Day 12 from Israel (the last day!)- Guest bloggers Ray Girouard and Sheila Zelinger

Day 11 – Mountains and Mystics

It’s been 11 mystical days in Israel – how fitting to spend our last day in Tzfat, a center for the mystical Jewish traditions that go back 500 years. After breakfast at the Ramat Resort, we said goodbyes to Maddie and David Arfin and headed to Tzfat.  On the way, we have a lively discussion about the Israeli elections and the somewhat surprising victory by the Likud Party and Netanyahu….so much for the election polls.

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Mysticism began as early as the 1500’s.  The essence of mysticism is to experience things beyond the 5 senses of taste, smell, feel, touch and hear.  Perhaps a little known fact – the Mystics gave us the traditions of the Shabbat Queen and the song Lecha Dodi in Tzfat. We visited an Askenazy synagogue, spoke with the Kabbalistic artist, Avraham Lowenthal (Detroit born), and then explored and shopped on our own in the town.

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Several of us found this most delightful restaurant, the Geffen Courtyard, with some truly delightful Israeli wines.

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We did a late afternoon drive back to Tel Aviv to drop off Bill, Dottie, Sue and Jeff…and then to the airport for the rest of us.

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A big thank you to Bill, Danny and Shlomo (our driver) for an incredibly unique Israeli experience….and to everyone one on the trip who made it so memorable!

Day 11 from Israel- Guest Blogger Joe Gruber

Usually on Wed morning I am at CBJ morning prayers.

Today I am with fellow congregants having a spectacular day in Israel.
The highlights of today’s excursion are:

1.Being on the Syrian Border

2. Being on the Lebanan Border
3.The Tel Dan Reserve walk
4.Our meeting with the representative of kibbutz Misgav-am
5.Our meeting with Israel Defence Forces
We started our day heading toward the border of Syria.
During the 1967 War we were able to push Syria back and gained 15 miles
We were impressed with how close we were to the Syrian border.
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We were told about the Golan Heights.
There is wine country and free range cattle and wheat. There are also minefields.
In the area there are 18,000 Druze and 25,000 Jews
There are 22 to 23 jewish communities. We also observed the Army presence.
As we were driving we could see Mt. Hermon and the snow caps. As we were driving we could also see the Hula
valley and the Lebanon border.
David and Maddy joined us on this Tour. They are here in Israel till some time this summer.
Then we toured the Tel Dan Reserve.
Seeing the rushing waters, the birds and the trees and the fauna were magnificent.DSC02784DSC02791
We talked about the gates and how they related to our history.
After King Saul died his son became King. People were dissatisfied with his rule and many of the tribes broke away to
follow someone else. They believed that worship could be done anywhere not just in Jerusalem.
We looked at the Gates and the elders that may have sat inside the Gates doing business and maybe even deciding
Punishments.
We had lunch in Kiryat Shemona.
As we continued we got close to the border of Lebanon.
Then we entered the Army base that patrols the border with Lebanon.
We met with a number of Druze soldiers and also with a representative of Kibutz Misgav-am.
The fellow from the kibbutz was Betzalel. He told us of his background.
He also introduced us to the soldiers,
We as a group had prepared gifts of food, chocolates, candies and even gear from the S.F. Giants.
We spent some time talking to the soldiers.
It can be very exciting and also lonely for the young soldiers who constantly have to be on the alert.
Although the area seemed quiet we were told some of their outfit had participated in a skirmish not long ago.
The soldiers thanked us for the visit and told us it had brightened an otherwise tough day.
We learned about their lives and how often they get to go home.
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We continued to drive to Tiberias. We said goodby to Jon and Reva.
They were going home a day early.
Some of us walked around Tiberias and then we all had dinner together.
Tomorrow is our last day for this CBJ trip to Israel.

Day 8 from Israel- Guest Bloggers Stephanie Rosekind and Wendy Segal

Another very full and fascinating day in Jerusalem, and beyond to Judean/West Bank settlements.

What a politically filled day. We started out with a presentation by Khaled Abu Toameh. He was formerly a Senior Correspondent for the Jerusalem Post for 26 years, and for Al-Fajr which he describes as a mouthpiece for the PLO. He has paid a very high price for his honesty for representing the facts he presents. He describes himself as a Muslim Israeli Palestinian Arab.

Khaled explained about Arafat’s corrupt dictatorship up to the current powerless and ineffective Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas; describing the failed peace processes and the reasons why we are unable to move forward towards peace. Khaled is a moderate who lives within the safety of Jerusalem, allowing him to speak freely. He explained that without a true partner in peace and a government willing to negotiate rather than demand the annihilation of the Jewish State, we will go nowhere. There is no Palestinian leader willing to stand up and say that they must be willing to compromise and that the bloodshed of their own people must end. Instead they lie to the western media and then in Arabic, say something completely different, continuing to spew Jewish hatred to their own people. This perpetuates the narrative of Palestinian victimization by Israel. According to Khaled, if Israel were to withdraw to the pre ’67 borders, the PLO would collapse and Hamas would take over. He believes that Arabs are doomed if Islamic radicalization, the hijacking of Islam and the Koran, is not stopped. And this must happen from within the Muslim community itself. Western influence will not help.

According to Khaled, the media has promoted anti-antisemitism in Europe and the world with lies and fabrications about Israel to the point of excusing the Holocaust by promoting an image of how bad the Jews are.

Khaled illustrated to us how world media is at fault, ” has committed crimes against Israel”, in informing public opinion, with lies and fabrications fitting their narrative. “No Jews, no news…”
The bottom line, according to Khaled, is that settlements, checkpoints, etc., can be negotiated. It is not about this, or economics…  It’s about Israel’s existence.

He is also very concerned about the “pro-Palestinians” on U.S. campuses, who he describes as not really promoting anything pro Palestinian, but rather demonize Jews and delegitimize Israel..
A lot of info….

And our terrific, knowledgeable guide Danny continues the teaching.
We are learning a lot about modern Israel history…

On to happier things, we visited Yad LaKashish. What an amazing  and productive senior adult day center founded 50 years ago. They employ over 300 seniors from the former Soviet Union Ethiopia, and elsewhere.

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People spend the morning creating all sorts of crafts, which are sold in their gift shop.  They eat a hot lunch there, receive a monthly stipend, a bus pass, and seem to enjoy a fruitful day. We mingled amongst them, and then did some serious shopping, of their handmade and beautiful items, many of which we watched them making – jewelry, judaica of silk, metal, ceramic, paper mâché…. Some of us are coming home with beautiful new tallits.

Onward to The Judean hills – West Bank settlements of Efrat and the Gush Etzion area.FullSizeRender-3

We listened to Danny tell us about his hometown of Efrat, a hill town of 9500 people, 30 synagogues…

From there, a short way to Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, where we were told of the community of 260  people murdered, and their entire development destroyed in 1948.

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A remarkable and difficult thing to describe, finding ourselves standing on the very spot where this happened. This kibbutz was rebuilt after 1967… Jews could not live on this land between 1948-1967. We’re continually marveling at the experience of standing where so much history has taken place.

Riding along in the bus between these settlements and small towns, cars, pedestrians, bus stops, normal life… Danny told us it was here the three boys were kidnapped from a bus stop this summer. Here, not somewhere remote… Devastating…

Nearby, we were taken to a govt. building, where Bob Lang ( a good Israeli name), an area govt. official told us more about settlements…there are 150 jewish communities, totaling close to 400,000 people… comprised of 30% orthodox, 30% Chassidic, and 30% secular Jews. He believes in a one state solution… opinions…

More time on the bus with the beautiful views of the rocky, olive tree, terraced land of photos and our imagination; blanketed in green and wild flowers.
We are packing so much in, and quickly moving between emotions…  Much to think about and feel.
Grateful for this fascinating trip and shared experiences and camaraderie!

Day 10 from Israel- Guest Blogger Suzanne Gruber

Today started out with a wonderful presentation by Colonel Bentzi Gruber, who spoke about Ethics in the Field.  The goal is to teach soldiers about making correct decisions regarding terrorists when you only have 8 seconds in which to do so.  Are they innocents or terrorists?  The objective is to not harm civilians while at the same time protecting the soldiers and civilians from attack.  We were shown actual footage of Hamas using children as shields, hiding in civilian homes and using ambulances for cover.  In Gaza, which is 24miles x 5 miles, there are 1.8 million civilians and 30,000 terrorists.  Incredible restraint has to be used to protect the innocent.  Israel is the only nation I know of that will warn citizens in advance that a house that has been used by terrorists is going to be destroyed.  This has caused friction among Israelis because the parents of soldiers feel it puts their children in danger, since those houses are then boobytrapped or have terrorists laying in wait.

Since IDF soldiers who are assigned to checkpoints are often there for 3 months at a time, it is important that they don’t get desensitized.   Col. Gruber has established a program called “Chesed in the Field” In order that the soldiers remain “as sensitive to a baby’s cry after the war as they were before.”  In order to accomplish this, soldiers are sent to work with children, the mentally ill and oncology patients.  What a wonderful and unique way to retain their humanity!

After the presentation, we drove to the Haas Promenade, with its beautiful view of Jerusalem; what a wonderful and bittersweet way to say goodbye to the City of Gold!  Then, back on the bus to Mt. Scopus to the Temple Mount Sifting Project.  Here we saw artifacts that were actually taken from the Temple Mount and included relics from both the 1st and 2nd temple period.  We were given a demonstration on how to sift and wash rubble in order to find artifacts, and then put our newly acquired skills to work.
Heading north, our next stop was Atlit, near Haifa, the British pre-state detention camp for illegal immigrants fleeing Europe and the Arab countries for British controlled Palestine.  Most illegal immigration occurred after WW II, when the “white papers”,which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to 1500 per month, kept out the 20,000 survivors trying to come.  Only after the founding of the State of Israel were these people free to enter legally.
Our last stop of the day was to a Druze village on Mt. Carmel.  After a delicious dinner, our host gave us an interesting talk on the Druze, who are a monotheistic people who believe in reincarnation.  They believe in showing complete loyalty to the country in which they live, and so are found in large numbers serving in the army and participating in every aspect of Israeli life.
After a very long but informative day, we are finally on our way to our lovely hotel on the banks of lake Kinneret in the Gallilee where we look forward to meeting up with our friends Maddy and David Arfin.

Day 9 from Israel- Guest Blogger John Segall

At 8 a.m. we took off for a four hour visit to Yad Vashem.  Our guide gave us an excellent tour of the Shoah (Holocaust), beginning with the rise of Hitler in the mid 1930s to the period after WWI and up to 1947.  The entire experience evoked various emotions from our group, including sadness and anger.

From Yad Vashem we returned to the Jewish section of the Old City for lunch and shopping, followed by a tour of the Jewish and Christian areas, which included the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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Last but not least was a visit to Media Central where Aryeh Green described the work his organization does to present the foreign media with an unbiased view of Israel, as opposed to that supplied by Israel’s detractors.  Media Central acts as a hospitality center for foreign journalists, supplying  them with coffee, Internet, orientation in Israel, assistance with travel arrangements, meetings with various Jewish and Arab officials and others, and opportunities to get a better understanding of the issues.

The following resources were suggested by Aryeh for those interested in becoming more knowledgeable so they can counter the media’s bias against Israel:

Honestreporting.com

CAMERA

Standwithus.org

Israel 101 (pamphlet)

Myths and Facts (book)

The Case For Israel by Alan Dershowitz

Leila Tov—it’s been a long day!

Day 7 from Israel

So I pulled the lot of documenting day 7. Now one might think that a journal about Shabbat would necessarily be short- light candles, go to shul, eat dinner, go to sleep, go to shul, eat lunch, go to sleep, make havdalah, eat. But how much fun would that be? No pictures though- Shabbat!

Anyway, here goes….

Shabbat in Jerusalem. I mean, where else, really? For me, there is something special about spending Shabbat in Jerusalem, the center of our people’s worship. On Friday afternoon, we visited Machane Yehuda, as Dottie talked about, and it was of course packed to the gills with shoppers readying themselves for Shabbat. By the time the candles were to be lit, Jerusalem had calmed significantly. A fascinating juxtaposition from fever pitch to tranquility.

Our group gathered together in the lobby of the Dan Boutique hotel to light candles and usher in Shabbat. Many of us then walked to Shira Hadasha on Emek Refaim for Kabbalat Shabbat. I like to think of Shira like Shira Hadasha for the communal singing, athough most of the congregation was at Ein Gedi for a shabbaton. Danny warned us of a sparse turnout, which turned out to be prophetic; only a hundred people were at services. As in literally 100 (or 96 or 103- I didn’t have an exact count). I would love such a sparse gathering! And of course the davening was nice (and quick!).

We returned to the hotel for Shabbat dinner, where Barry Rosekind and two of his friends joined us. Barry, as most know, is a Hayal Boded, or Lone Soldier, assigned to Iron Dome. The Israeli military – Iron Dome is part of the Air Force – is interesting in that many of its active duty forces go home on Thursday for Shabbat, and return to base on Sunday. It certainly saves on the laundry bill on base. In any event, it was great to see Barry again; what he has committed to is indescribably courageous and dedicated.

I had decided that I would return to Shira Hadasha on Shabbat morning unless sleep prevailed. Confidentially, I was hoping that I might be able to catch up on some much-needed shluf. So of course I woke up at 7:10. {sigh} Glad I went though- I enjoy services, although needless to say, there is no triennial reading, and with a double portion, a very long Maftir for Shabbat Parah, and a two-Torah day, Joe Gruber and I sat together through a very nice but very long service. The Power Three Hour.

When services ended, I got to take a nice walk to meet my friend Asher, who met me at a playground with six of his eight children. Now that’s a busy household! It was good to catch up with Asher, who lives in Jerusalem, and whom I have known for more than 25 years through Camp Ramah. Although it was a little exhausting to sit in the sun and keep track of six kids, most of whom were making demands of their embattled Aba. And then…. lunch at the hotel, afternoon nap, havdalah and dinner at my favorite place, T’mol Shilshom (placemat pictured below).

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Day 6 from Israel- Guest Blogger Dottie Yourtz

Friday March 13, 2015

We stepped outside of our hotel to have a front row viewing of the Jerusalem Marathon. The Ethiopian runners were leading the race followed by all ages inclusive of babies in their aerodynamic strollers being pushed by their marathon mom and/or dad; all running to the beat of multiple bands playing in the background.

Congregation Beth Jacob was also off to its own walking marathon following the footsteps of our ancestors 3,000 years ago heading to the excavations of the City of David. The walk was beautiful but layered with many stairs, up and down and up again! The excavations at the top and bottom of the hill were amazing to wonder how anyone could piece together these artifacts and puzzles of ancient living; but they did! It was here that David captured the city in 1004 BCE from the Jebusites. We watched a 3-D movie that really helped piece the blocks of limestone and mortar together showing yet again another example of a visionary where David established the capital of his kingdom…the birthplace of the city of Jerusalem. Water was vital to survival so it was another wonder of achievement again to see the way water was diverted to the city and stored. There were two set of tunnels that one could walk through that had provided the water systems of the city; one still with water and one without. The group chose to walk through these narrow water tunnels without the effect of the water.

As much as David built a city to defend in ancient times, it was sobering that just years ago before 1967, we viewed Israeli homes that were riddled with bullets from the border of Jordan at the top of Mount Zion. We could also see the Mount of Olives cemetery filled to capacity with white stones.

From the City of David, we went to the Kotel…the Wailing Wall. Here in the large courtyard, the men went to the left side of the wall and the women to the right side of the wall. It was so moving to observe the spiritual reverence of prayer and watch people stuff small pieces of papers with prayers in the crevices of the stones with the birds nestled in the stones of the wall watching all from above. It was also very interesting just observing the men is the black coats and fedoras and the women with the long skirts and scarfs around their heads as they prayed or were just walking around the courtyard. We were in the courtyard around lunchtime and although it appeared busy, we were told that it would fill to capacity for Shabbat.

After lunch, we were able to take a tour of the local market place called Machaneh Yehuda. There were main avenues and side avenues of vendors in their booths selling all types of food, spices, housewares, music and all Judaica. It was like stepping back in time walking about the outdoor market. All of your senses went into play and it was truly sensory overload! The olives, the dried fruit, the breads, were like a canvas painted in food. It was just beautiful to look at, much less eat. It appeared that everyone was hustling to get challahs and food for Shabbat. We also needed to return to the hotel for Shabbat and our driver and bus were waiting to bring us back to the hotel.

We met in the lobby. There was a tray of multiple tea candles so all who wanted to light a candle could do so. We gathered together reciting the blessing and lighting candles to bring in Shabbat. Some walked to services and others rested. However, we all came together again to have a beautiful Shabbat dinner together and enjoy the memories of what we had had seen that day and looking forward to resting on Shabbat.