Monthly Archives: August 2016

JJC Israel Journey Final Day and Final Thoughts

Thursday reflections

We packed up our bags, and a song hits my brain- Machar Ani Babayit (definitely more political than my reference, but it means “tomorrow I’ll be home.”)

It was a potluck last day as we made our way from the Galilee to the ancient city of Tzippori, home to some exquisite mosaic floor designs. Tzippori also housed the ancient rabbinic Sanhedrin court following the Bar Kochba revolt, at the time of the Mishnah codifier himself, Judah Hanasi. Seeing the zodiac symbols on the ancient floors (and also learning how they used a “Botox” approach to restoring it) reminded me of a synagogue in Boro Park that also has zodiac symbols in its sanctuary (guess they caught on).

From Tzippori we traveled to meet our P2G friends from Hadera at the youth crisis village Neve Michael. We meet Hava, who I met 3.5 years ago on a Federation Educators’ Mission, as she reiterates a common need to heal the world: love. I was happy to be wearing a t-shirt with words of love inspired by the words of Lin Manuel Miranda. We tour the facility and learn about Sulamot ( ), an organization that partners the village with members of the Israeli Philharmonic. All the kids want is a sense of normalcy and to be loved. Quite powerful.

As a side note, I didn’t think I could have a greater adventure than meeting another doppelgänger on Wednesday morning. But alas! Hana mentioned jokingly that she may lock the door to our meeting room until we raise enough funds to support their cause. I subsequently got locked in a bathroom stall and had to climb out a window and jump 15 feet to the ground! I WILL make it back in one piece for Koltrain Friday night!!!

We returned to Tel Aviv after a photo stop by the Roman aqueducts (a short drive from Hadera). We tour Tel Aviv’s first street as well as learn about the craziness of May 14,1948 and all that had to transpire to create that moment of David Ben Gurion announcing Israel’s independence. We had a celebratory dinner by the airport before heading in many different directions.

Final thoughts

I hope that our trip was transformative for everyone who participated. Our guide, Morgi, was knowledgable and sensitive to the needs of all. You can feel her love of people and country when we ended up meeting a few dozen of her friends/fellow guides/students along the way.

Our youth guide Shira really connected with our families and our driver Adi was also fantastic! I’ve never experienced parallel parking like I did these past few weeks.

The Keshet director, Yitzchak Sokoloff, described his logic in creating trips that parallel those life altering teen tours- this was an active trip, a journey for people to push themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. It was an opportunity to take a different path.

Israel is constantly growing- upwards and outwards. There are so many layers to Israeli history, Israeli society, and Israel’s future. On the first day of the trip, Assaf Luxembourg gave us our first image of Archaeological layering- comparing it to startups being acquired, one on top of the other. Just as an archaeological site grows and expands as we unearth more of our history, visiting Israel, being part of its awesomeness, allows us to dig deeper and appreciate the foundations on which it was formed and the newest layers that add it to its flavor.

Wherever you travel in Israel, there are mezuzot on the door posts of Hotels, restaurants and other public spaces. A mezuza is not only a reminder of God’s presence in our world, but where we come from and where we are going, a reminder of where home is. Like our Torah reading Masei, it’s important to recognize the slalom posts on our journey. When we were leaving Ben Gurion Airport, heading through the tunnel before boarding our plane, I noticed that the mezuza was on the left side of the doorway (the opposite side). As we leave Israel, it’s a subtle reminder that Israel is home. I hope everyone who journeyed to Israel, many for the first time, feel that sense of home.

L’hitra’ot- see you again soon!

JJC Israel Journey Day 9

Breakfast in Israel (and more specifically in Israeli hotels) has no equal. People may talk about the great Schwarma or Falafal joint, but as we know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Each hotel tried to outdo the other- in Hagoshrim, a kibbutz known for its hospitality, we have pizza, fish, chocolate milk, shakshusha, fresh fruits and vegetables, cakes and more. What’s most interesting to me is the chaotic beauty of watching people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds (a large Muslim guest list) all eat together. Food does seem to be able to bring people to the table!We also happen to bump into a native Jacksonvillian, Bobby Brochin, who was childhood friends with Bruce Horovitz!

On our way to Tzefat (or Safed, or Zafed, or Zafad), we make two pit stops. The first is the Naot factory store- a place I went to on Ramah Seminar, but during my rebel phase, when I refused to watch Titanic or wear sandals like everyone else my age, I never even entered the store. I’ll be sporting from stylish shoes next week for Israel Shabbat. My how times have changed!!

Our second stop is in the border kibbutz Malkiya, steps from the Lebanese border. The head of security describes the matzav (mood)- there are two things he prides his community on- strength and identity. The kids are happy running around outside while we get a tour of one of the bomb shelters decorated with wall to wall animal murals. He is honest with us- when they do use the bomb shelter, all bets are off- up above everyone is cordial, but if two families share a tight space below ground, bickering is a common language. Moral boosts are a must- it reminded me of the film Rock in the Red Zone!

We meet a few soldiers who appreciate our gifts before heading to the base itself to meet with more soldiers.

I encounter my long lost son; or kindred spirit; or 2nd doppelgänger. Barak is in the Golani brigade (check out Facebook for pictures) but is a trained musician who has played at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center! My first doppelgänger experience was at an A Capella festival- who knew lookalikes had talentalikes!?

We head to the center of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism (think life is like an onion), the city of Joseph Karo and Isaac Luria, the city where I once searched for 7 hours in a cemetery looking for my great grandfather’s grave only to realize it had been destroyed during an early 20th century earthquake, the city of Safed, the city where “anything can happen.”

We walk through the artist section of the old city, where I highlight a great micro calligrapher, who shows us the entire Torah written out in one painting. I stop by a familiar art gallery and notice a painting of a familiar face- the artist Kaszemacher. The gallery owner asks me to stop taking a picture, thinking I’m taking a picture of his works. I tell him I am taking a picture of the man (see below), since my family met him on multiple occasions. Kaszemacher passed away a few years ago, but have painted an photographed even after he became blind. I tell him how 25+ years ago we used to get a tour of Kaszemacher’s studio across the street as he explained the meaning behind his work. The man appreciates my own appreciation of the artist. The man is his son.

I look through many of the galleries and find one with 200 hebrew name charms for females. No Dafna. No Rena. No Leora (photo attached) What is the world coming to?!

We meet with an expat Avraham, who gives us a brief summary of Kabbalah and how it inspires his own work. He talks about the power of a name and how each letter is intertwined into the Kabbalah map outlined in the Zohar. He shows us a series of paintings which are the computer imprint of the sound waves of the 100 shofar blasts we make on Rosh Hashana.

Very cool!

We tour two of the Safed shuls, including one of 4 Ari (Isaac Luria) shuls that had been bombed.

Dinner is at the Adin winery, preceded by a delicious wine and cheese tasting. When we return to Hagoshrim, we finally get the darbouka out for some festive singing and dancing. We also get to taste the date liquor I had purchased from the olive Oil factory! Highlights of our kumzitz include Shabchi

And our Israeli dance set, including Mayim, since we love drinking copious amounts of water!

Tomorrow is our last day (technically we have 30 minutes between midnight and 12:30am on Friday as well). It is great to see how much everyone has enjoyed the experience and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say next week at our Israel celebration Shabbat!



JJC Israel Journey Days 7 and 8

What a magical morning!

Mazel tov to the Levine family as Christina and Ethan celebrated their bnei mitzvah together in the egalitarian worship space adjacent to the Kotel. Christina and Ethan worked with me over the past few months studying the Torah portions (in a quirky way, we actually split the double parsha this upcoming week into two separate Torah portions, one last week and one this week since Israel was reading one Torah portion ahead of us in the diaspora) as well as major parts of the service. Our prayer service began shortly before a number of other bnei mitzvah would take place alongside ours. Noise was somewhat of a factor, with a “siman tovs” echoing throughout the area. We couldn’t use the darbuka or tambourine, but I was able to use the shtender/eggs to add a percussive sound to our service. Ethan and Christina did an amazing job, aided by the energy of our kehillah. We came in close together for the entire service, so we were able to hear their leading/divrei Torah as well as sing along to the service in one voice! There were a number of other participants who had never had an Aliyah or who desired to have one in that space- alongside the place where the temple once stood, as we read of Zelophahad’s daughters who fought for equal rights, as we prayed man and woman together. What a gift!

As we concluded the service with Mourner’s Kaddish, I reminded the group that the prayer has nothing to do with death, but rather a hope for completeness in our lives. How we live our lives is the true testament to ensuring that those we’ve lost will have their name be a blessing for us, for we need to lead impactful lives to realize how much they are a blessing.

Speaking of gifts, I remember visiting Yad L’kashish as a student on Ramah Seminar a number of years ago. They have since expanded into a well oiled operation that provides work and a hot meal for senior citizens. The group interacted with the workers, most of whom came from the former Soviet Union.

We head over to East Jerusalem and on to Emek Turim, sifting through unexcavated archaeological remains looted from the Temple Mount. We divide the buckets of chazarai into 6 salvageable materials. We find bones of kosher animals, glass, pottery, and even 2 2000 year old coins (way to go David and Steven- picture of David below).

After lunch in Jerusalem, we headed to Maalei Adumim to meet Adina, who emigrated from Ethiopia by way of Sudan over 30 years ago. She tells the story of a thousand people journeying to Sudan, only to be robbed half way of all of their precious belongings. Only 500 made it to Sudan. A few takeaways: Adina is so welcoming, as I assume she is to the many groups she talks to in partnership with Keshet. She says, “If you have a place in your heart you have a place in the home.” She mentions how she often feels her life was easier growing up in Ethiopia than it is for her 6 children and their kids. There are issues of racism, and the lack of funding/financial support (it’s not like they had some uncle or cousin to lean on when they made Aliyah) does not enable her kids to attend university. One of her children wishes he wasn’t in Israel. Having heard this kind of story in the news, it’s hard to hear this from the source. However, Adina says she talks to God- that makes her happy. What does she pray for? Every mother wants to see her child happy and healthy. “Baruch Hashem” she says, “everyone is healthy.”

Heading up north to Tiberias, we pass a few spots where I have a deja-vu moments to my childhood family trips to Israel- almost falling of the giant water slide and staying in a hotel with a set of ruins right out front (now called the Leonardo Plaza). At our celebratory dinner at Refaello, I share a few stories of “connection” that lead us all to this joyous occasion- the bnei mitzvah, Rachel’s birthday, and more!

Ivy and Josh celebrated their 10th anniversary a few weeks ago and wanted to travel with their parents. Michael and Barbara suggested the synagogue trip, their chavura followed, and there was a chunk of our group. Ethan deciding to share his bar mitzvah moment with his mother brought on another set of participants. I made the claim that Yitzchak Sokoloff, head of Keshet, mentioned his grandfather had started a hebrew school in Worcester MA some hundred years ago. Maybe if he doesn’t do that, my mother doesn’t move to Worcester to run a Hebrew school, I don’t move next door to a cantor and become inspired to be one myself, and this trip doesn’t happen. Small decisions in life have ripple effects enabling such a joyous day, and such a powerful journey to Israel!


We get a late wake up at Kibbutz Hagoshrim in the upper Galilee. We had passed an area where the Israeli poet Rachel was buried (her request was to be buried overlooking the Sea of Galilee). Rachel wrote many poems that were later set to music. In particular, Naomi Schemer (who is also buried near Rachel according to her wishes), wrote music to many of her poems, including the poem Kineret.

We walk through the ancient ruins and lush Tel Dan Nature Reserve and Archaeological site, where a group is still excavating during our visit! We enjoy seeing the greenery, a stark contrast to the unshaded blandness of the dessert. Ascending the Golan heights, we view former volcanic activity as well as the new vegetation the Israelis are cultivating. Looking over from Kuneitra we see Syria, the UN outpost, wind turbines and more as Morgi explains the border situations over the years.

I remind some of the group about a sticker (of which I still have many in my office) that was popular in the late 1990s.

I was also trying to think of a song about the strategic and moral boosting position of the Golan.

Translation is here.

Our lunch is in Katzrin, the only city in the Golan. We split into two groups as many of us try out our Catrina Ruby impressions at the De Karina (should have been Katrina) Chocolate Factory, while others taste wine at the Bahat Winery. We come back together for an olive factory tour, where they make olives into beauty products of all things!

I kept singing these songs during our chocolate tour:

L’hitra’ot- share with you more tomorrow!