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Congregational Israel Trip

Members of Congregation B’nai Torah and Congregation B’nai Shalom recently returned from their trip to Israel. Read about their adventures below, and stay tuned for further "catch-up posts".

Day 1: Arrival

Lesley Shore wrote this reflection on our first evening upon arrival in Jerusalem: 

"Having a Kabbalat Shabbat while overlooking the Old City in Jerusalem was amazing and very moving. It brought poems, prayers, and songs to life. When we turned around to welcome Shabbat, we were facing this beautiful backdrop of Jerusalem’s Old City. It was so surreal. It brought me peace, made me smile and I felt proud to be a Jew. The best part was that I felt closer with people with whom I only met 14 hours earlier. A special bond has been formed and I look forward to spending the next 9 days with them."

Day 2: Jerusalem - The Old City

We spent the second day visiting the old city of Jerusalem. We started with a moving Shabbat morning service near the Western Wall. Afterward, we headed out to the Wall itself and thru the Jewish, Armenian and Christian quarters of the old city.

At the end of a full Shabbat in Jerusalem, Bob Allen wrote: 

"We spent the day visiting the old city of Jerusalem. We started with a moving Shabbat morning service near the Western Wall. Afterward, we headed out to the Wall itself and thru the Jewish, Armenian and Christian quarters of the old city.

It was a moving experience punctuated with movements up and down the stone streets of the area. The most moving moments for me were the sounds that filled the air in the various areas. By the Western Wall, there was the sound of people chanting Torah, in the Christian quarter, the bells of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher rang out, only to be followed by the Muslim call to prayer. Each sound played a role in the outward expression of the cultural complexity of the city."

Day 3: Jerusalem - Dead Sea Scrolls, Chagall Windows, Chocolate, and More

Amy and Matt Siegel from CBT wrote about the activities of day three:

"Day three began with a geopolitical tour of Jerusalem. This included an up close look at the security fence that separates the West Bank from the city of Jerusalem. We were incredibly fortunate to be guided on this tour by the lead designer and planner of this fencing, Colonel Danny Tirza (ret.) of the IDF. Colonel Tirza explained in detail the challenges of trying to establish a safe and secure border and his hope that one day such fencing will not be needed. The tour included a visit to the primary checkpoint where 120,000 residents of the West Bank pass into Israel and back each day.

The day continued with a trip to the Israel Museum, which is the largest cultural institution in the State of Israel and one of the world’s leading art and archaeology museums. Highlights included an in-depth look at a model of Jerusalem at the time of the second Temple, a viewing of the Dead Sea Scrolls and how they were accidentally discovered by shepherd boy. We also had an opportunity to view model synagogues from around the world, including from Italy, India, Suriname and Germany. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between each country, including the different ways that Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews like to read from the Torah.

After lunch at the museum, we drove to the Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem to view the Chagall Windows that adorn their synagogue. The twelve windows, which represent the twelve tribes of Israel, are considered by many to be Chagall’s greatest accomplishment in stained glass.

The day concluded, as any perfect day should, with a trip to the chocolate factory and shop in the artistic neighborhood of Ein Kerem where we feasted on hot chocolate, coffee, and delicious handmade chocolates."

Day 4: Yad Vashem, Machaneh Yehudah, Bedouin Village 

An update from Nelson:

"A trip to Yad Vashem was how the morning started, leaving everyone in a state of deep gloom and, as always happens with me, reminding me why we should never be defenseless in the face of antisemitism again and the reason why Israel will never rely on others to defend her. The down was, fortunately, followed by a big up - a visit to a market (Machaneh Yehudah) which is like Faneuil Hall on steroids! We all participated in a scavenger hunt that involved purchasing items that were written in a language we do not know from people who speak the same language - hilarious! And we succeeded! Then off to a Bedouin village which was disappointingly missing tents and camels. On the other hand, the people were friendly, the stories of women’s empowerment uplifting, and the food was great! The embroidery work was spectacular and many of us purchased items that you cannot get on Amazon. Tomorrow we head for natural wonders."

Day 5: Masada and the Dead Sea

Terri and Jay Smith & Bob Salsberg recounted the day:

"On Tuesday, our alarms went off around 3 am and we groggily boarded the bus that would bring us to Masada and what we were told would be the most beautiful sunrise we’d ever see. We arrived at about 5:30 to begin the climb up the Roman Road, guided only by the first shards of predawn light, joined only by our own thoughts, a few other early risers and - believe it or not - an entire Israeli Army brigade that was finishing a 50k training exercise. It was great having them as company!

On Masada the sun rose breathtakingly over the Jordan mountains, putting to rest any lingering question as to why on Earth anyone would get up in the middle of the night to ride through the desert. Along with another contingent of CBT and CBS that met us on the mountain a bit later, we spent several hours exploring the unique ruins of Masada. We learned from Bar how and why King Herod built palaces and bathhouses and synagogues on the mountain, and why decades later, Jewish rebels facing certain defeat at the hands of the Romans would choose to die like the brave rather than live as slaves. It was an awesome visit.

Which brings us to the next chapter of the day, yes you guessed it, a swim in the Dead Sea, or to be more accurate, on the Dead Sea!

The travelers who arose in the middle of the night to hike to the top of Masada also experienced another wonder after boarding the bus .... breakfast! 7 hours after our wake up call we were finally given our morning rations which we quickly consumed on the 20 minute bus ride! Bread, cheese, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes and fruit never tastes so good!

Upon arriving to the Isrotel Dead Sea Hotel and Spa, men and women were separated into their appropriate changing areas. We all met in the common lobby wearing fluffy white robes which was quite a sight to see! Some immediately retired to the comfy lounge chairs at one of the many pools to enjoy the sunshine and warm temperatures. Others traipsed across the highway donning our robes to the beach and Dead Sea!

Floating in the Dead Sea was a first for most of us. What a thrill it was to experience the buoyancy of the salty water that up until now we had only read about or seen on TV! Bar compared the size and consistency of the salt at the edge of the sea to hail!! One thing we noticed that there were no lifeguards on the Dead Sea because sinking in this ultrasalinated water was not an option.

After quick showers and a delicious buffet lunch in the hotel, we boarded the bus for a three hour drive up the Jordan Valley to end the day at a beautiful horse farm in Galilee. We drove through the West Bank and along the Jordan river. We ended the day with a communal dinner and are looking forward to a full nights sleep!"

Day 6: The Golan Heights

A post by Dominic and Monica Picarella, and Cathy Grape:

"Our first destination of the day was Mitzpe Ofir, high on a hill overlooking the beautiful valley of the Sea of Galilee. Although our view was limited by haze, the fresh air was crisp while the sun was warm. We listened to two Lone Soldiers, Frankie and Zack, who came from Australia and the Bronx, respectively, to live in Israel and are currently serving in the IDF. They told of their personal journeys and provided their perspectives on service in the Israeli army and its challenges and benefits.

We then proceeded to visit a Shofar factory (Givat Yoav) owned and operated by a very colorful Moraccan-native, Keinan Shimon, who lectured us on the varieties, specifics, and history of the Shofar. Using a Ram horn, he proceeded to demonstrate how he carefully cuts, files, bends, and polishes the horn, thereby transforming an animal artifact into a magical and beautiful musical instrument treasured and used in Jewish rituals.

From there we drove north to lunch at Assaf Winery, an expanding family-owned business. We ate home-made mushroom/spinach, and sweet potato quiches, fresh salads, and assorted nosh while we tasted a number of white and red varietals made on the premises, all from grapes cultivated in their vineyards.

With full stomachs we later arrived further North in the Golan to tour the farmlands of a tidy and stylishly modern Kibbutz in a convoy of 4x4 Jeeps lead by Elan, our host and guide. We drove towards the Israeli/Syrian boarder, past a 1.5 year old Army post to an Israeli bunker less than 1 mile from the border. Many of us walked into the bunker and through the underground tunnel system to an observatory area where we could view Syrian territory and a Syrian city on the horizon. Elan talked at length about the seemingly overwhelmingly complex reality of the region and offered some clarity through a historical narrative.

Still in our trusty 4x4s, we were surprised to arrive at an old, pre-1967 abandoned Syrian Bunker for dinner. The bunker’s window openings were sealed with plastic to retain the heat from the warming lamps inside the spectacularly decorated dining area. We were greeted with warmth, and dined at length on risotto, salads, tapenade and other assorted dishes and salads. Musical entertainment was provided by vocalist Tammy Ben Hadar and four additional talented musicians. They featured some American/British popular songs and Israeli melodies (some familiar, others new to us). They quickly captured our ears and hearts encouraging many to join in dance and song in celebration of our friendship and life. We arrived back home to Vered Hagalil with gratitude and, once safely in the warmth of our welcomingly cozy cabins, were entertained again, though this time by calls of the wild jackals outside."



Day 7: Ilanot School

A spectacular morning at Ilanot School, organized by Rabbi Lisa Eiduson. We learned about the philosophy of this wonderful school, studied with students, watched older students work with younger ones in a Purim activity and were treated to a Purim parade.

Day 8: Tel Aviv

Forgive us...we are a bit behind in our posts, but we continue to enjoy a fabulous time in Israel...and now in Petra, Jordan.

After a wonderful Shabbat evening experience in Tel Aviv, we had a "free" Shabbat on Saturday in Tel Aviv. Some people went to the beach – right across the street from our hotel; some went to the old port city of Jaffa and enjoyed the sights and sounds of co-existence in this magnificent sea-side city, some took walks toward the center of Tel Aviv and found museums, cafes and parks. While most of the stores in Tel Aviv are closed on Shabbat, restaurants, cafes, coffee houses and small supermarkets are open. So, once again, there was no shortage of noshing!!! After a gorgeous and sunny day filled with adventure, we all came back together on Saturday night for what would be our "last meal" together as a complete group – since many travelers were heading back to Boston late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. The Puzzle Israel staff picked us up and we had a very lively and delicious dinner in Jaffa at a famous restaurant called The Old Man and the Sea. There were 22 appetizers served to every few people at the tables (salads – amazing!!), and then we had our choice of entree. We talked about the trip, received gifts (more gifts!) from Nir and Guy from Puzzle Israel, heard song parodies from our trip which were fabulous – written by Marsha Cramer, and we said goodbye to our travelers who would be on their way back home in a few hours. The 13 of us who remained went back to the hotel after wishing the Boston-bound group a safe and wonderful trip. For me, the hardest part of being in Israel is always leaving Israel... but our group of 29 certainly had a memorable visit and for that we were grateful!

Day 9 and Beyond: Eilat, Petra in Jordan, and more

On Sunday morning, our smaller group of 13 were off to explore new things as we started to head south toward Eilat and then Jordan. We drove to a little outside of Rehovot and made our first stop at The Ayalon Institute - located on a small Kibbutz that is no longer a working kibbutz. What a fascinating place! Above ground, this place served as a small, cooperative community (called a Kibbutz). The community was established in 1945 during the British Mandate by the Haganah, young and energetic members of the pre-State of Israel Defense Forces. It had all of the features of a Kibbutz: fields and farms, a children's house, a laundry building and a bakery. The Haganah members worked the land but they also kept an eye in case of any escalation of violence in the area. Though technically protected by the British, the settlers prior to the State of Israel came to realize that they had to protect themselves as well. What the majority of Kibbutz members who were part of the Haganah didn't know was that underground – under the very ground they lived on – was a secret bullet factory. This bullet factory was run by a small subset of the Haganah. These 25 or so members who worked in the bullet factory somehow kept their secret even from their fellow Kibbutzniks and Haganah partners with whom they lived and worked. There was a kindergarten less than 6 meters away from the bullet factory but no one knew what was happening below ground. Machines were smuggled from Poland, and in just a few years, the factory produced 2 and a quarter million bullets – creatively and with incredible innovation and precision.

After our visit to the Ayalon Institute, we headed toward the Gaza border and had the opportunity to discuss the security challenges Gaza has posed for Israel over the years. We were scheduled to visit a village that sits directly on the Gaza border – called Netiv Ha-Asarah. The enormous gray wall that is visible from every point of the lovely village of Netiv Asarah testifies to the tensions of this area. We met Tzaneret, a woman who grew up right in the area, and who raised her 4 children in Netiv Ha-Asarah. She explained how the people of the village grew accustomed to the frequent problems at the border, and how children from a very young age, knew that they had 5 second to run to a shelter if a warning was sounded that rockets from Gaza had been launched toward Israel. And yet, Tzaneret said that Netiv Ha-Asarah is home for her and that she wouldn't live anywhere else. Tzaneret is also a ceramic artist. She has a lovely gift shop right in the village where she sells her artwork and tells the story of Netiv Ha-Asarah and a project that she herself conceived in 2011. Tzaneret decided to beautify the imposing gray walls that protect Netiv Ha-Asarah –- and not just the Israeli side, but the side facing Gaza as well. Tzaneret stamps and fires small rocks with different words and pictures and expressions on them -- most of them, for peace and friendship and hope for the future. She and others began to decorate the walls with these rocks so that huge mosaics now may be seen, covering up the stark gray of the walls. What began as a small, local project, now attracts visitors and artists to Netiv Ha-Asarah – so that everyone is able to see the beautiful colors and messages of peace... and to affix their own stone to this mosaic of hope We added to that hope for peace and tranquility as each of us glued a stone to the wall and contributed to this active and artistic approach to peace. On our way to Mitzpe Ramon, our overnight location in the desert, we made a final stop at Sde Boker. The first Prime Minister of Israel, David ben Gurion, had a home in the desert city of Sde Boker, a magnificent and quiet place in the midst of the Negev Desert. Ben Gurion and his wife Paula chose to be buried near their Sde Boker home rather than in the main military cemetery Har Herzl in Jerusalem, because they believed that some day the desert would be filled with greenery and flowers and people. Indeed that has certainly become the case – Israel's desert now blooms and overflows with life.