Category Archives: Synagogue Israel Trip

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!







JJC Israel Journey Day 6

Today was a heavy day. We started early as Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, opened just as we arrived. 3 hours passed by quickly as we barely made it through the main exhibition hall. I visited Yad Vashem briefly three and a half years ago on an Educator’s Mission, and was thankful then as I was today that there was a conscious shift in pedagogy from my childhood/teenage memories of the memorial. Tell the stories. Share the pain as well as the hope. Our guide Morgi did an exceptional job setting the stage for our morning and walking the group through the timeline. We also heard fascinating stories of perseverance and pain from Kim, who shared the story of her father in law’s journey to Shanghai, and Ivy, who shared a few stories including one of a 29 yr old Leonard Bernstein, who brought light to the darkness the DP’s had experienced under Nazi horrors. A few things stood out:

Rabbi Kalonymus Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, is quoted on the wall of the exhibition, questioning why the world didn’t turn back to water (i.e. The flood) when the Nazi’s began their horrific acts.

At one section of the timeline, the visitor follows a pathway portraying the unthinkable Death marches that took place from Birkenau beginning on Jan 18, 1945 and ending May 10, 1945. At each stop you learn who survived and who did not. By the time of their liberation, only 120 of 3,000 survived the war. There were similar stories of agony, coupled once in a while by a story of perseverance and hope.

Having visited a half dozen concentration camps and a number of ghettos, museums typically don’t emit the same level of emotion for me. The end of the museum experience was much more difficult this time as I had remembered. As I watched a video of DP kids singing a version of Hatikva, just as my daughter sings around the house, I began to choke up. If that wasn’t enough, I heard the story of Uziel, whose parents survived the war because the mother’s mother took Uziel away during selection at the Death camp, so that his mother would survive. The parents later helped create the Children’s Memorial in his memory. Uziel was 3 years old, the same age as my eldest. That did me in.

We had a respite in between Yad Vashem and visiting the graves on Mount Herzl. After lunch we visited the Herzl museum with an epic film starring Ben Stiller’s doppelgänger (see below). This late 90s film telling the history of Herzl and the state of Israel finished up with a clip from the peace accords (skip to the last minute) with Bill Clinton helping to sign the deal (and play with the balloons)

Josh Weingram, husband of Ivy and son-in-law to Barbara and Michael Schneider, shared his personal connection to one of the Lone soldiers, Michael Levin, who always dreamt of joining the IDF. We visited Herzl’s grave, Golda Meir’s grave, and then the graves of Hannah Senesh, Max Steinberg and Michael Levin. Morgi points out the way the graves themselves are peaceful, tucking in those the country has lost, as well as how recent soldiers who died have a wider variety of ways people are remembering them at their burial sites. We said an El Malei as Michael’s 10th yartzeit is this upcoming week. I thought for a while as Morgi called all of the lone soldiers shlichat am, emissaries of the people, quite unlike a prayer leader being called shaliach tzibbur.

We drove over to the Menorah in front of the Knesset before a night out on our own, our last night in Jerusalem.


JJC Israel Trip Shabbat in Jerusalem

Friday morning, we took a short bus ride for a panoramic view of the the Old City as we were welcomed by Keshet (the tour company) founder Yitzchak Sokoloff. We then traveled to the City of David on the southern tip of Old city as we viewed an epic 3-d film of the origin of the city. Our tour guide ran through the different iterations of the city throughout history as we focused on the period of King Hezekiah. Through the help of a private organization (somewhat controversially), Israel has unearthed a series of tunnels used for water access throughout the city of David. I pointed out East Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, where my father’s paternal grandparents are buried! A small group of us ventured inside the water tunnels for a thrilling 45 minute experience.

Free time in the Old City meant shopping in the Cardo, eating in the Jewish quarter, and visiting the Kotel. Wearing a baseball cap and looking uberly touristy, I was stopped 3 times in the men’s section to see if I wanted to put on tefillin or even have a prayer said on my behalf.

On Monday we’ll share a bnei mitzvah ceremony by Robinson’s Arch, an egalitarian worship place, but I do hope that we can find a way to create an egalitarian worship place at the Kotel itself. The one saving grace of having two sections was that the women in the women’s section were able to pray- in the men’s section, all I saw were men being accosted and having someone say that their prayer meant more than whatever notes someone had brought. The Kotel, needless to say, is a complicated place, primarily because of the political and social discourse surrounding it.

We rushed over to see the hustle and bustle of Machane Yehuda pre-Shabbat- this is in stark contrast to my last experience there, at 7am on a Monday morning as the market was just opening. We collect food for Shabbat as well as the world-famous Marzipan Rugelach!

A new addition to the Jerusalem pre-Shabbat menu is the Tachana, the old Turkish railroad station turned into an outdoor mall and music space. An acoustic band leads the assembled crowd in some familiar and new melodies for Kabbalat Shabbat as the chaos of pre-Shabbat shopping surrounds the central space. This is less davening and more Judaic exposure; a new take on Public Space Judaism- not a random table set up at a fair- this is at the center of it all, and the musicians are not phased when a large portion of people are more interested in the vendors than the Psalms.

From the Tachana we head to davening at Kol Haneshama, a reform synagogue whose Friday night service (the sanctuary eventually fills up 30 minutes into the service) mimics melodies that I might have heard at Ramah growing up- there is a conscious (or not) lack of Carlebach melodies in the service. It was cool to hear them chant the Lcha Dodi melody created by their community a generation ago.

At the same time, Nava Tehila, a Shabbat in the Round on steroids service, was taking place in the basement of the same complex- groups were not allowed to attend since they only meet a few times during the summer, but some of us were able to join in even for a few parts of Kabbalat Shabbat- even though both services were packed, Nava Tehilla, with a full “round” davening space and 5 guitars/Cello/violin/drums, felt like it had more energy. The attached link was song by over a 100 voices. It was awesome!!

Shabbat dinner featured a new favorite of mine, Goose legs!

Saturday morning, we traveled to Moreshet Israel, located adjacent to the Fuchsburg Center at the heart of downtown Jerusalem. The service used many of the same melodies the JJCers are accustomed to and even used our Shabbat siddur. The sermon was in English too! Part of Moreshet Israel’s mission is to be that “home away from home” as Rabbi Adam Frank put it. We were greeted by Rabbi Jerome Epstein, who staffed Eliot and Barbara Safer the summer they met! We shared the service with a group from Park Synagogue in Cleveland, many of whom had regards for David Wolinsky! We enjoyed the hospitality of Rene Feinstein, the outgoing shul president and family friend who, by chance, had also negotiated my first contract in Jacksonville! The shlichat tzibbur, Saralee Shrell-Fox, has a beautiful voice and serves as the High Holiday cantor in Milton, MA at the shul where my grandmother served as sisterhood president! Talk about connections!!

A small group splintered off for a taste of the Great Synagogue and its magnificent choir!

The group gathered for Seudat Shlishit overlooking the Old City as we sang songs about Jerusalem that led right into Havdalah. A group went back to the Tachana to see the stage alive with a musical performance as the new week is upon us.

Shavua Hachi Tov- we hope a great week ahead in Israel!!


It’s been a jam packed few days as we transitioned from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by way of the desert (a little indirect but I guess like Moses we weren’t good at asking for directions?).

Wednesday morning we were treated to the first of a few talks by different sectors of Israeli society. Assaf Luxembourg, a third or fourth generation Israeli, spoke about the tech industry. He also gave us some tips to experience Israel- act a little Israeli, eat some hummus, and interact with its people.

We stopped by Rabin Square (I posted the melody of Shir Lashalom on the last blog) where Rabin was assassinated as we recreated the scene and discussed Yigal Amir’s bastardizing of the Torah to think that this was what God would wanted (Israeli society pre and post-Oslo was tensely critical of the Peace movement, with some sections of government/religious authorities calling for someone to “take care of” Rabin (often depicted to look like Hitler).

A birthright group joined in a circle to sing “Lmaan Achai v’rei’a”-for the sake of my brother and my neighbor- a melody written by Shlomo Carlebach (text is used in our liturgy) and quite appropriate for the experience.

We traveled to the Weizzman Institute, named after the the 1st President (figurehead position) of the State of Israel (also a scientist) and a leading hub for R&D in the world. After an interactive welcome center we took some free time in Old Jaffa, visited the flea market (Where I heard this classic on the radio from my high school Israel experiences being blasted from a car radio),

and finally left Tel Aviv and headed to Kiryat Gat. It was at this time I started looking into top kosher restaurants in Jerusalem (for Thursday night’s free night), and low and behold our hotel in Tel Aviv had a 15th floor restaurant ranked #3 in all of Israel. Oops!

Rabbi Sharon Shalom is an Ethiopian Orthodox Rabbi who serves a congregation of mostly Holocaust survivors. He is an engaging speaker who talks about his journey, his adjustment to Israeli society and the importance of speaking with the heart.
Musically speaking, the Rabbi is also a Hazzan and says that depending on what life cycle he officiates (really for whom), he will use the nusah and customs of that couple- he gave an example of Sheva Brachot being chanted a number of different ways!
It was also crazy to hear the Rabbi use an Ashkenazic pronunciation of the Hebrew and even have Yiddish phrases in his repertoire like “gornisht mit gornisht”

Our day is culminated by a late evening Camel ride and Bedouin hospitality. As we headed to bed, a group of Israeli soldiers started humming TLC’s Scrubs for some reason. Only in Israel!!

I also look out at the clear skies and crescent moon. There are a number of Israeli songs that talk about the moon, but this one came to mind at that moment.

Day 3

An early morning (wake up call at 3:30AM) hike up Masada. So proud of ALL of our participants for making the early morning trek up the mountain. We enjoyed watching the sunrise and spent a few early hours recreating the controversial experience of the Jews living on Masada (from King Herod to those who committed suicide rather than give in to the Romans).

As we were leaving the top of Masada, we left an open ended question of how these Jews should be remembered – as heroes? As a tragedy? In any event, this early Israeli perspective of “we may have been perceived as weak before, but look at all the might we have; look at all of the examples of those who rebelled” is prevalent. We’ll see that as well when we visit Yad Vashem – the first museum (before it was recently renovated) showcased the story of Mordechai Anilevitch, who died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Early Israel wanted to associate with the heroic stories of strength and heroism.

Afterwards (iwhat felt like 5pm already) we traveled down for a hike to the springs at Nahal David. Nahal David floods every year so the topography of where the springs are changes from year to year. It was a great surprise to catch our Jacksonville kids in the waiting area to enter Nahal David!! Having reached out to Seminar we had thought our paths would totally not cross on our journey. What luck!

After a refreshing dip we headed to Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea. It was hot! It was salty! It was wonderful!

We traveled to Jerusalem and made a Shehechiyanu to show that we are finally home in the ancient city. I sang an excerpt from Hameiri’s Yerushalayim as we gazed at the panoramic view of Jerusalem.

Checking into the hotel, we had a few hours before our reservation at the Latin restaurant La Boca (half of us went to Eucalyptus). Whenever I have a few hours in a city (this happened in Madrid a few weeks ago), I like to walk around for an hour to acclimate myself. I walked up to the Old City through the Jaffa Gate and headed towards the Kotel (I don’t think I’ve ever entered from that direction). It was cool to hear all of the languages in the shuk (some Italians speaking Italian with the Arab shopkeeper and bonding over their love of cashmere). I headed for the Cardo and realized there’s a shortcut to the Arab shuk back to the Jaffa Gate; and I didn’t even need Waze (An Israeli company)!!

When we got back from dinner, a party was hopping across the street. A band played 3 songs in succession before going into a techno/DJ dance mod: Inyan Shel Zman (we used to sing in Pizmon, meaning “A Matter of Time”) what I refer to as Etmol haya tov (yesterday was good, officially called “Hayareach”- another Hayareach!!), and John Denver’s Country Road.

Only in Israel- Rak B’Yisrael!

JJC Israel Journey Full Day 1

After traveling with the Cantors Assembly Mission to Spain, it is an honor and privilege to lead a group of 26 to our ancestral homeland. After an overnight flight from JFK, the majority of the group arrived Monday night and headed to our welcome dinner at the Maganda Restaurant in Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter. After filling up on salads, we feasted on shipudim/skewers/shishlik and headed to our hotel to rest up!

After a delicious Israeli breakfast- fresh breads, fruits, cheeses, with your choice of herring, egg souffles, and even ice cream, we began our first full day in Israel exploring Tel Aviv, named “Hill of Spring” after Theodor Herzl’s call to return to a Alteneuland. Our tours took us to 4 unique locations, all incorporating the music of Israel to tell their respective stories.

We begin at the Palmach Museum. Palmach is the hebrew abbreviation of Plugot Mahatz. Founded in 1941, the Palmach, the striking force of the Hagana, was the precursor to the IDF. This interactive museum gave us a 90 minute tale of those who made up the pioneer defenders of the State of Israel- teens and 20somethings (Yitchak Rabin was an elder statesmen when he commanded his group at the age of 25!).

The group assembles around a campfire and sings this Israeli classic (and a favorite of our longtime Cantor Abraham Marton z’l).

Seeing the valleys and the glorious land, in awe of the place they would be asked to defend and lay down their lives for, the group sings Shir Haemek.

We hear the theme song for the Palmach.

As we take the journey (with real live footage and a feature film made for the museum), the group connects with the different stories of those making up the Palmach- new olim, holocaust survivors, 2nd generation pioneers, etc. We hear about the struggle during the War of Independence and hear the melody of the heartwrenching song, Bab el Wad.

After the Palmach Museum, we travel to Nachalat Binyamin, the Arts & Crafts Fair adjacent to the Shuk. The group enjoys some free time and I even bump into Ami Yares and his bride to be (Mazel tov). Ami visited Jacksonville a number of years ago as a member of the band, The SHuk. How ironic!!


As we enter the Rabin Museum (20% dedicated to his life, rest to Israeli history), we enter a large room with video of the night Rabin was assassinated. The crowd and everyone on the dais chants the words to Shir Lashalom (song for peace), seen below. The words were found in Rabin’s pocket following his murder just 15 minutes after the peace rally ended.

The museum flows similarly to the recent documentary Rabin, In His Own Words (highly recommended). Since the State of Israel sponsored the museum (and not as a memorial to Rabin), they do paint a fairly streamlined view of every conflict- war/political campaign etc. Our group learns a new perspective – the height of the Generals of ’67 and the negativity towards politicians and military following the Yom Kippur War of ’73.


We feasted at Na Laga’at Center (Na Laga’at means “please to touch”), located at the Jaffa Port in Tel Aviv. The Center is comprised of the Nalaga’at Theater, home to the Deaf-blind Acting Ensemble. We ate at Cafe Kapish, served by very friendly waiters who also were deaf.

We were blessed to see the performance “Not by Bread Alone,” an interactive and thought provoking story in which the actors share their hopes and dreams with the audience. One of the most striking aspects of this performance is the choreography- there were a number of emotional moments in which the main narrator (deaf and blind) maneuvered across the stage with the helpful hands and arms of his actor counterparts. It really was poetry in motion.

An older woman, who in the story courts an older gentleman, plays a song on the keyboard that she remembers from childhood (written in 1939). The audience is given the lyrics to sing along with her beautiful playing.


At the conclusion of the program, the audience is again asked to join in with another song- actors make out the sign language so one can sing the song with their hands and their mouths (unfamiliar but stirring song).

The evening culminates a powerful day showing the spirit of Israel and the spirit of Israelis- strongest when they work together to create such impactful moments. I’m so grateful to have experienced such a moment this evening!