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Temple Sinai's Summer Israel Trip 2017

06/05/2017 04:52:15 PM


Rabbi Ron Segal

Temple Sinai is in Israel!  Follow along with the trip on our blog and check out our photos on Facebook here 

Final Day by Rabbi Ron Segal

No surprise, the final day of our Sinai Israel journey came far too soon.  However, the farewells did not come without first experiencing another meaningful day together, beginning first with our visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial and museum campus dedicated to remembrance of the Shoah.  Shlomo (our amazing guide and educator) led us through a powerful, educational and emotionally impactful experience of the museum, which we followed with a brief but touching ceremony. Reciting Mourner’s Kaddish outside the Children’s Memorial in an intimate circle of new friends and Sinai family was sincerely moving; the language of Jewish tradition provided a way to give voice to heartfelt desires to honor the lives of the millions of our people who perished.

Those who have visited Yad Vashem within the last decade know that you exit the museum and immediately behold a spectacular vista of Jerusalem, an intentional decision by the architects to powerfully communicate that Am Yisrael Chai - the Jewish people live!  Nowhere in Jerusalem is this sign of life and vitality more evident than at today’s next stop, Machane Yehudah – the market in central Jerusalem filled with the most remarkable sights, colors, smells, tastes and atmosphere imaginable.  Everyone had time to explore the market, eat lunch, and do any desired final shopping before returning to the hotel in order to pack for our departure.

Our culminating dinner at Touro with its spectacular view of the Old City (highly recommended restaurant) included an opportunity for shared highlights: fun adventures such as the jeep ride on the Golan Heights, rafting on the Jordan River, and riding camels in the Judean Desert were complemented by special experiences such as going to the Kotel with family and, of course, the amazing Bnei Mitzvah service.  However, when participants shared meaningful lessons they are taking home from our journey, the extent to which many grasped the spirit of Israel became truly clear.  Some of the reflections and shared wisdom included comments such as…

  • I now have a better understanding of Israel as well as its importance and the need for support from American Jews.
  • We cannot overstate the importance of always having a home to which we can return.
  • I now have an appreciation of Israel which is much different than what is on the news.
  • I never could have realized or appreciated how amazing it is to be surrounded by so many other Jews.
  • The patriotism and extent to which Israelis care about and are willing to support their country is inspiring.
  • When you think you’ve learned everything there is to know about Israel, there is always so much more!

Traditionally, when people depart Israel, they do not say Shalom - goodbye, but rather L’hitra’ot - which means “See you later.”  This preferred expression conveys the expectation and hope that we are not parting forever but that our paths will cross again soon.  I am certain that each of us concludes this truly special Israel journey with a spirit of L’hitra’ot in our hearts.  May our new community of friends and Sinai family come together soon and may we each find our way back to Israel in the near future.  My appreciation to Rabbi Sam and to Marisa for their wonderful leadership on this trip as well.   Amen.

Day 9- Desert: History, Nature, Sun & Fun! from Marisa Kaiser, Director of Education

After a great Shabbat of rest in Jerusalem, our day started early as we headed to Masada.  We passed the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, loved the beautiful scenery of the Judean Desert as well as the Dead Sea.  When we arrived at Masada, half of our group chose to hike up the snake path.  While the heat was intense (so much so that they actually closed the snake path shortly after they began),everyone made it.  One person even made it to the top in 21 minutes.  The rest of the group took the cable car up and we all gathered at the top of Masada to learn the incredible story that took place there many years ago.

After we left Masada, we headed to Ein Gedi, the natural springs and waterfalls in the Desert.  We saw mountain goats and other animals and everyone enjoyed cooling off in the waterfalls.

If that wasn’t enough, we ended up at the Dead Sea.  This was the most fun of the day.  Everyone floated in the salty water, and enjoyed covering our bodies in the incredible mud from the bottom of the sea.  The location and views were beautiful and it was a great way to relax and have some fun after an early start and long morning.

The day ended with a fun Biblical dinner and camel ride on our way back to Jerusalem.  We had a visit from our Abraham, our patriarch, who shared his life as a Bedouin andtaught us about the importance of hospitality.  The food was delicious and the camels were a blast!

Day 8 From Rabbi Ron Segal

“More than Israel has kept the Sabbath has the Sabbath kept Israel.”

These famous words by Ahad Ha’am were certainly appreciated by everyone on our Sinai Israel journey today.  With such a brief amount of time in the country to pack in as much history, culture, touring, tasting, celebrating and experiencing as possible, people are understandably beat by the end of each incredibly full day.  Thus, Shabbat was a beautiful, welcome, and much needed respite for everyone on our trip, providing a physical, emotional, and spiritual boost for the remainder of our packed journey.

Although the passage of the years has seen significant change, even in Jerusalem, with regard to the number of restaurants and even some stores that are now open on Shabbat, even in Jerusalem, it is still difficult to capture the feeling of experiencing Shabbat here.  There are very few times when the streets in Atlanta mirror those of Jerusalem during Shabbat, and there is a palpable feeling of peacefulness and relaxation which descends upon the city.  Those traveling with us slept late, went for a walk, explored further the Old City where some also shopped in the Arab market (the shuk), sat by the pool, exercised, and more.  Many also joined our guide Shlomo on a visit to the Israel Museum where among other exhibits, we also learned about and saw the Shrine of the Book containing the Dead Sea Scrolls.  We all reconvened for a Havdalah service at which we were joined by congregants from Congregation Emanu El in Houston, and which was necessarily quick due to gusty winds which continued to extinguish the candle.  And the evening concluded with the “Night Spectacular” light show which was projected onto the walls of the Tower of David museum.  Late night revelers found their way to Ben Yehuda St, to the Mamilla Mall, and to other destinations before turning in for the night.  We have an early departure tomorrow morning as we head south to Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea.

Shavua Tov – wishing everyone a good week!

Day 6 From Rabbi Sam Shabman

The famous Psalm, made popular in modern culture by the singer Matisyahu, states:“Jerusalem, if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it's supposed to do.”

This famous Psalm elucidates the central role that
Jerusalem Plays in Jewish identity and Jewish history. If we forget Jerusalem, it is compared to forgetting how to use our very own right hand.

Yesterday (Day 5) our marvelous group connected with the spiritual side of this country, as we explored the streets of Jerusalem. Today we woke up, drove a short 50 minutes, and when we got off the bus, it felt as though we were years and worlds away.

As we explored the streets of Tel Aviv, I stumbled across a modern play on Psalm 137:5. The graffiti
stated “ If I forget Jerusalem, it is because of Tel Aviv.” Meaning, the only place powerful enough to enable us to forget Jerusalem, is the magic of Tel Aviv.

Although there is a palpable contrast between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv... the Jewish pulse is also profoundly felt in the modern and hip streets of Tel Aviv. Amazingly, our trip to Tel Aviv coincided with the Pride Parade. Over 200,000 people attended the parade with 30,000 people visiting Tel Aviv solely to attend Pride. The parade captured the spirit of Tel Aviv, and conveyed that Israel aspires to be a country for ALL.

While some of us attended the Pride Parade, others of us went to Independence Hall. Independence Hall is the historic location where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1948. The Declaration of Independence declares that Israel aspires to be a country that meets the spiritual and cultural needs of all people. At times, we miss the mark. However, today was a day we felt and saw a country striving for openness and acceptance. We had a blast as we danced and sang in favor of freedom, with the Mediterranean Sea as our backdrop.

After a nap and a shower, we were ready for shabbat! We joined our sister congregation “Beit Daniel” for a festive and joyous service. It was wonderful to build on this special partnership and relationship (their Rabbi, Rabbi Azari, visited us in Atlanta just a few months ag0).Over dinner we discussed the similarities and differences between Reform Judaism in Israel and Reform Judaism in the United States.

After an inspiring and exhausting 6 days in Israel, we are now all so excited to enjoy the unique peace and relaxation of shabbat in Jerusalem. SHABBAT SHALOM!

Day 4 From Rabbi Ron Segal

“A song of ascents.  When God restored the exiles to Zion it seemed like a dream. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with joyful song. Then they said among the nations: ‘God has done great things for them.’ Yes, God is doing great things for us, and we are joyful…”  (Ps 126)

Thus begins the words from Psalm 126, a Psalm traditionally sung every Shabbat.  Though not yet Shabbat, I am writing this week’s column from Jerusalem where I have just concluded a truly joyous, impactful and memorable day that has truly been all about ascending. 

Most, I suspect, are familiar with the term aliyah – the honor during which we invite a friend or family member to come to the bima to recite the Torah blessings, or open the ark, etc.   The term aliyah actually means “going up” or ascending.  Our day began with the celebration of five special students who became Bar/Bat Mitzvah as part of our Israel experience.  Mazal tov to Emily Berman, Allison Meyer, Blake Schwartz, Dalia Shaw and Eden Shaw who each ascended the bima this morning to mark this significant occasion and transition in their lives with the spectacular vista of the Old City of Jerusalem directly behind them and their proud parents sitting before them.  I invite you to try to imagine the setting as well as the incredible significance and symbolism of this beautiful moment. 

Following a Kiddush lunch, we experienced an additional shir hama’alot - another song of ascents - when our traveling Sinai family entered through the Jaffa Gate and into the Old City for the first time.   Learning and appreciating the millennia old struggle of our people to arrive at the point, 50 years ago last month, when we could once again enter the Old City and spiritually walk on the paths of our ancestors, was another moment that indeed felt like “going up.”  As we toured and learned about the history of Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, we made one final spiritual ascent, as individuals young and old, many for the first time, made their way to the Kotel, the Western Wall of the ancient Temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE.  Despite any contemporary, contentious issues of inclusiveness which surround this most sacred place – one, in fact, that a few of us even encountered today – the Kotel and surrounding plaza remain a place of great meaning and spiritual power for so many.  With great joy and intention, members of the group ‘ascended’ each to his or her private place at the Kotel where they could touch history, offer the prayers of their heart, and place a written prayer in the walls crevices.

Though the day was long and undeniably warm, it felt to me like we were living the words of Psalm 126, our song of ascents.  Indeed, “Our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with joyful song. There was no question at all today but that God has, indeed, done great things for and we are joyful!”

Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem!

Day 3 From Marisa Kaiser, Director of Education

Land & Security

Today was spent exploring the Golan Heights, understanding our connection to this land and the power of security.  The days were filled with many “Aha” moments for everyone in our group and gave new light to our connection and understanding of what Israelis go through every day in order to protect this sacred land. 

The morning began at the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, where we walked through history exploring the ruins of the biblical city of Dan.  It is always amazing what we can learn from archaeology and how the stories we learn about in the Torah actually took place at the same place you are standing.  It is overwhelming to think about.

We then took a fun (and bumpy) Jeep tour through the Golan Heights.  The scenery was beautiful with natural henna plants and other flowers and plants.  But we really began to understand what the Israeli soldiers accomplished and went through in their battle in the Six Day War.  We met an Israeli man named Yaniv, who explained how important the Golan Heights is to the safety of the State of Israel.  He lives on the most northern point of Israel and hearing his story gave great insight into the strategic complexity of the Golan – that having control of the water source coming into Israel is just as important if not more than controlling the land.  Everyone is still sharing that hearing his story was the most impactful part of our day.

After having a delicious lunch at a Druze Village, we headed to a chocolate workshop and wine tasting for the adults.  Both fun, relaxing activities for everyone.

We then went up to Mt. Bental, which overlooks into Syria.  Just being so close to the Syrian border was eye opening in really understanding Israel’s security situation on the Golan Heights and also the challenges that took place in the Yom Kippur War.  Many of the participants in our group (of all ages) were shocked on how close we were to Syria and understood even more how important the Golan Heights is to the safety of Israel.  Many questions are being asked and conversations taking place with one another as we all process the amazing land we are in and the security needed to ensure its safety. 

We ended our day with a joint liqueur tasting event with the group from Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, GA as our trips overlapped by one night.  It was a great bonding evening for our Atlanta synagogues.

As I head to sleep for the night, I am looking forward to tomorrow and love the sense of community that is uniting our group, and it is a pleasure to watch as we continue on this amazing experience together.

Day 2 From Rabbi Sam Shabman

Wow! The theme of today was Shalom, Greetings & Peace.

Based on the news and what we sometimes see on TV about Israel, you would never know the peace and joy that we experienced today as a group. 

We woke up early to a fabulous breakfast. Even the pickiest of eaters on our trip were overwhelmed by the options. Omelettes, bourekas (pastries filled with deliciousness made of a thin flaky dough), salads, fruits, and even Miso Soup! 

After breakfast we boarded the bus, stopped over in Yaffo and drove up the coast, along the Mediterranean Sea. Our amazing guide Shlomo narrated for us along the way. We observed the beauty and marveled at this country, this small country (at its widest point 71 Miles from east to west and at its narrowest point 9 miles...that's for you Ted) that belongs to us all. 

Our next stop was Caesarea, one of Israel’s most impressive archaeological sites. The beautifully restored harbor here was built by King Herod and is a work of engineering marvel. All the history buffs loved it, and even those who don't love history as much loved the scenery, dipping their feet in the ocean, and strolling through the sites. 

After Caesarea we headed to lunch at a local Mall. Most of us chose to eat at Aroma. Aroma is an authentic Israeli version of Starbucks, but BETTER because they have a great selection of delicious and fresh sandwiches and salads. Many ordered the Cafe Kar to help beat the Israeli heat! 

Next we drove up to our Hotel in the Upper Galilee, called the "Pastoral Hotel." I truly could not think of a more fitting name. It is pastoral, peaceful and picturesque, situated in a perfect little nook of Northern Israel. We enjoyed each other's company as we rafted down the Jordan River, swam in the kibbutz pool, walked through the beautiful Orchids and just chilled. It is heartwarming and inspiring to see how our community is growing stronger with each activity, and how we are becoming a family as we explore the land. 

This evening we had a relaxed dinner, and when I turned to my left I noticed that one of my close friends was also staying at the hotel. I had no idea! This is the magic of Israel.The connectedness that with each passing hour we feel here, as we bask in the beauty of knowing that this land forms part of our collective identity and is part of our story.

We left dinner full of joy, as we listened to music, enjoyed Israeli wines, played board games, ran around the kibbutz, and simply talked and laughed.  May the peace and love of this day energize us and give us strength as we continue on our way! 

Day 1 From Marisa Kaiser, Director of Education

Temple Sinai’s summer 2017 Israel trip has officially commenced!   

Today, I landed in Israel for the first time in 20 year.  20 years!  How did that happen?  How has it been so long since I have been to my home?   To the one place in the world that inspired me to love Judaism, that connected me to Jews from around the world and that gave me the passion to become a Jewish educator.  As so many of us find that life just passes us by, between graduate school, marriage, career and children, all of a sudden, 20 years has gone by.

But that changed today.  Today I joined Rabbi Shabman and 40 congregants from Temple Sinai on an amazing journey.  Over the next ten days, our group will experience this amazing country together as we build our community, creating memories with each other, connecting to our past, and allowing ourselves to be inspired by one another and this culture.  

As we finished our first night dinner with delicious pita, salads and kabobs, and I am settling in for the night, I don’t want to forget what has already transpired among us.   One member of our group landed in Israel for the first time since she left in the 1950’s.  As the plane landed, I watched her look out the window with the biggest smile I had ever seen and I had the chills!  I watched the face of a mother light up as she was able to share Israel with her teen children years after she spent a semester in high school when she was younger.  The couples on our trip who have never been to Israel and wanted to experience it for the first time.  And the five (almost) teens coming to Israel with their families as they prepare to become B’nai Mitzvah together later this week in Jerusalem.  I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow!

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780