Shalom from Israel. From Zichron Ya’akov to be exact. From “Eden Village” to be “exacter.” We made it! And what a welcome to Israel we’ve had!
We started off by dipping our toes in the Mediterranean Sea on the beautiful shores of Caesarea. From there we ascended into the Carmel mountains and made our way to Zichron Ya’akov. After dinner we set out to celebrate Lag B’Omer with the residents of Zichron. That’s when things got interesting!
20 gigantic bonfires all in a row in a large field in the center of the usually sleepy city of Zichron Ya’akov. Children and adults of all ages tossing scrap pieces of wood onto the already impressive flames. Tonight is Lag B’Omer—the 33rd day of the “Omer.” It is a day of rejoicing and… you guessed it… ceremonial bonfires.
Part of what draws us to Zichron Ya’akov is our relationship with the students and teachers of the Nili School. Tomorrow we’ll spend the morning with them doing all sorts of activities. And wouldn’t you know it—they were there to meet us at the bonfire celebration. Coincidence? I think that’s just Israel.
We roasted marshmallows, sang songs, did a fair amount of checking one another out, and I’m fairly certain a few hearts might have been broken on both sides in the no more than 45 minutes that we were together. Remember when you could fall in love and end up broken hearted all in just 45 minutes? It’s actually kind of inspiring—a testament to the human spirit.
The much maligned, somewhat dreaded, extensively discussed layover in Philadelphia was a huge success. Variations on the comments, “The time went much more quickly than expected,” and, “This was actually pretty fun” abounded. Jack T. put it best when he said, "I'm having so much fun in Philly I can't imagine what Israel will be like!" I suspected that this would end up being the case not only because the chaperones had a game plan but also because the entire concept of a “layover” in both philosophical and practical terms is surprisingly beautiful when you stop to think about it. A layover is fundamentally about the gift of time. And the gift of time is one of the major themes of not only this Israel trip but human existence generally. And one of the goals of this blog is to highlight where the Israel trip and human existence generally intersect.
Check in at the airport went incredibly smoothly. We caught US Air on a good day. That means we all reached our Atlanta gate in a pretty relaxed state of mind. Preliminary results indicate that the kids can be trusted to listen to instructions and more importantly care for and enjoy one another’s company.
Deplaning in Philly it was a relief to know we wouldn’t be running to catch a plane (like many of the passenger who gave our large, jovial, and slow moving group the stink eye as they rushed past). We had a leisurely lunch, found an unoccupied gate, and spent some time journaling and hanging out. The first journal activity was enlightening. The kids were asked to write, “wishes for a friend” in one another’s journals. At first many of them didn’t understand what we were asking them to do but they quickly caught on. In fact, there seems to be an interesting blend of a kind of endearing naiveté coupled with a sense of awareness and maturity. It’s exciting to see these two things co-exist because it means we don’t know when the kids are going to be able to take something and run with It versus when they’ll need our support and direction. Speaking of support and direction, the kids were also asked to fill out a series of prompts that asked them to make predictions and express their own hopes for our trip. That page also included a prompt entitled, “Blessing from my parents.” As that’s a new prompt and one we weren’t able to have y’all complete before we left since we distributed the journals bleary-eyed this morning I’d love to ask you to do the following: think about what you would’ve written in your child’s journal—your blessing for them. If you feel comfortable, post a blessing for all of the kids in the comments section below. No promises but we’re always looking for meaningful readings during our Shabbat services in Israel.
One of my favorite parts of the layover was seeing the kids distinctive personalities and preferences. Who busted out a box of Oreos and happily shared with everyone around her? Who almost came to friendly blows in a heated card game? Who spent a good portion of the time listening to classic (classic) rock like Genesis? Who is reading Ayn Rand? Who Tolkien? Who decided to have a seated meal at Legal Seafood? Who decided to blow a good portion of their airport budget on Philadelphia Eagles gear? Who took on a leadership role during the scavenger hunt? Who eagerly sought out Candians for a photo opportunity to help their team complete the hunt? And who secured the necessary amount of toilet paper to do the same? Who initiated deep conversations with chaperones? All of these things and more transpired. The gift of time. It’s a gift of discovery.
Some of y’all were wondering how the international travel component of Israel 2015 would go. To all of you I would say that every kid travelled beautifully. And I think the layover helped.
A quick Philly to Tel Aviv story. I was seated in row 20. There was a gentleman sitting in row 19. It looked like poor Sophia G. might be stuck in a window seat next to a total stranger (which we wouldn’t have let happen). Along came Sidnie G. who confidently proclaimed, “That’s my seat.” Completely certain that the audacious 14 year old standing before him was completely wrong he refuted her claim before consulting his boarding pass. To say that my heart swelled with pride when he relocated to his correct seat in row 14 would be an understatement. There was just something so great about that moment! It’s fun to be underestimated sometimes and travelling with 68 teenagers definitely raises sensitivity to the pervasive ageism that exists in our society. Meanwhile in row 20 I became embroiled in an attempt by an ultra orthodox man to avoid having to sit next to a woman. The kids in my section watched the scene unfold with great curiosity. One commented, “I’d heard about that but to actually see it was something completely different.”
And that’s what this trip will be. Something heard about that is, in fact, completely different when experienced. It will be the gift of time and it will be the gift of discovery. Vacillating between precocious worldliness and endearing naiveté, under the watchful eyes and embraced by the caring hearts of chaperones and Israel’s finest tour guides, reading Tolkien and touching Jerusalem. Who would’ve thought that the 2015 Israel trip would in fact be an extended layover between the end of The Davis Academy Journey and the new adventures that begin this summer?
Our arrival in Israel didn’t disappoint. The sense of home is instant, but so is the awareness that Israel can teach us things about ourselves, about life, and about Judaism that we don’t yet know. The paradox of feeling both at home and in totally unchartered territory might best be described as “exotic familiarity.” It’s a feeling that’s totally unique to Israel and one that we will carry with us in the days to come.
Fortunately everyone is resting now and I’m off to do the same!
From Israel with Love!