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.

Day 5 from Israel- Guest Blogger Sue Borg redux

Israel Blog—Thursday March 12

We packed up and left the Hotel on the Dead Sea on a rainy morning heading towards Masada where we ascended the fortress by cable car. Every turn of your head brings a new vista that is more spectacular than the last. Pictures just can’t do justice to the incredible desert landscape.

Most of us have heard the story of the Jewish rebels in their last stand against the approaching Romans. This story was largely unknown until early Zionists embraced the message as inspiration for the younger generation. But today Danny, our guide, approached the story from a different perspective. How do we reconcile the many holes in the story—from the unreliable storyteller, to the discrepancies with the archeology and the things we know about Jews who lived on Masada during the Rebellion. Did they really kill themselves? Did the Romans really wait a whole night to attack after finally bridging the wall of the fortress? How does this story really end and does it matter? Is the lesson of Masada really about how to live? Wow.

We were all grateful to have made this trip on a cool day since many of us had experienced the brutal heat of earlier summer visits. The weather allowed for wandering and lingering in comfort.

From Masada we began our ascent to Jerusalem and on the way we stopped to visit with an Ethiopian Jewish woman, Adina,  who came to Israel 30 years before. She graciously welcomed us to her home and told her story of walking for days with her family, having been robbed of food and all valuables and spending one year in a refugee camp on the border of Ethiopia and Sudan before they were secretly flown to Israel. An inspiring story of how this cadre of Ethiopian Jews held on to their traditions and always dreamed of returning to Israel. Their story and the Masada story come together in showing the importance of holding on to who you are while staying a part of the larger world.

As the daylight hours came to a close Shlomo, our driver, wound our bus through the streets to Mt. Scopus where we got our first glimpses of Jerusalem where we will spend the next 5 days.

Day 4 from Israel- Guest Bloggers Linda (& Jeff) Wexler

At the start of the tour in Tel Aviv, we heard Ben Gurion’s own words, in Independence Hall, declaring the establishment of a State of Israel, and that the Israelis would ‘make the desert bloom’.   Our journey to the Central Arava today demonstrated that Israel is still executing on that vision of making the desert bloom. In the Central Arava, a few thousand people are as much settlers and pioneers of what most would consider barren land, as the original 66 families that founded Tel Aviv. As we leave the Isrotel Hotel and drive south along the bank of the Dead Sea, it is difficult to choose between the beauty of the sea to the east, and the mountains to the west.

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It is remarkable that the Dead Sea was easily 50 to 100 feet higher 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, and as the water level dropped over the centuries, a dramatic landscape of striations remains. Each striation is a historic testimonial of a past geological event. As we pass a salty rock formation named “Lot’s wife”, we are reminded of the message in the Tanach of our duty to respect our fellow man and that our actions can destroy each other and the earth. We pass a huge industrial complex of the Dead Sea Works that seems a little out-of-place in this barren area, but realize that it provides for a large workforce, exporting chemicals to support the region’s economy, yet another example of how the Israelis have learned to make the most of this landscape.

Our stop at the Arava Visitor’s Center showcased some of the innovations that the Dead Sea Council has brought to desert farming. We spent time in one of the research greenhouses and saw the most luscious cherry tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and unique flowers produced under very controlled conditions.

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From there, we went to the school where about 1,100 students a year come from Asian and African countries (Vietnam, Napal, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Ethiopia and South Sudan) to learn agronomy, and the successful farming methods developed in the Central Arava. We visited 2 classrooms and met students from Vietnam and Thailand.

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Seeing what has been accomplished in the desert, these students are taking away techniques that they can apply at home, even though their farmland is situated on wetlands. They are learning to question the old ways, and to consider the art of the possible. The students also learn the economic side of farming, how to write a business plan, and how to make decisions about switching to other crops that might bring a better economic return when products are sold in the cities. They live in the moshavim with the farmers, get paid to work on the farms, and earn enough money to pay their school tuition, and to save enough money to bring home ($2,000-$4,000) to support their own vision for an agrarian project in their hometowns when they return.

In line with the Jewish focus on learning, these exchange students are becoming leaders in their communities, are good will ambassadors of Israel, and have opened diplomatic discussions in countries where Israel previously had no relationship. This project is extremely inspirational and promising, and an enterprise that CBJ can be proud to support for the expansion of this program in the near future. With the Israelis’ experience in building communities from the ground up, the Arava Medical Center is a good example of how putting infrastructure in place like a medical center is a key step in bringing new immigrants and those who are looking for a more affordable lifestyle to the Central Arava. Prior to the creation of the Medical Center, people needed to travel 90 minutes north or south to get medical care. Before the expansion of the facility, there was only one doctor and no specialists on site. Our guide, Samantha, who is 4 months pregnant with her second child, was thrilled with the expansion of the medical center, as they now have an ob/gyn, two treatment rooms, a pharmacy that is open 24/7, an HMO office, a PT room and a 24 hour emergency room with an EMT (available 24/7) who can triage an emergency, until a medi-vac helicopter can pick up the patient and take them to the larger hospitals in either Ellat or in Be’er Sheva. Having the Center not only provides local care, but also becomes a magnet to pull medical professionals and their families into the area. Every staff member we spoke with at the medical center voiced their appreciation of the monetary contributions made by CBJ that allowed the last construction.

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We had a chance to briefly meet with our own Barbara Sommer and Alan Fisher, the visionaries of this project, about plans to continue to expand the Center as the population in this area continues to grow. Todah Rabah and Kol Hakavod to Barbara and Alan for their amazing work! It was now time for our pre-arranged lunch with the local restaurateur, who owns the only restaurant and catering service in Sapir, Daniel Shnitman. He and his wife prepared an amazing lunch of various sandwiches, but the most wonderful menu item they prepared was the pureed red pepper soup from the gorgeous and plump peppers that Sapir’s yishuv (town) exports. Following lunch, we quickly returned to the hotel for spa treatments, and/or time at the Dead Sea. I will not go into the details of my massage and facial, except to say…wow, I needed that! This being my first time in Israel, it was also my first time at the Dead Sea. I knew what to expect when I entered the water which is 30% salt content (the Great Salt Lake has 13% salt). Totally cool experience! For as much as I have been eating at the buffet breakfasts every morning, I was happy to say that I still floated!!!! I will end with a story about dinner. When we arrived for dinner at 7PM, there was a line of about 30 people waiting to get in. Upon entering the dining room, I thought I had walked into a buffet line at a casino in Las Vegas. There were hundreds of people, Israelis, Americans, but it was the Russians that made the greatest impression. Let me just say that Bill almost got run over by a Russian woman who was playing the role of a linebacker, and Bill was in her way to her goal…the tilapia!!!!! Jeff and I are having the most amazing vacation! Israel has been a magical journey back in time, and has the promise of a wonderful future that cannot be put into words or seen in pictures, but will always be felt in our hearts. Shalom.

Day 3 from Israel- Guest Blogger Sheila Zelinger

Tuesday, March 10th

Tel Aviv to Aleh Negev, Sderot, Niram (Kibbutz overlooking Gaza), and Army Base

What a truly amazing day…parts of Israel that most do not get a chance to see or experience. On our way to Aleh Negev, we passed through the heartland of Israel’s agriculture…wheat and bananas in greenhouses among others. Imagine these crops juxtaposed only kilometers from the sand dunes of the desert….a testimonial to how Israel has created an economy out of mere sand.

FullSizeRenderAround 10am, we arrived at Aleh Negev, a rehabilitation village for special needs people, mostly kids. I must admit that at first hearing we would spend 2 hours visiting the facility, I could not imagine taking so much time. Those 2 hours went so quickly and touched all of our hearts. This is a village that accepts kids with severe physical and cognitive disabilities, cared for by 250 workers and 170 volunteers. Some of the kids have been abandoned by their parents, some are not acknowledged by their families due to their disabilities, and the lucky ones get visited by their families on a regular basis…but all are incredibly loved and valued by the workers. Bill brought a scrapbook from the CBJ kindergarten…and in return, Mandy, one of the kids presented us with a scrapbook of handmade art work from several of the kids.

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Stephanie brought some beanie babies and we all had a chance to present these to kids on the playground. We got our first view of ‘safe areas’ in buildings – these are essentially bomb shelters (rooms) in the hospital area and in the dorm buildings. If there is a voice alert that says ‘color red’, everyone knows that they have 15 seconds to get into the ‘safe area’ until the rockets stop. This has clearly become a way of life in the southern part of Israel that is close to Gaza.

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Next stop was Sderot, a town that is 800m from Gaza and is the closest town near Gaza. Created in 1956, there are about 25,000 residents of Sderot, many from Morocco, Indonesia, Africa and more recently, Russia.

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First stop in Sderot was for lunch. Can you imagine 15 people coming into a small ‘restaurant’ that had 2 long tables for seating and the commercial cooktop where all foods were prepared being 1 aisle’s width away? The most wonderful homemade small dishes of carrots, eggplant, humus, peppers, pita filled the 2 tables…followed by chicken, delicious meat balls and finally baklava…we were stuffed. The owners were memorable…I think they enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed them.

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After a brief stop at the bakery across the street, where we bought freshly made pastries for Barry Rosekind and the soldiers we were going to see (more on this later), we headed on the bus to visit a police station. There we were met by 2 guides who shared ‘life near Gaza’ with us.

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We learned more about the ‘safe areas’, including the fact that after the Gulf War in 1990, the government paid for ‘safe rooms’ in every building and residence for places less than 4.5km from Gaza. Bus stops are also shelters…and even some playground equipment serve as safe areas.

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We saw the remains of the Gaza rockets – black colored rockets from Al Quida, green ones from Hamas and yellow ones from another group. We learned that the rockets are rather crude – not able to hit a target with any precision, but very dangerous as they are filled with shrapnel (nails, etc).

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From the police station, we drove to Niram, a kibbutz that has an overlook to the Gaza. There we stood, less than ½ mile from the road and fence that serves as the boundary between Israel and Gaza….with green fields beyond and eventually the city of Gaza…all probably less than 1 mile away. It is hard to imagine being so geographically close to a group whose only mission is to destroy Israel. Is there any hope for peace.

From Niram, we drove south of Be’er Sheva where we met up with Barry Rosekind and several of his fellow soldiers, members of the IDF. None was happier to see Barry than Stephanie, but I can all tell you we all loved seeing him…and getting a chance to see an area that not many tourists visit. Our time was short there, but we are looking forward to seeing Barry again in Jerusalem on Thursday.

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We headed to the Dead Sea after, arriving at the hotel close to 8pm…ready for dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Day 2 From Israel- Guest Blogger Sue Borg

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“Telaviv. Sea. Light. Sand, scaffolding, kiosks on the avenues, a brand new white Hebrew city, with simple lines, growing up among the citrus groves and the dunes. Not just a place that you buy a ticket for and travel to on an Egged bus, but a different continent altogether.” Amos Oz

Where are we? In history? In this City?   So very old and so very new.

Today we started the day on the spot where the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel was made on May 14, 1948. A new state established in the birthplace of the Jewish people thousands of years before. You could almost still hear the sound of Hatikva in the air of Independence Hall.

We walked through Neve Tzedek , the first neighborhood, created decades before the founding of the City of Tel Aviv, by a group of Jewish families in 1887. As time went on other neighborhoods sprung up around Neve Tzedek where new colorful homes were built along the narrow streets. While Tel Aviv grew up all around and moved north, Neve Tzedek fell into disrepair and neglect by the 1960’s. But today, after efforts at preserving these century old structures, Neve Tzedek is a trendy area which maintains the look and feel of those early and pivotal days.

Our day ended with a walk around Old Jaffa—a city that is 4000 years old (Remember that Jonah left to be swallowed by the whale from the port of Jaffa. We spent a wonderful couple of hours watching a demonstration by an artisan about making jewelry in the Yemenite tradition passed down through the generations.

We rolled in to the hotel with aching feet, a few purchases and great anticipation about visiting Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran rehabilitative village which CBJ has “adopted” for support.

Live from Israel- Day 1 Guest Blogger Reva Segall

Greetings!  I find myself in Israel with 13 wonderful adults from CBJ, Danny Ehrlich, our intrepid tour guide, and Shlomo, our bus driver, for the next 11 days. Instead of blogging about the trip myself, I have turned this forum over to the members of the group, who will share their experiences and unique viewpoints.

Our first guest blogger is Reva Segall.

Today, 10 of us who arrived a day or two early for the Israel trip went on a pre-trip excursion.  The excitement we felt to finally start touring Israel was tangible!  Our young, cute and knowledgeable guide, Asaf, took us first to Caesaria, a port built from scratch by Herod, the greatest builder Palestine had ever had.  We saw a movie showing us Caesaria under different conquests and after earthquakes.  We saw archeologists working on mosaics which had been covered by sand for 2000 years, the chariot racing area, the Roman theatre and smelled the sea.
Next we traveled to Haifa and toured the Baha’i gardens which are maintained by 100 gardeners.  Then off to Zichron Yacov, a town known for its wine and sponsored by Baron Edmund De Rothschild in the early 1900’s.  Then a delicious Israeli lunch at last!  Last stop was the park in which Baron Rothschild and his wife were buried.
Back to the Carlton Hotel for rest and cleanup followed by a very tasty welcome dinner.  The souvenir we wished to take home with us was Asaf!