Tag: Israel Trip 2006

Birthday Reflections: Mixed Emotions at the Kotel

6:30 am. All’s quiet on the Israeli front – or at least here in my darkened hotel room. This will be the fourth birthday I have spent in Israel. Birthdays post-High School on the Reform Leadership Machon and during the first year of Rabbinical School were part of year-long programs. A birthday present trip in 2004, shared with congregant Mark Wolfson, was purposeful (I had been away from Israel too long). This one, leading Or Ami’s first congregational trip to the Holy Land, is extra special because I get to spend it with my wife, children and dear friends from the synagogue.

Thursday’s Kotel (Western Wall) visit was familiarly distasteful and surprisingly touching.

It was touching because I placed prayers given to me by congregants including those of the Camerons, Erlangers, and Goldsobels. Our group authored our prayers at the Southern Wall excavations where moments before we walked on stones on which our Biblical ancestors tarried. In this same area, singing Shir HaMa’a lot, a Song of Ascension, we climbed steps leading to the gates (now blocked off) through which Biblical pilgrims entered to offer their thrice yearly sacrifices (on Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot). Then I placed my own which in part asked Makor HaChayim (the Source of Life) for blessings of health, safety, wisdom, tzedakah, openness and love for my family, my congregation and my world.

I felt the excitement of participating in a tradition that has captured the hearts of Jews worldwide and throughout the generations. Additionally, I stood at the Kotel with my sons and father-in-law as the boys for the first time placed meticulously written words in the cracks of the Kotel. Each searched for just the right place. Finally, I had to hold each on my shoulders so they could place it in a wider crevice 8 feet up. One son kissed the wall spontaneously, while the other donned the new tallit we bought for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah service to try it out in this holiest of places. Midor lador (from generation to generation). How moving to have three generations together in the place Jews for generations yearned to touch and pray!

Yet, the visit was familiarly distasteful because in the past I usually found myself agitated and turned off by the way this universal Jewish site has become transformed – for the worse – under the control of the ultra-orthodox. It has become, quite literally, an orthodox shul, in the most misogynist of ways. The women’s section, separated off by a mechitza (separation wall), is so small that our female participants could barely get a few moments to touch it. To be forced to experience this separate from other Or Ami participants, not to mention my wife and daughter, was distasteful and saddening. Rachel Isaacson, our Mishpacha Coordinator, along to help staff the trip, shared reflections from her experiences with Women of the Wall (a group pushing for the right of women to pray together at the Kotel with tallitot and Torah) was instrumental in helping some participants process these frustrating feelings. Additionally, the experience of ultra-orthodox Jews constantly walking up, begging for tzedakah, often specifically for yeshivot (orthodox study schools) which taught and worked against the right of Rabbis like me (reform Jewish) and Jews like me (egalitarian, religiously progressive) to pray and study the way we do, was distasteful. In the past, I visited the Kotel only because I was supposed to do so. I would choose a Southern Wall experience or visit a local synagogue of t’nuat Yahadut Mitkademet (Israeli Progressive Movement). Thank goodness that our progressive (non-fundamentalist), egalitarian (non-misogynist) religious perspective is increasingly taking root amongst the Israeli population (with PR reading “There is more than one way to be religious!).

Isn’t this the Israel I love? Rich with tradition; filled with contradictions. Love it, struggle with it, return to it again and again. Now that’s a birthday present!

Friday: A Day of Contrasts

Trip participant Bruce Sallan writes:
A day of juxtaposition. The morning at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum; the afternoon at the pre-Shabbat chaos of Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s famous open-air market. We walked through the new Yad Vashem museum, opened approximately 18 months ago, along with swarms of others, mostly youth groups on birth-right trips. We got the feel, but only a fraction of the immense details. Exhibits of artifacts, photographs, testimonials of survivors, and numerous documentaries – far too much to absorb in our short 75-minutes there. The last room houses the names of the victims, 3 million that have been identified so far…all carefully placed in identical books along the circular shelves that surround this room. In the center of this stark room, with half the shelves filled with names, awaiting the inclusion of the other half of unidentified victims of the Holocaust, is a deep stone pit…at least 20+ feet…at the bottom of which lies a pool of water. On leaving this long, narrow, triangular edifice, you emerge to walls that literally part to give a vista view of the Jerusalem countryside. We then saw the Children’s Memorial, a stark, dark mirrored room illuminated by five candles and their incalculable reflected images. In the dark, you move along holding onto the handrail, gazing at the infinite reflected images while hearing a recitation of names of individual children, theirs ages (at death) and their place of birth. Finally, after seeing the original Yad Vashem memorial, with its Eternal Flame in the center of a dark floor with the names of the various camps, we visited the outdoor memorial to all the decimated communities ravaged by The Shoah (Holocaust). It is a maze of very tall huge stones, interspersed with the names of all communities irreparably damaged or completely destroyed. At one point, the sun peaked through the moving clouds as I gazed up at yet another list of communities on the stone walls reaching towards the sky. Quite moving. This last stop became the site of our own memorial service in honor of our visit to Yad Vashem. All we saw was beautiful, except for the content they reflected. In contrast, the Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s famed outdoor market, was a cacophony of shouting and pushing, shoving, almost frantic shoppers. Both our Mishpacha Coordinator Rachel and our guide, Alexandra, insisted that a particular bakery, Marzipan, had the most incredible, mouth-watering, delicious, sinfully rich chocolate rugelach. They neglected to inform us of the Herculean effort required to get to the front of the line to actually get some! We ate falafels, other pastries, shwarmas, all dripping with juices and flavors, enriched by the atmosphere of this infamous market. After a while, I had to let go of my need and desire for a more orderly, comfortable environment and just marvel at the miracle that the Holocaust begat…Israel in its wonder and extra-ordinary diversity. Its existence, its continued survival in the midst of countries dedicated to its destruction, its sheer chutzpah…not to mention its amazing chocolate rugelach!

First Night: Jet Lagged but Jewishly Energized

The mystery deepens in the middle of the night. At 3:27 pm California time, it is merely 1:27 am (in the MORNING) in Jerusalem. Sitting in the lobby, I note with exhaustion the hordes of energetic college students on the Hillel Birthright trip have taken over the hotel cafe. At first glance, aside from the Hebrew on the exit signs, the café menus and the conversations of the hotel staff, I could be sitting in the lobby of a hotel anywhere in Europe. And yet I know, we are in Jerusalem.

We are in Jerusalem. Like generations of Jews, we have ascended the heights to this spiritual center. Here we stood at Hebrew University looking out over Jerusalem. There were the walls surrounding the Old City, demarking its holiness to countless pilgrims. Somewhere in its midst sat the Kotel, the Western Wall, focal point of Jewish prayer and yearning for generations. Tomorrow we climb those walls, pray at that Kotel, and meander through the ancient streets of this ancient city. How can one put into words the excitement of seeing the holy city again? How to find language to capture the excitement of seeing the city for the first time? Rather I would show you the beautiful sunset descending over the hills as it bathed the city in a golden hue. It is just like we sing in that famous song Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold. I would invite you to breathe in the freshness of the air. It opens the lungs, refreshes the soul. I would ask you why you, like the others here on this hilltop, are crowded so close together. Surely we huddled together because the air was chilly. Yet as I held my own family close and surveyed the faces of other Or Ami families, I witnessed something else: the need to hold others close so as to share this moment of transformation, this song of ascension (shir ha-ma’a lot), this feeling that we are once again home. L’chaim we toasted. Yes, to the fullness of life, that brought us to this very special moment. We are in Jerusalem. We have come home!

Arrival: Spiritual Aliyah to Jerusalem

We arrived. Tired but excited. Once passing through customs, we drove the back route to Jerusalem so we could pass by Modi’in. Our first glimpse of Jewish history coming alive: in Modi’in, brave Mattathias rallied those who refused to bow down to King Antiochus’ idols and together they fought the Assyrian soldiers sent out to enforce the limitations on Torah study and worship of Adonai. We said, nes gadol haya po (a great miracle happened HERE), instead of “nes gadol haya sham (a great miracle happened THERE), because we are HERE in Israel. Then we were off to the tiyelet, the Panoramic view from Mount Scopus of Jerusalem. With one sweep of our eyes we will take in the fullness of this holy city. We read about the experiences of our ancestors – Abraham, King David, Isaiah, Theodore Herzl – as they dreamed of and made their way to Jerusalem. Then, following a blessing recited by our Mishpacha Coordinator Rachel Isaacson for our arrival in Jerusalem, we passed around cups of grape juice to make a “L’chaim – to life.” We concluded with a shehecheyanu prayer, thanking God for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for allowing us to reach this special moment of holiness. To share this moment with my wife, my children, my father-in-law, and this wonderful congregation is so magical. It truly is a spiritual aliyah, a spiritual ascension to holiness! Lit Chanukah candles, shared stories in families about what this trip means to us. My niece Yonina showed up, looking great and happy. Off to bed, late.

On El Al Flight 6: Hopes and Dreams: Wednesday Early Morning.

We are on the plane, about 45 minutes outside of Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv/Yafo. Most of us caught but a few hours of sleep: some were excited, some overtired, some couldn’t find a place to put our legs as we were sardined into tiny seats. We just began flying over the Mediterranean Sea. We will be in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, before we know it. In preparation for this shehecheyanu moment, I asked our Or Ami tour participants to reflect upon two questions: Why they are taking this trip to Israel and what do they hope to experience? The Goldin Family: We had heard about the trip when Or Ami was going in August 06 originally but had not planned to go. When the trip as rescheduled to December 06, it was in an instant I decided we were going as family! My husband Paul had been to Israel 34 years ago but neither myself or my son Ryan had ever been. I thought this would be an opportunity of a lifetime for us to experience Israel as not only a family but with Rabbi Paul and others from Or Ami. In 2009 when Ryan becomes a Bar Mitzvah I hope this trip and memories of Israel will have a long lasting impact that will add some meaning to why he is up on the bimah becoming a Bar Mitzvah. Toby and Burt Stonefield: Toby and I have never been to Israel although it has been a dream of ours. As a Jew, I wanted the feeling of going to the place where our forefathers lived and thrived for over 5000 years. I have always felt a need to experience it. The trip with our friends and fellow congregants gave this opportunity we had hoped for. Teen Andrew Gurewitz: I had never been to Israel before. I want to go to learn about the rich cultural history of our people. I really also wanted come to finish what I started. I wanted to become a Bar Mitzvah in Israel but that never happened because of the hostilities. Murray November: I came on this trip to revisit some of the roots and remember forefathers and to feel the inner soul of living in a Jewish Homeland. Most importantly, coming here to experience the spiritual passing on of tradition and religious life from me (the past) onto the grandchildren. It is a multigenerational experience. While growing up, I remember collecting money in the little blue tzedakah box for the Jewish National Fund and I wanted to check on how our collective investment was doing. Steve Keleman: I am traveling with my wife and our daughter and son-in-law to return to Israel. Our reasons for this trip are to get to know other Congregation Or Ami members better and to see Israel from a religious and historical perspective. We enjoyed and learned so much from our last trip nine years ago that we wanted to return for more. It is also a great time to give to Israel and show our support. Jim Mertzel: Marianne and I decided that there was no better way to experience Israel for the first time, than to share it with our daughter, Ellen, her husband Mark, and their sons Greg, Matt and Ben. The timing is appropriate as Matt and Greg will be called to the Torah as B’nai Mitzvah next month. We thought that for them to experience Israel at this time would reinforce the traditions, the language, and the beauty that our religion has meant to us. It is our hope that this experience will be one that they will remember through the years and be a great lead into the entire Bar Mitzvah experience. Noah Kipnes: I am excited about taking this trip to Israel because I have heard of Israel and all of its wonderful features. I hope to swim in the Dead Sea, pray at the Western Wall, and see all of the famous places in Israel. I look forward to seeing David ben Gurion’s grave and home. Daniel Kipnes: I am excited because I get to see the Western Wall. Israel is our homeland. This will be the furthest I will be away from home.

Greeting History and Holiness in Israel: Or Ami’s First Family Trip to the Holy Land

On Tuesday, 39 Or Ami members leave for a spiritual aliyah (aliyah or ascent, from ayin-lamed-hey meaning to rise up) to our State of Israel, Judaism’s spiritual center. Our group, ranging in age from 5 years old to 83, has grown in numbers since the original trip was postponed due to the war on Israel’s northern border in summer, 2006. Parents and children, grandparents, young couples, and less-young couples are all packing away the weekend, preparing to greet holiness and history in Israel.

Excitement was in the air as we shared a moment of blessing within the standing room only crowd of Congregation Or Ami’s Chanukah celebration this past Friday. One congregant whispered to me after the service that she was so excited for us. She felt like we were representing the whole congregation on our spiritual journey.

Turn to this blog for daily updates of Or Ami’s escapades. And make sure to share a comment or word of blessing that we can pass onto our Temple travelers. Niseeyah Tovah – a safe and wonderful journey for us all!