Israel 2016 Day 2

What a wonderful day this has already turned out to be!

Today we began our first full day in Israel and I am happy to report that most of the folks were the beneficiaries of a much needed good night’s sleep. We gathered around breakfast for a delicious meal filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and delightful pastries. A great way to start the day!

 

We continued on for a brief visit to Yafo (Jaffa) before making out way to Kibbutz Gezer. At Gezer we participated in the Daffodil Project, planting daffodils to commemorate the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust. Our planting – the first on Gezer and perhaps even in Israel – was made even more poignant by the words shared by Hershel, a member of our trip who himself is a Holocaust survivor. We were honored to participate in the mitzvah and to do something so meaningful.

 

We were then able to meet with Rabbi Miri Gold and her husband, David Leichman. This combo may have been the highlight of the group today: David, who makes his own ice cream, had us try – no kidding – 8 or 9 different varieties of ice cream. We learned from him and enjoyed his humor, his integrity, and his ability to share something about which he clearly feels so passionate. We were also able to engage Rabbi Gold in a conversation about her court case, the one which led to her being the first non-Orthodox, female rabbi recognized by the State of Israel. Miri helped us to understand why our engagement with ARZA is so important and she inspired the activism in our group to help her and fight the good fight of recognition of Reform Judaism, Reform rabbis in Israel, and an egalitarian Israel. You don’t forget a meeting with a giant – and we will tell our kids and grandkids about standing side by side with Miri in her home.

 

I am sending this along a bit early tonight. In just over 30 minutes, we will begin our celebration of Chanukah and the Christian world will begin commemorating Christmas. Christmas is understandably different in the United States that it appears anywhere else in the world and experiencing Christmas Eve is Israel is not an exception to that rule. In Tel Aviv, there is an exuberance of lights and decorations…just not for Christmas! We see signs on windows advertising last-minute gifts for Hanukkah and wishes for a Happy Chanukah. There are chanukiyot (menorahs or lamps for the festival of Chanukah) in every public space we have visited today. We did see one Christmas tree- in the town of Jaffa. It turns out that Israel is 80% Jewish and 15% Muslim…and only about 4% Christian. Hence, Christmas is mentioned in densely populated Christian enclaves like the one we visited in Jaffa.

 

The most noticeable (for me) missing piece of Christmas is the lack of decorations. While I understand the commercialization of the holiday, there is also an element that is truly amazing and beautiful and wonderful about friends of mine being able to celebrate their holiday. Seeing the lights and the trees and the décor and hearing people wish me a “Merry Christmas” is incredibly heartening and is most certainly missed today in Israel.

 

In a few minutes we will gather as our group was invited to the home of our bus driver (no joke!) for a candle lighting and jelly-donut eating before heading to dinner. Many of us will continue on to a Christmas market that is only a short drive from our restaurant and continue with an attendance at Midnight Mass at one of the nearby churches.

 

I do so love it when these two holidays converge. And so whether you are observing Chanukah or Christmas, may the lights of this season bring you peace and joy and prove to you that, united in celebration of our own faith yet coupled with others celebrating theirs, we can truly illumine even the darkest of times.

 

Chag Samayach!

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Published in: on December 24, 2016 at 10:07 pm  Comments (2)  

Israel 2016 Day 1

The travel is not easy. 6 hours + from Atlanta to Paris; a 3-hour layover in Paris and then 4 hours + from Paris to Tel Aviv.

But a reward awaited us on the other side.

Our trip has finally begun! After a year and a half of planning and revising and, most importantly, dreaming, we assembled at the airport in Tel Aviv and met our tour guide, Ronnie. We are a group of 35 people and, before I tell you about our trip, let me tell you about our group:

  • We are mostly members of Temple Sinai, though we do have a few people who are not affiliated with the synagogue;
  • We are mostly first-timers to Israel, though we do have a few people who have been to Israel through school over the last few years and a few people who have been to Israel several decades ago.
  • We are a group with a few participants who will actually be returning to Israel in a few months with their school group but whose parents wanted to share the experience of a first-visit with them.
  • We are grandparents taking grandkids.
  • We are a 7-year old.
  • And now we begin to become one family.

Our Israel adventure started with a short bus ride around Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon, a moment that stands out due the sheer normalcy of it all; this is not Shabbat in Jerusalem where there is a calm that descends on the city. Already we are busting assumptions of the group and meeting not the Israel about which we have heard but rather the Israel that we will experience.

We had a nice Shabbat dinner in the hotel, a dinner filled with laughter and stories and wine and challah. The food was great – and abundant – and the sentiment was joyous. We are all happy to be here and it showed!

After the dinner, some participants went to their rooms to get a good night of sleep following our day of travel but a few of us went on a walk outside. This is NOT “summertime in Israel.” It was cool and breezy. But it was beautiful. And it was exiting. And it was Tel Aviv.

Published in: on December 24, 2016 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment