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Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut in an Airplane to Israel

Israel is celebrating its 70th year of independence. In an ironic twist of fate, As I write, complex scheduling conspiring against us, and we find ourselves sitting on an airplane, with our arrival pegged for the day after Israel’s day of celebration.
Sadly, we will miss the festivities. Joyfully, we will have plenty of time to enjoy the real purpose of our trip. We are leading an aliyat hanefesh (spiritual ascension) for 41 partners from Congregation Or Ami. Along with Cantor Doug Cotler and his wife Gail, Michelle and I are leading a mission to the land I love, second only to my home in America.  Israel beckons us. Michelle hasn’t been here for 11 years. While this will be my fourth trip in the same number of years, I can really never get enough of Israel.
Our mission is comprised of equal numbers of first timers and returnees, those whose love of Israel is embedded in their genetic coding from birth and those looking to develop a relationship. It’s a journey of the Jewish soul, wrapped up history and politics, religion and Torah tradition.
We ascend to (re-)aquaint ourselves with the country and along the way to (re-)connect in unique ways with our Jewish souls.
We ascend to meet Israel’s many cultures. We go to experience the holy place with a wholly mishmash of peoples: Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druzim. Sephardim, Arabs, Ashkenazim, Ethiopians, Palestinians. To talk with peace makers and separatists, and to interact with Reform Jews, secularists, ultra-orthodox and the uninspired. To volunteer at a farm, helping feed the hungry, and to sit in a winery to drink wine with disabled vintners. To wrestle with ideas and opinions that energize us and others that challenge us. Such is what one does on a journey of spiritual ascension.
We are 41 adults, dropping everything to elevate our souls and to (re-)engage with our holy land.
For an aliyat hanefesh (spiritual rising up) to return to the joy the surrounds Jerusalem and simultaneously to (re-)live the juxtapositions that makes so interesting  a visit to this country at the center of the world.
It is exciting.
It is profound.
As devoted Zionists. As passionate American Jews. As pilgrims on a journey back home. We rise up for it all.
Happy 70th birthday Israel. We can’t wait to see you soon.