 2015 at 10:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shabbat Shalom!

I was able to deliver the sermon this evening at Temple Sinai all the way from Jerusalem!

I include the link here, the text below, as well as a few pictures from our journey today.

Shabbat Shalom!

http://original.livestream.com/templesinai/video?clipId=pla_c557dafe-88d7-4367-b1e8-9e88aee30223

Shabbat Shalom! I am coming to you live from the heart of the Jewish people. Standing here in Jerusalem, we on the Sinai trips, both the Adult-Only group and the Family group, find ourselves at the crossroads between our historic past and our grand future. On the one hand we have a short distance behind us the Temple Mount, site of the Temple of Solomon and its rebuilt successor, the Second Temple, the Western Wall, the four quarters of the Old City, and we are just a few miles from Bethlehem. But we also stand facing Western Jerusalem, a city that is electric and vibrant, with creativity and scholarship and imagination, the city of Montefiore’s windmill and Agnon’s poetry, a city bathed in the light of progress.

Our travels first brought us to Tel Aviv, where we were able to understand Israel’s fighting history by visiting the Palmach museum and her political history by visiting Independence Hall, still untouched from Israel’s declaration in 1948. We were able to understand modern Tel Aviv’s unique Bauhaus architecture, where we were able to bask in the glow of a Mediterranean Sunset. It was also here that we had an audience with Rabbi Miri Gold, a pioneer both because she is the first Reform rabbi to receive a paycheck from the State of Israel acknowledging her title as Rabbi and also because she is the first woman to receive a paycheck from the State of Israel under the title of Rabbi.

We ventured to Jaffa, where we heard the stories of the cities past and walked the winding streets with the ghosts that populate the city. Our adult track spent time in Tzefat, unpacking and exploring the mysteries of Jewish mysticism. We stood in the synagogue where Lecha Dodi was first performed and learned about its author, Shlomo HaLevi, whose name is preserved in the acrostic of that beautiful poem welcoming the Sabbath bride, a poem which you will soon sing. We ventured to Tzippori and climbed the ruins; we went to the Golan Heights and learned about a few of Israel’s recent martyrs, while gazing upon Syria and into Lebanon. It was so peaceful on the Heights, and we wondered aloud when the people of Syria would be blessed with that kind of calm and serenity. Our journey took us to one of the many wineries on the Golan, as well as to an army base where we dined with some of the soldiers who are keeping Israel safe. While on the Golan, we were able to see original film footage of the Valley of Tears battle, a battle which occurred during the Yom Kippur War. That battle gave Israel the Golan Heights and it gave Temple Sinai the beautiful Ner Tamid that hands in front of the ark. Our Ner Tamid was originally a mortar shell, fired by Syria during the Yom Kippur War. The artist who made this piece literally wanted to turn a weapon of war into a symbol of peace; beating swords into plowshares.

The family track visited an organic farm on Kibbutz Megiddo (in Temple Sinai’s partner region), a farm with lots and lots of animals that is operated by adults with mental disabilities. It was amazing to see what they accomplish and produce and it was inspiring to see how much confidence their work provides them. On the farm they got to pet the animals, feed the sheep, make mud bricks, help with bread-baking, and pick vegetables straight from the garden for their own picnic lunch. They were also able to raft down the Jordan River which, despite a few splash fights, was a beautiful and relaxing adventure.

In the afternoon, we headed to the Galilee region, where we rafted down the Jordan River. Despite a few splash fights, it was a beautiful and relaxing adventure!

Today, both groups entered Jerusalem for the first time and we were able to overlook the Old City from Mt. Scopus. This is the very sight where visitors and dignitaries would stop before entering the city thousands of years ago. It seemed only fitting for our two groups to reconvene at this spot and recite the Shehechiyanu- Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, SHehechiyanu, Vekiyamanu Vehigiyanu Lazman Hazeh. We praise You, Adonai our God, for giving us life, for giving us health, and for enabling us to reach this very moment. For some in our group they were returning to Jerusalem but for the vast majority it was their first time seeing the city with their own two eyes. This dream of the Jewish people, realized in our day, became all the more real for our first-timers who had longed, sometimes for decades, to fulfill their dream of standing on this sacred spot. There are some moments that words cannot possibly do justice, and I will never forget the tears of one of the members of our group and the power of the embrace at that moment.

We started our Shabbat observance by attending Kol Haneshamah, a Reform synagogue in Jerusalem known for melodies and harmonies that capture the spiritual essence of Shabbat. There we enjoyed the hospitality of this very friendly and warm congregation as we learned about their congregation’s history and the initiatives that they are launching as they continue to grow. And while the service was almost entirely in Hebrew, it was also sung, with melodies familiar to our Sinai family as some of the very melodies that we use week after week on our bima. There is something familiar and familial about the moment you recognize a tune and find your way to praying with a new community in a new country.

We parted for festive Shabbat dinners, and now our travelers are tucked safely into their beds. But I just could not sleep, for as packed and full and exhausting is the itinerary, it is also inspiring, and I now find myself captured by the sights, the sounds, the spirit, of Jerusalem.

In our Torah portion this week, Moses sends scouts to explore the land of Israel, imploring them to bring back fruits and information about the land that was to soon be home to our Israelite ancestors. We, too, find ourselves scouting this land on behalf of our community. While we have not found the land to be flowing with milk and honey, we have found a gladness and a peace flowing down from the mountains of the north. We have found a beauty and a majesty flowing from the streets of Tel Aviv. We have found our ancient texts come alive in a promise of tomorrow flowing from Jerusalem. And as we mark our half-way point in our journey, we can offer the same in the words offered by Joshua and Caleb to Moses and Aaron and the entire community of Israel encamped on the shores of the Jordan river:

הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָבַ֤רְנוּ בָהּ֙ לָת֣וּר אֹתָ֔הּ טוֹבָ֥ה הָאָ֖רֶץ מְאֹ֥ד מְאֹֽד:

The land into which we have crossed to scout is a very, very good land.

Shabbat Shalom.

Warmly,
Brad

No, I'm not a little teapot...I am Israel!

No, I’m not a little teapot…I am Israel!

Having A Blast!

Having A Blast!

Class of 2015 Group Pic!

Class of 2015 Group Pic! 

Our first sight of Jerusalem.

Our first sight of Jerusalem.

The secret to 48 years together? Never argue with the one who brings the big guns!

The secret to 48 years together? Never argue with the one who brings the big guns!  

Published in: on June 13, 2015 at 12:32 am  Comments (1)  

500 Years of History Before Lunch; 50 Years of Current Events After!

Shalom from Israel!

Glass Blowing..and so much more.

Glass Blowing..and so much more.

The adult tour began our day with a conversation about Kabbalah. See, we are presently in Sefat, the town in Israel in which Jewish mysticism and the Zohar reached maturity. This is where a minor book (Zohar) and a bunch of Spanish “free-spirits” discovered the mysteries of Kabbalah. So it was fitting that we began our day with a chat about Jewish mysticism…and a glass-blowing demonstration by an amazing artist. Sheva Chaya was born in America and studied at Princeton before coming to visit Israel and having a transformative experience. She has since been working as an artist in Sefat, and her art – and her teachings – were a great way to start the day!

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The highlight of the morning, at least for me, was entering the synagogue that was the home of Shlomo Ha Levi back in the 16th century. Assembled in his sanctuary, we had a conversation about the basics of Kabbalah and how, for centuries, Jews have been struggling with how to understand the gift of Shabbat. We now that in our day, Shabbat becomes a break from work, but we have so often filled it with the business of “weekend logistics” that we have lost a key and integral component of Shabbat: that it is to be restful. In this space, we looked at the walls and the centuries-old books and then we referenced a beautiful poem, now a familiar song to us, that continue to contribute to the conversation about the relevance of Shabbat: Lecha Dodi. The poem was written by Shlomo Ha Levi, and we were connecting to his beautiful piece in the home that gave it life. Shabbat, for our group, will never be the same again.

Atop the Golan.

Atop the Golan.

4Today also saw us interacting with the Golan Heights and understanding the political and social ramifications of Israel having, and perhaps returning, this piece of land. We dined with the Druze in their restaurant and walked into bunkers and learned about Eli Cohen, a modern-day martyr whose work as a spy for Israel routed the Syrians from conquering the newly-formed country. We also learned about the Battle of the Valley of Tears, and the stunning (and quite surprising) victory by Israel’s armored (tank) division. Making the day even more real was dining with the soldiers who populate that division today. We climbed in the tanks and felt what it was like to sit in that metal monstrosity; and in so doing, we connected the efforts of the IDF today with the efforts of those during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Surrounding the tank.

Surrounding the tank.

Robyn Cohen and Cathy Gottlieb

Robyn Cohen and Cathy Gottlieb

The chairs of our trip: Susan Barry, Jon Barry, Cathy Gottlieb and Alan Gottlieb.

The chairs of our trip: Susan Barry, Jon Barry, Cathy Gottlieb and Alan Gottlieb.

Taking a decent selfie is quite a skill! This is take #223.

Taking a decent selfie is quite a skill! This is take #223.

I also wanted to share a personal reflection. People have, at times, inquired as to why a rabbi NEEDS to lead the Israel trips. While I can explain that the reason we all WANT to lead the trips is to connect with congregants in meaningful ways, to aid in the formation of relationships, and to provide meaning and insight to the experience, the answer as to why we NEED to lead the Israel trips is a lesson in expectations. I love it when members of our group identify themselves to Israelis as members of a Reform congregation, and then they introduce their companions to me. I get the same reaction every time: the Israeli looks me up and down and exclaims, “You don’t look like any rabbi I’ve ever met.”

In Israel, where Orthodoxy is so pronounced, Israelis are often unfamiliar with the concept of Reform Judaism and that there are many ways to live as a good Jew. I seize the opportunity, often, to teach a bit about Reform Judaism, what Reform in Israel looks like and the issues for which it stands. And I teach about the Women of the Wall, and the Hebrew Union College, and the many, many Reform synagogues blooming all over the land. But the great joy I have gotten on this trip is that, after I conclude my brief monologue, I get to say, “But don’t take it from me. You should ask my colleague. Yes, Temple Sinai has three rabbis, and one is in the States. I am the second, and you can confirm my thoughts about Reform Judaism with our third rabbi; she should be making her way here later today.”

Tomorrow, we will make our way to Jerusalem, where I will write reflections on what is sure to be a meaningful and spiritual Shabbat in the capital of the Jewish people.

Warmly,
Brad

PS: A final wish for a wonderful couple on our trip!

Happy Anniversary to Stephen and Ellen Miller! 48 years today!!

Happy Anniversary to Stephen and Ellen Miller! 48 years today!!

Published in: on June 11, 2015 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Southerners Hit The North

How can it be that the days keep getting better?

Hand prints of the students who live in this dorm. Each student has either lost both parents or is in a family situation that will be dangerous for the student's health and development.

Hand prints of the students who live in this dorm. Each student has either lost both parents or is in a family situation that will be dangerous for the student’s health and development.

We began our day today with a visit to Yemin Orde, Located on 77 acres atop Mount Carmel in Northern Israel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Yemin Orde today is home to 400 children between the ages of 12 and 19, primarily from Ethiopia, countries of the Former Soviet Union, France and Brazil. Some of these students are orphans, some have families in their native countries but came to Israel alone, and some are from single-parent or dysfunctional families. All are defined by social services as “at-risk.”

It was a moving visit, and perhaps the most inspiring moment of the day was when we met with Batya, a 30-something woman today who was 11 years old when her family left Ethiopia. She found a home, and a new lease on life, with Yemin Orde. Over the years, she even learned to embrace her familial identity and her national identity with pride. Siting next to her, I could see her tears fill her eyes as she told her story and members of the group absolutely connected with this smart and driven and brilliant woman.

Our Adult-Only group in front of the Federation of Atlanta plaque!

Our Adult-Only group in front of the Federation of Atlanta plaque!

We then paid a visit to TerraVenture Partners, a tech incubator located in the North of Israel. We were inspired by the visit; much has been written about Israel’s tech sector and start-ups (see the book Start Up Nation as a great example). Our guide, Raphael Nejman, the COO of TerraVenture Partners, explained to us that part of the secret to Israel’s success is that the governments has allocated tremendous funding to encourage risky start-ups, a strategy that continues to pay dividends. Terra will put forward 100K, Israel will put in 600K, and the company, should it do well, will eventually pay Israel back for its loans. I can’t possibly do service to the presentation today, but know that our group LOVED this element of our day!

Tech presentation

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We then toured Yokneam-Megiddo, our Sister City here in Israel, and spent lunch and an hour or so on Kibbutz Dalia. It was our first truly significant interaction with a Kibbutz, and our group had a lot of questions. Lucky for us, we had plenty of time and we even got a little tour of key components of Kibbutz living!

Yay Federation!

Yay Federation!

We continued our trek North to Tzippori, where we were able to discover evidence of ancient Jewish living. We marveled at the impressive floor mosaics and reveled at being in the synagogue of Yehuda HaNasi, a truly wonderful indie-innovator from 2000 years ago who decided to connect rabbinic wit and wisdom over the previous centuries into a readable document. So, we will begin our study of Talmud…just not until we get finished touring!

The Mona Lisa of the Galilee!

The Mona Lisa of the Galilee!

We landed in Tzefat just in time for dinner, and we brought our evening to a close with a klezmer performance. People even danced!

Selfie with Philip and Suzanne Karlick, Simie and Larry Faskowitz, Ron and Maxine Rosen, and Brad!

Selfie with Philip and Suzanne Karlick, Simie and Larry Faskowitz, Ron and Maxine Rosen, and Brad!

Okay, all, good night from Israel!

Love,

Brad (and, by proxy, the adult-only group!)

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 9:16 pm  Comments (1)  

An Update From The Family Trip In The North

The Sinai Family Track has been having a wonderful time! In just two days, we’ve already had many adventures. Here are just a few snapshots thus far:
Everyone in our group agreed that yesterday’s highlight was our visit to an amazing underground bullet factory that was used to supply the Hagana forces in Israel’s War of Independence. When I say “underground,” I mean that this factory was a complete secret, and also that it was literally built underground, only accessible by “magic” hidden doors in the floor beneath large washing machines and ovens on a peaceful kibbutz. The operation was such a well-kept secret that not only did it remain hidden from the British army, but it was also unknown to even the kibbutzniks who operated the laundry and bakery just above it. This factory supplied the much-needed ammunition that secured Israel’s victory. Learning about this fascinating piece of history made all of us marvel at the courage, tenacity, ingenuity and determination demonstrated by all of the young men and women who were involved in this high-risk endeavor, and it made us realize that such traits were necessary for anyone involved in pulling off the near-impossible task of establishing the Jewish State. It caused us all to appreciate the preciousness of Israel for Jews around the world and throughout the years.
Today, it’s hard to choose just one highlight to share, because we had a blast all day long. In the morning, we visited an organic farm on Kibbutz Megiddo (in Temple Sinai’s partner region). The farm is operated by adults with mental disabilities. It was amazing to see what they accomplish and produce and it was inspiring to see how much confidence their work provides them. On the farm we got to pet the animals, feed the sheep, make mud bricks, help with bread-baking, and pick vegetables straight from the garden for our own picnic lunch. Lots of new experiences!
In the afternoon, we headed to the Galilee region, where we rafted down the Jordan River. Despite a few splash fights, it was a beautiful and relaxing adventure! Tonight we’ve settled in at a beautiful kibbutz hotel, where everyone feels tired and fully content.
Signing off from the North,
Elana
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Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 8:22 pm  Leave a Comment