By Howard Borer
Day 1 – Sunday, November 3 – After a long plane ride on El Al, we arrived in Tel Aviv, known as the city that never sleeps. After checking into the hotel, we visited Jaffa and perched above the city of Tel Aviv we received an introduction to the largest city in Israel. We walked through the renovated alleyways of Jaffa to the Old Port and had our welcome dinner at the Old Man in the Sea restaurant.
Day 2-Monday November 4- began with an intensive visit to Tel Aviv, its past, present and future with a dialogue with scholar Paul Liptz of Tel Aviv University and Hebrew Union College where we discussed Israel’s challenges for the next 30 years. This introductory session served as the background for the next 8 days. After an insightful discussion, art critic, Vardit Gross led the group on a visit to Contemporary art galleries to view the eclectic styles of Israeli art now in vogue.
November 4 was the anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, and serendipitously, we were scheduled to visit the new Rabin museum dedicated to the history of society and democracy in Israel with the life of Yitzchak Rabin serving as a connecting thread between the various sections of the exhibition. But just prior to the visit to the museum, we visited the actual site of his assassination outside Tel Aviv’s City Hall to pay our respects.
With dinner at the Tachane, Tel Aviv’s newly renovated old train station, now a center of music, good food, and one Tel Aviv’s lively hot spots we concluded our visit to Tel Aviv.
Day 3- TuesdayNovember 5- We drove north along the coastal plain and had a guided visit to Zichron Ya’acov, one of the first communities established by the earliest Zionist pioneers and named in honor of Jacob Rothschild. The tour of the community culminated with a wine tasting at the famous Carmel Winery, the first winery established in Israel in 1882. It was then off to Akko, a UNESCO Heritage site, which included a visit to a newly renovated Crusaders city. With time running short, we drove to Rosh Hanikrah at the northern tip of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline where we took a cable car down to the beautiful sea grottos carved out of the soft chalk cliffs by eons of wave action. After watching the sunset, we drove through the Upper Galilee and checked into the guest house at Kibbutz Kfar Blum. Following a sumptuous dinner buffet, a discussion with a kibbutz member, gave us a better understanding of kibbutz ideology and its place in Israel in the 21stcentury.
Day 4- Wednesday November 6- was devoted to a visit to our Partnership 2Gether community of Afula in the Gilboa region. Following a visit toTsfat, the Center of Jewish Mysticism, we drove to Afula/Gilboa and had lunch at the famous Falafel Golani. Eshel Fram who directed our Partnership 2Gether for many years led us on a guided tour and briefing on the current security issues in the region at the Jalame/Gilboa checkpoint which separates the Palestinian Authority with Israel. Only several days later did we learn of the tragic stabbing of a young Israeli soldier by a Palestinian from the territories who was traveling from Nazareth Illit with a stop in Afula. This young soldier was stabbed to death while the bus approached Afula, and was rushed to the Emek Hospital, the medical center which many of us are familiar with. Unfortunately the young soldier died and the 16 year old Palestinian who stabbed this young soldier who had only entered the army 2 weeks prior, as apprehended and jailed.
The day continued with a visit to Bet Singer Children’s Village, a program which is funded by our campaign dollars. Bet Singer provides a warm and loving home to children who suffer abandonment, neglect, and abuse from an early age. The children are organized into small intimate groups where they receive intensive attention from a range of professionals including educational staff, social workers, psychologists, and movement art and animal therapists. The children attend various educational institutions throughout the area. We were hosted by Areil Rascovsky, assistant director of the Village. The tour included a tour of the facility, and the therapeutic petting zoo which the Partnership supports. We were also very pleased to present Ariel with many stuffed animals that had been collected by the Benz family, who had just recently celebrated their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah at Congregation Beth Israel. The parsh of the week, that was celebrated, was Noah and the centerpieces at each of the tables was a stuffed animal representing the animals that had been saved on Noah’s Ark. The stuffed animals were then collected and our group delivered them to the children at Beit Singer.
We then traveled to Kibbutz Beit Hashita where we met Yonish, a member of the kibbutz where we began our visit at the panoramic viewpoint overlooking a spectacular view of the entire Gilboa region Members of the Kibbutz then hosted us in their homes for dinner. The evening culminated with an A-Capella musical presentation by the Afula Tarbut Cultural Movement, which is also funded by our community. The Tarbut community consists of alumni of a wealth of Israel’s art schools who have chosen to set up their homes in Afula with the goal of reaching young people of the Galilea through the medium of arts and culture. The community was established around 7 years ago beginning as a garin or group of 40 IDF soldiers who had recently been released from the army who viewed social change as both a personal and collective objective. Last year, members of the Tarbut community headed by Hadas Goldman the group’s founder, visited us in our community. We all had the opportunity to interact with them to learn more about their unique contributions to Israeli society. We were one of the first communities to fund this innovative group of young people to serve Israel and its underclass. We first identified this group on a Federation mission about 7 years ago and were thrilled to be able to provide initial funding. This group, although headquartered in Afula, has branches in over 15 other communities in the periphery of Israel.
Day 5-Thursday, November 7 –saw us participate in an exciting jeep tour climbing to the Golan Heights in the footsteps of IDF soldiers and their battle in the Six Day War. Viewing the Jordan Valley from what had been Syrian bunkers before the 1967 6 Day War, we enjoyed the beautiful, natural scenery but gained an insight into the strategic complexity of the Golan Heights. After a stop at the Neot shoe factory (an important shopping stop), we traveled to Mount Ben Tal overlooking the abandoned Syrian town of Kuneitra for a first hand view of Israel’s security position along the Syrian border. We visited a former Israeli bunker and gained further insight into the challenges Israel faced during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. With a stop at Aroma, Israel’s famed coffee and sandwich shop, which now has branches in New York and Toronto we enjoyed another delicious lunch. Now it was on to Jerusalem. We stopped at Mount Scopus to say the traditional shehechiyanu blessing. The magical and spiritual aura of entering Jerusalem for the first time was felt by all, and we all felt that we had come home!
An unexpected surprise was an invitation to the Jewish Agency for Israel’s (JAFI) Partnership 2Gether 18th Birthday party at the David Citadel Hotel where we met our partners from Afula/Gilboa and members of partnerships from throughout Israel. We celebrated with delicious Israeli food and sang and danced the night away.
Day 6- Friday, November 8- began with a dialogue with Holocaust scholar, Shlomo Balsam and a guided visit through the renovated Yad Vashem complex, the Jewish national memorial to the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. From the sadness and memory of the Holocaust, we traveled to Machane Yehuda Jerusalem’s open air market, which was flooded with Jerusalemites getting ready for Shabbat. The vibrancy and excitement of the market was truly a contrast to the memories we had just experienced earlier on in the day. With Shabbat almost upon us, we returned to our hotel to prepare for a visit to the Western Wall, the Jewish People’s most holy site- the Kotel.
We welcomed Shabbat with thousands of others at the Western Wall and then enjoyed dinner where Rivi Behar, one of young emissaries from last year joined us for dinner. It truly was a joy to have dinner with Rivi who told us about her life back in Israel and her reflections of her past year with us. Unfortunately Ziv, her young emissary partner of last year was unable to join us but called to send his best and his greetings to all of us. We also celebrated Nina and Alan Stoll’s wedding anniversary.
Day 7-Shabbat November 9-Shabbat in Jerusalem was spent in many different ways with attendance at area synagogues, a visit to Mount Zion, the traditional burial site of King David, guided tour of the Tour of David Museum, a walk through the Arab shuk,, a visit to the Israel Museum and a conversation with Professor Reuven Hazan of the Political Science Department of Hebrew University who spoke about the complexities of Israeli politics. The Night Spectacular at the Tour of David Museum where the walls of the citadel served as the stage depicting the story of Jerusalem culminated a very full day.
Day 8-Sunday, November 10- was spent learning about the layers of Jerusalem including the city of David, the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem, a visit through the Western Wall tunnels and a further exploration of the Christian, Armenian, and Muslim quarters of the old city.
Day 9-Monday November 11-The official last day of our Israel visit was a trip to the Dead Sea Basin and Masada, King Herod’s mountain palace and sight of the Jewish zealots last stand against the Roman legions. Masada’s role is a symbol of Jewish defense and its current significance in Modern Israel was discussed. Floating on the Dead Sea and a sumptuous buffet lunch completed the day.
This tremendous educational experience provided all of our participants a much better understanding of the complexity of Modern Day Israel. While we traveled on a bus throughout the country, we were led by our guide Yona Leshets whose knowledge and understanding provided us with an amazing glimpse into Israeli society that we never could have gotten on our own. Please check out our social network pages www.jewishcentral.org for more pictures on this exciting mission. And join us on our next trip to Israel.