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.
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!