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CDT Israel Trip 2019

Thursday, February 7-Friday, February 8, 2019-Day 6 and 7-Going up to Jerusalem

Check back for pictures!

The last time I was in Israel, was almost 9 years ago, and while the first half of our trip has been amazing, Thursday and Friday were the days I was truly excited about: our ascent into and first full day in Jerusalem.  For me, Jerusalem is home in Israel: it is the place where I began my studies in rabbinical school, the place I know the streets, and the city which we all focus on while praying each week. 

Thursday began with a stop at the Kinneret cemetery.  This relatively new site is where many of the early leaders of the Zionist movement are buried and we spent some time seeing their graves and hearing their amazing stories of building this fantastic new nation.

From the cemetery, we continued south to the Beit Alpha synagogue, which dates from the 5th century.  Found within the last hundred years, this synagogue contains a beautiful mosaic floor with a large picture of the zodiac.  Centered in the zodiac is the Greek sun god Helios.  This synagogue is a true testament to the pull that many of us continually feel, and apparently isn’t a new phenomenon, between our Judaism and assimilating with the outside culture.  Beit Alpha isn’t the only example from its time period but is sure the most well preserved and largest of its kind.

After we left Beit Alpha, we stopped at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu to learn about kibbutz life and to see the amazing bio agriculture that is being developed.  This particular kibbutz raises bees and other insects in order to help control the pollination rates and negative impact other insects may have for Israeli farmers.  Through a very scientific process, they have discovered which insects will be best for their specific goals, and how to implement them into farms and greenhouses for the desired effect. 

Afterward, we continued to head south and up into the Judean hills until we reached the city of Jerusalem.  On an overlook on the campus of Hebrew University, we prayed and sang together, blessing this holy moment of entering this holy city together for the first time.

Friday was then spent exploring the history and religious communities of the Old City of Jerusaem. We began by walking through the Christian quarter and seeing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the holiest spot for Christians and is said to be the spot where Jesus was crucified and resurrected.  After this, we spent time walking through the Muslim quarter and the Arab market until we reached the Cardo, the central thoroughfare of ancient Jerusalem, now lined with shops selling beautiful Judaic art.  Some free time for shopping was given until we continued on our way to the Kotel.

We then arrived at the Kotel, the Western Wall of Herod’s Temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 70 CE.  We had some time to take in the atmosphere at the Wall, step up to its holy stones, and offer personal prayers (or in my case hundreds of other’s personal prayers written by members of our community in the past few weeks).  For many on the trip, who year after year say “Next Year in Jerusalem,” this was a very emotional moment.  The Kotel is a very powerful, yet oft difficult place.  It is the center of the religious/egalitarian debate in Israel, and yet, it is also the focus of prayer for Jews the world over.  It is very holy and very tense at the same time, and these feelings often make the Kotel a very emotional experience.  We will be returning to this holy site, for prayer and to see the archaeology of the site on Monday.

From the Kotel, we then headed to the New City and to the Machane Yehudah market place (the Shuk).  The shuk on a Friday afternoon cannot be described.  Each aisle, each stall, each restaurant of this open air market is packed with, what feels like, the entire city doing their last minute shopping for Shabbat.  It is one of my favorite places in all of Israel due to its delicious food, its hustle and bustle, and its feeling of life that it exudes.

Finally, we headed south, out of Jerusalem, to the community of Tzur Hadassah for Shabbat services and dinner.  My friend, Rabbi Stacy Blank, welcomed us to her congregation for a lovely service.  However, the highlight of Erev Shabbat was dinner.  Each of us were welcomed into the homes of members of Rabbi Blank’s community for a home cooked Shabbat dinner.  During these relaxing and delicious meals, each member of the trip was able to hear from local Israelis about life in Israel and their own personal stories.  It was truly a very special end to the week and fantastic way to welcome Shabbat.  

Tuesday, February 5-Wednesday, February 6, 2019-Day 4 and 5-A Trip Up North

These have been a very busy and informative two days.  We began Tuesday morning by traveling north from Tel Aviv to the ancient city of Caesarea.  Built on the Mediterranean by King Herod as a tribute to Caesar in Rome, this city demonstrates the connection that was made between the monarchy of Israel around the year “Zero” to the greater Roman Empire and the rest of the world.  This port city remained important for more than five hundred years and now houses one of the most upscale communities in the country, along with Israel’s only golf course.  Additionally, Caesarea is a prime example of how the land of Israel has a real connection to the Judaism we practice in Johns Creek. 

Just outside of the city, during the Second World War, lived the poet and partisan, Hannah Senesh.  Looking at her surroundings, and knowing she was about the parachute into Europe to fight the Nazis behind the lines, she composed a poem, known as “Halich L’Kesariya, The Walk to Caesarea.”  We know this poem better by its first two words: Eli Eli. 

Eli Eli,
Shelo yigamer le'olam:
Hachol vehayam
Rishrush shel hamayim
Berak hashamayim
Tefilat ha'adam.

Eli Eli

I pray that these things never end:
The sand and the sea

The rush of the water
The crash of the heavens

The prayer of the heart.

 

As we sang the song together, overlooking the crashing waves of the Mediterranean, we could all feel the connection that Senesh was trying to make to the land and her hopes and aspirations.

From Caesarea, we continued north and stopped for a delicious lunch in the home of a member of the Druze community.  This ethnic and religious minority in Israel has a long history and a deep connection to the country and it was fascinating to hear their story while enjoying their delicious cuisine.

Finally, on Tuesday, we spent time in the city of Tzfat, the home of kabbalah, Jewish mysticism.  The birthplace of many of our prayers and liturgical poems, most notably l’cha dodi and shalom Aleichem, Tzfat continue a tradition of mystical Judaism, nestled in the mountains of northern Israel.  We were able to spend time touring the synagogue of Rabbi Yosef Caro and walking through and browsing (or shopping) in the artists’ colony located in the center of the city.

Wednesday was another busy day spent up north where we continued to see the intersections of history and modernity in Israeli society.  We began the day with a walk through the Tel Dan nature preserve in the very north of the country.  Home to one of major tributaries of the Jordan river, this archaeological site is being excavated by the Hebrew Union College, and contains not only sites mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but also the oldest standing structure in the world, a mud gate dating to the time of the patriarchs.  We were also able to look into Lebanon and begin to understand the security situation in Israel, due to its proximity to so many Arab nations.

This conversation continued throughout the day at Tel Facher, the site of an important battle waged by the Golani Brigade against the Syrian army, and instrumental to the Israeli Defense Force’s success.  We also traveled to Har Bental, one of the tallest mountains of the Golan Heights which overlooks Syria.  From both of these sites, we were able discuss and understand more of Israel’s security situation and its relationships with its neighbors.

Additionally, we were able to visit the Golan Heights Winery and an Olive oil company, seeing how both of these industries are valuable, both in their historical context (they both come from 2 of the seven species named in the Bible as being local to the land of Israel) and the modern economy of the north of Israel.

Our trip to the north has allowed us to further understand the historical, natural, religious, and modern perspectives which play such important roles in Israel and to see how they all intersect each day in this special place.  And tomorrow, we are all excited to travel south again to the holy city of Jerusalem.  Until then…Lailah tov (goodnight)!   

Monday, February 4- Day 3: "The Old New Land"

Our second day in Israel, and first real day of touring, focused on the concept of what Theodore Herzl called “Altneuland,”—the Old New Land.  We began our day with a short bus ride south from our hotel in Tel Aviv to the ancient port city of Jaffa.  Now currently part of the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality, this city predates the stories of our bible.  Using our Tanach, our own Hebrew Bible, as a reference point, we saw the importance of this city, witnessed how the land of Israel has always been an important point in the crossroads of civilizations, and saw how some traditions and customs continue to this day when we browsed at the Shuk Hapishpishim, the flea market. 

From there, we traveled back north to the Palmach museum at Tel Aviv University, where we learned about the young men and women who made up this fighting force of the Haganah, the predecessor to the Israeli Defense Forces.  Through this interactive museum, we were introduced to those brave young people, many of whom had left their own homelands behind them or were survivors of the Holocaust, who risked everything for the establishment of this Jewish state. 

Our tour educator, Aaron, then took us to the Lewinsky market, where we had time to shop and eat lunch in an up-and-coming neighborhood.  Filled with hipsters, delicious restaurants, and the smells of fresh produce and spices, this market is alive and thriving with one of the new voices of the state of Israel. 

Following lunch, we arrived at the State of Mind innovation center to learn about another major voice in modern Israel, that which makes this state the most prolific for start ups in the world.  Nicknamed the “Start Up Nation,” as there are more start up companies per capita than anywhere else in the world, we saw many of the products and innovations being introduced by Israeli companies that are designed to solve real problems in defense, resource management, health care, and transportation. 

Tel Aviv, this city where we spent the day seeing the old and the new, is truly a microcosm of the Jewish experience in Israel.  From biblical roots to pill cams and nanotechnology, we have born witness to one of the great paradoxes of this state and this land.  There is an ancient connection and a modern sense of drive that continually drives Israelis to expand, grow, and make the world a better place.  What will tomorrow bring us…?

 

Sunday, February 3- Day 2

When I first met with anyone thinking of possibly going on CDT’s first congregational trip to Israel, I told them that, while Johns Creek is my home and where I raise my family, the land of Israel will always feel like home as well.  With that in mind, I welcomed our congregation’s inaugural travelers to our first night of our journey and to the State of Israel: by welcoming them home. 

After a long day of traveling, we finally landed at Ben-Gurion International airport, to the sound of applause on our El Al flight.  We then met with our tour guide Aaron (the cousin of CDT member Josh Gertz), and headed to our hotel in Tel Aviv.  Our opening day concluded with a delicious meal at a Yeminite restaurant called Maganda, where we dined on a variety of salads, hummus, pita, falafel, and skewers of delicious meat and chicken.  The meal itself was highlighted not only by the food, but by our conversation, as Aaron already began introducing us to the complexities of Israeli society: secular vs. religious, Ashkenazi vs. Mizrachi (Jewish of Middle Eastern origin), Jew vs. Arab, and fresh vs. store bought hummus (a bit of a joke—but there is a real difference!). 

We, the twelve travelers on CDT’s inaugural trip to Israel, have truly come home: to the ancient home and modern state of the Jewish people.  We are all full and exhausted and heading to bed, excited about the possibilities that await us as we begin touring tomorrow morning.  Until then: Lailah tov! Good night.

Tue, April 23 2019 18 Nisan 5779