The Davis Academy Blog 2013
I don’t envy the person who has to try to capture today’s experiences! It was an epic day full of adventure and exploration, learning and insight. Perhaps we’ll start at the end and work our way backwards.
It’s Shabbat. Jerusalem has finally slowed down a bit. The kids have finished dinner and are heading to bed. We just came from the Kotel where we celebrated “Kabbalat Shabbat.”
Our Kabbalat Shabbat began with a Davis only song session outside of the Kotel plaza. We sang some of our old favorite songs, shared some of the days impressions, and also sang a medley of songs from Be a Blessing. Who knew??? Jessica T. did an amazing job of helping out with guitar. We lit Shabbat candles and had a group hug. Mr. Barry reminded us that you only get to celebrate your first Shabbat in Jerusalem once. After the kids figured out what that meant they all took it to heart.
We approached the Kotel for the second time today. Again it was full of activity. This time the activity was joyful and celebratory as thousands of Jews from around the world welcomed Shabbat. On the boys side we sang and danced, first in a circle by ourselves, and then later with a large minyan (prayer group). Each song lasted at least 5-10 minutes as hundreds of men, most of them strangers to one another, danced and sang together. Our boys got to touch the Kotel and also received an inspiring lesson from a Chasidic gentleman in the Kotel plaza. On the women’s side a number of girls went up close to the wall and made their personal connection. All around us people wished one another Shabbat Shalom, singing and dancing, and enjoying the beautiful and cool evening.
The epicenter of Jerusalem on Friday afternoons is the Mahane Yehuda marketplace. We were there in the late afternoon as hundreds of people pushed and shoved one another to get last minute Shabbat shopping done. It’s become an annual tradition to buy the kids Marzupan Rugelach (the most delicious food in Israel). At first they were skeptical but it didn’t take long before they pounced on it with reckless abandon.
Prior to Mahane Yehuda we explored Hezekiah’s Water Tunnel. The water tunnel is a 500 meter (you do the math!) underground tunnel that our ancestors built to ensure that Jerusalem could withstand a siege from any of the numerous nations that tried to conquer her in the past. It had been a decade since I’d braved the water tunnel (due to a recently developed dislike of small and enclosed places buried hundreds of meters (you do the math) beneath the earth, but I did it and so did the kids. There was a great sense of accomplishment on the other end. Regarding lunch—if you really want to win your child’s undying affection buy some Bulgarian Cheese for the fridge. You might have surmised that I’m kidding—the Bulgarian Cheese sandwiches were the least popular option from the cheese sandwhich smorgasbord that was lunch.
We spent the first part of the day exploring the Old City. Our tour began with a truly unique experience—Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel. Not only was today Rosh Chodesh, but it was the first Rosh Chodesh since a group known as “Women of the Wall” were granted permission by the Supreme Court to wear tallitot at the Kotel as well as pray out loud in a mixed group. It turns out that these things, which we take for granted, are frowned upon by many of the ultra orthodox Jews in Israel, especially those that maintain control over religious law at the Kotel. The result is that this morning’s Rosh Chodesh service at the Kotel became international news as liberal and ultra orthodox Jews had a clash of ideals. There were dozens of cameras and a few of our kids were even interviewed. There were many soldiers on hand to ensure that protests against Women of the Wall didn’t get out of hand. As safety is our number 1 priority we left the Kotel as soon as we saw a few of the ultra orthodox men begin to throw cups of water. When we got on the bus our driver, Avner, told us that he had been listening to the whole experience on the national news channel. Today the kids experienced a transformational moment in Jewish religious history first hand. They joined with Women of the Wall and their supporters in singing Oseh Shalom even as fellow Jews were voicing their opposition.
By the time a child graduates Davis we want them to have a deep understanding of who they are and the components of their identity. We hope that this self-understanding is so deep that it cannot even be fully expressed in words. Israel is one of the many vehicles that we use to help us achieve this vital goal. Today we saw the kids figuring out who they are and who they want to be—as peers, as The Davis Academy class of 2013, as Jews, and as human beings. Our role as chaperones is to guide them, to reflect their questions back to them, to hold their hands, to challenge them, to help them see how awesome they are, and to celebrate each moment of growth and homecoming. That’s why we’re here.
Tomorrow we continue to celebrate. We continue to celebrate community, friendship, history, Israel, and Shabbat. There’s no better place to do so than Jerusalem and there’s no better group to do it with than this one.
Shavua tov! I’m writing to you from Bus 2.0 (last year it was a really big deal to have wireless on the bus, this year it feels passé)! We just concluded a beautiful Havdallah service in the rose garden adjacent to the Kinesset (Israel’s Government Headquarters). We stood arm and arm in a circle and the traditional blessings that conclude Shabbat. Coach Spaulding, Mrs. Ferrar, Mr. O’Dell, and Morah Orna shared personal insights from our trip thus far. We all wished one another Shavua Tov (may you have a good week) and are now headed to the David Citadel for an amazing light show.
We awoke this morning at the luxurious hour of 7:15 and made our way down to breakfast at 8am. The kids are continuing to be phenomenal eaters—the best I’ve ever seen on an Israel trip. The waiters tremble at our coming as they know they’ll need a bit more of everything—which ends up being quite a bit given the diverse amalgamation of consumables that comprise a typical Israeli meal. From breakfast we headed to congregation Moreshet Avraham for Shabbat services.
We arrived at Moreshet Avraham as they were getting ready to read the Torah. It’s a congregation affiliated with the Conservative movement and one we haven’t visited in past years. Like others who have seen our group approaching from a far they were initially somewhat nervous. But they quickly welcomed us. By the end of the service they had invited us to stay for Kiddush and thanked us for enriching their worship. In addition to being active participants our kids fulfilled a number of honors including aliyot and the lifting/ dressing of the Torah. The sermon was delivered entirely in Hebrew but many of our kids got the main message. It was about the history of the Israeli flag.
During the Kiddush we learned that there was a famous archaeologist named Gabi Barkai (sp?) in attendance—a regular at the shul. Barkai is responsible for overseeing the team that discovered a truly unique artifact-- the oldest known biblical text. The kids listened as he shared his experiences and were excited to learn that the text he discovered is the tradition “Priestly Blessing” that we recite each Friday at Davis. We decided to create a mini-scavenger hunt at the Israel Museum to see who could find the artifact in the vast exhibits there.
At the Israel Museum we took the traditional “ahava” picture (see twitter) and also visited the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was pleased that a number of kids got so immersed in the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that they inadvertently missed the check in time. Rest assured that I chastised them for being so Jewishly engaged!
We got some much needed rest at the hotel before heading out to dinner and Havdallah.
Here are a few quick observations: the kids are doing great, old friendships are deepening and new friendships are emerging. Every single kid has demonstrated in some way or another that they understand how lucky they are to have been given this gift. Not only have they been given an opportunity for international travel, which inherently expands horizons and open eyes but they’ve been given the opportunity to travel with their peers and their teachers. Not only have they’ve been given the opportunity to travel with peers and teachers, but to travel to Israel—the homeland we’ve studied, celebrated, and dreamed of visiting for all these years. For most people travel is exotic. While there’s much about Israel that is definitely exotic, there’s as much or more that is (both superficially and deeply) comforting and familiar. Those who have been know what I’m talking about. Those who haven’t been will know soon enough because your kids will definitely be scheming to find their way back here, and maybe they’ll take you with them!
Tomorrow is a challenging day—Yad Vashem and Har Hertzl (Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Military Cemetery). We’ll tell you all about it. In the meantime, gotta run off to the David Citadel light show—cutting edge technology in a 2,000 year old building. Par for the course.
Life Lessons from Mom
1. “The buddy system is the best system.”
2. “Treat others like you want to be treated.”
3. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
4. “Look both ways before you cross the street.”
5. “Stay hydrated and you’ll be fine.”
6. “How to treat others nicely.”
7. “Be honest.”
8. “How to stand up for yourself.”
9. “When in doubt trust your instinct.”
10. “Always say please and thank you.”
11. “Be kindest to your siblings of all people.”
12. “Hat water bottle sunscreen—oh wait, that was Morah Sigal!”
13. “Be the person you want to see in others.”
14. “Doors are not toys.”
15. “Try to see things from other peoples perspectives.”
16. “Do unto your neighbor as you would have them do unto you—literally.”
17. “A friend is someone who will always be there for you.”
18. “Always listen to your parents no matter what.”
19. “Our door is always open, you can always come to us.”
20. “Think before you speak.”
21. “Your attitude can change the outlook of the day.”
22. “Think before you act.”
23. “Always make sure to celebrate the birthdays of special people in your life, (especially if they are the day before Mothers’ Day).
24. “It so much easier to be nice.”
25. “You have to love yourself before you love anyone else.”
27. “Be aggressive (during soccer).”
28. “A busy person is a happy person.”
29. “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it at all.”
30. “Soak in the moment and live life to the fullest.”
31. “Be careful not to walk into walls.”
32. “Things repeated are more likely to not be forgotten.”
33. “Don’t sweat the little things in life.”
34. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
35. “Don’t eat candy right before you go to bed.”
36. “Don’t worry about the past, focus on now.”
37. “Be nice to everyone.”
38. “Walk away from drama.”
39. “Hold your head high.”
40. “Be responsible.”
It’s a cool and breezy evening in Jerusalem. I’m writing to you from inside the Kotel courtyard. We’re here for the 3rd time so that the kids can have some individual time at the Wall and also tour the Kotel tunnels.
A group of boys is standing at the base of the wall. Their heads are bowed and they’re clearly deep in thought. Maybe even deep in prayer. Are they praying for health? Are they thinking about the next step in their lives once they graduate Davis? Are they whispering words of thanksgiving? Are they reflecting on their loving families? Are they trying to figure out what kinds of people they want to be? Maybe they’re simply listening to the sound of the wind and hoping for insight and illumination.
The Kotel is one of the most powerful religious symbols in the world. It remains the same as we change. It is a sacred witness, a silent observer, and a compassionate sounding board for the Jewish people. More than it represents our present or our future it represents our ancient past. But today was more about the Modern narrative of the Jewish people than it was about our ancient origins.
The faithful hotel wake up call came right on time. From breakfast we boarded the busses to Yad Vashem—Israel’s Holocaust Museum/ Institute. We divided into three groups to tour the museum.
Like most of Jewish history there isn’t a single overarching narrative that sums up the Shoah (Holocaust). Instead there are countless stories—some we know, others have been turned to dust and ashes. It is the sacred task of the Yad Vashem tour guide to tell the story of the Shoah to visitors—over 1 million per year. Today we heard many languages being spoken at Yad Vashem, but most powerful was the group of military officials from many different countries that toured the exhibit together. One of the Shoah’s lessons is that power, compassion, and understanding must be interwoven.
We were blessed to have three of Yad Vashem’s most exceptional tour guides. While the tour guides enriched our understanding of this darkest chapter in Jewish history the truth is that our kids came to experience very well prepared. I know from speaking with many of you in the last year that the Shoah unit in Ms. Schwartz’s class was a profound moment in your child’s journey at Davis. We all saw the kids dive into this immense and difficult subject with all their hearts and minds. We gave Ms. Schwartz’s a big shout out today as our kids provided all sorts of information that literally shocked each of our tour guides. We chaperones were only too glad to take the credit on Ms. Schwartz’s behalf. The Shoah unit is one of the many classroom experiences that sets Davis apart and reflects the kind of transformational education that we set as our goal at Davis.
After touring the museum we had the increasingly rare opportunity to hear from a survivor. Rina, the survivor, told a truly unique story. [BTW—the Muslim call to prayer is echoing off the Old City walls.] She was between the ages of 3 ½- 9 ½ during the Shoah. Unlike many children survivors she was not rescued by a Kinder Transport or anything like that. She participated in death marches and was interned in a number of concentration camps. She was liberated when the war ended and eventually adopted by an American family. Though she told her story in vivid detail there’s still no way to describe her survival other than to call it what it is: a miracle. She has 22 grandchildren. At one point she took a phone call in the middle of her speech. That’s because she is expecting her 14th great grandchild to be born today. She is the only known survivor of her town in Poland.
Someone had the foresight to create a path that ascends from Yad Vashem to Har Hertzl, Israel’s military cemetery. Walking the path we had an opportunity to explore the relationship between the Shoah and the founding of the State of Israel. While we’re not in agreement that the Shoah “led” to the State of Israel, we do agree that it would be a different world if Israel had been founded in 1938 instead of 1948.
During our time on Har Hertzl we heard stories grand and intimate about the sacrifices made to ensure that all of us have a Jewish homeland. We saw Yitzhak Rabin’s grave and learned about Golda Meir. There were three key moments—Lyndsi, Jenna R., Willie, Halle, and Carolyn sang Eli Eli while standing in front of the grave of Hannah Senesh, the brave woman who both composed the prayer and died while serving as a spy for the British Army during the Holocaust. The second key moment was when we had a chance to walk silently among the graves of the most recently killed IDF soldiers. Unlike the older graves that have no direct descendants to look after them these more recent heroes have many friends and family that tend to their graves. Each grave tells a story and is decorated with pictures, prayers, and memorials. It certainly puts a human face to the inordinate toll. Lastly, we visited the grave of Michael Levine. Born in Israel, Michael’s family moved to Philadelphia when he was very young. On his 18th birthday he realized his dream to make Aliyah and join the IDF. Shortly after enlisting the 2nd Lebanon war broke out and he was killed while serving bravely. His grave is covered with Philadelphia sports memorabilia and other objects including his high school ID card.
Obviously we needed to rest in the afternoon before heading out to ben Yehuda Street for our first “pizur.” Pizur= we give the kids money to buy whatever they want for dinner. The adventurous eating continued—falafel, shwarma, and even, I’m sad to see, Pizza Hut (no, it didn’t taste any different). Dinner was followed by an impassioned and inspired shopping spree. A few kids exhibited a very wise strategy—buying souvenirs for family members now so that they can spend the rest of the time looking for souvenirs that truly speak to them and their experiences in Israel. We also ate a ton of ice cream and sampled the world famous ben Yehuda crepe stand. If Israel didn’t feel like home before it sure does now.
So here we are back at the Kotel. Our time in Jerusalem ends tomorrow morning and somehow the Kotel has become our bookend and our frame. In my entire Jewish journey I have never experienced three more different Kotel experiences than the three we’ve had this trip and I’ve never had the chance to click away on the keyboard amidst the sounds of Jews and Muslims praying their respective liturgies. I can’t help but wonder how much of our texts are not, to some extent, interchangeable. I suspect it isn’t much and probably highlights the sad human fact of “lost in translation.”
Regarding translation: Hopefully our kids will be able to translate the magnificent growth, openness, and maturity that they’ve demonstrated on the trip thus far back into their lives in Atlanta. Hopefully they’ll be able to translate the foundation that their parents and their school have provided them as they make their way onto new journeys. The past suggests that they will, which means that their future, and the future more generally, is certainly going to be bright.
Tonight’s going to be fun—we have to pack an overnight bag for the next 48 hours. I hate to say it but the girls are literally FREAKING out. Is this what I have to look forward to with Hadara?
Greetings from the Theodor Hertzl hotel in Haifa. In all my years of Davis trips we’ve never stayed in a hotel quite like this—it’s a boutique hotel. I wish I knew the Hebrew word for “swanky” as this definitely fits the bill. I’m sitting on the black leather couch which is opposite the white leather couch which is opposite the overstuffed velvet arm chairs in front of the floor to ceiling bookshelves. Swanky.
Once again room assignments were greeted with great enthusiasm. It’s hard to enforce “lobby voices” when kids keep jumping for joy with each announcement. It’s amazing they have any energy left after yet another epic day.
We boarded the busses and began the journey northward. Our first destination was Caesarea. Caesarea is a beautiful place containing the ruins of the great Roman port city built by Herod in 20 BCE. There’s a theater—where we heard Ms. Kendrick, Mr. Kudlats, and Ms. Steel perform, as well as a hippodrome. At the hippodrome we learned that the VIP seats were located at the turning points of the track so that the guests could get a better view of the carnage. We also learned that the holding chamber for the gladiators doubled as a prayer room—no atheists in foxholes I guess. Also at the hippodrome we learned what ancient Roman toilets looked like. They were very compassionate building different sized seats to accommodate the varied Roman physiques of the day.
We ate lunch near the sleepy mountain town of Zichron Yaakov. In Zichron we visited the Aaronsohn house where we learned about brave efforts to resist the Ottoman Empire during the 1920s. After we walked the town square of Zichron and enjoyed the usual treats as well as the European feel. From Zichron we headed to Haifa.
Our main destination in Haifa was the Bahai Garden. Israel is home to the world’s largest Bahai center—a testament to the fact that Israel support religious freedom and cultural pluralism. While learning about the Bahai faith we observed two wedding couples doing photo shoots. It definitely highlighted some of the fashion differences between Israel and the US. At times we found it a bit hard to focus on the finer points of Bahai teaching.
We ate dinner just outside of Atlit. At first we were a bit skeptical as we pulled into a gas station and were told to get off the bus for dinner. When we saw the cool atmosphere of the restaurant our mood shifted. Then they brought out the freshly made hamburgers and hand pounded schnitzel (as well as other foods for those who needed). We had a leisurely dinner even though it started pouring rain on those of us who were trying to dine al fresco. It was wonderful to watch the kids settle into lengthy and relaxed conversation.
Our evening concluded with a nighttime visit to Atlit. Atlit is a very well-preserved detention center built and run by the British during the 1930s and 1940s to stop the flow of illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine. Mr. O’Dell had already prepared the kids for the fact that thousands of Jews fleeing the Shoah ended up in a camp that looked very much like a concentration camp. The kids were happy to learn that Atlit was NOT a concentration camp and that, all things considered, the Jews who ended up there. Morah Orna told the kids of her personal connection to Atlit—that her father, Tzvi Neuman, was detained when tried to immigrate to Israel and sent to Cypress for 8 months prior to being admitted to Israel. Our evening at Atlit was supposed to include a reenactment on the beach but instead included a huge thunderstorm. The kids handled this small disappoint well. Tomorrow we go to Sfat and then prepare for Erev Shavuot which we will spend on a Moshav participating in a special ceremony.
Shavuot is the holiday that commemorates the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Some Jews believe that all of Jewish history, in spite of the many great moments, has been a long slow decline as we have gotten further and further away from the moment when God first revealed the Torah to the Jewish people. Others believe that with each subsequent generation Judaism has grown, evolved, and met the challenges of the day. The latter believe that Judaism continues to become an increasingly powerful force for tikkun olam and believes that the past is the foundation for the future. It should be obvious where we fall in terms of this debate. Tomorrow we will celebrate the ongoing commitment of the Jewish people to building a better world and a better future and fasten an important link to the chain of Jewish experiences that ensure that every Davis graduate is ready to help lead the way.
We’re rolling down the road having just left K’far Yehezkel, a moshav south of the Kinneret. Morah Orna’s cousin and her family live on the moshav and she arranged for us to join them for their annual Shavuot pageant and ceremony.
We arrived to a stage adorned with bales of hay. All around us people of all ages and dressed in white milled about taking pictures, visiting, and wishing one another Chag Sameach. We sat in a special section reserved for us wondering what to expect. What would Shavuot be like on this fairly typical moshav, far off the tourist trail? How would we connect?
The pageant began with a parade of children riding horses and waving Israel flags. After came a parade of tractors carrying children from the local school—7 tractors in all representing the 7 species of Israel. Then came the performances: dance, karate, singing, and even off road cycling. All the while Morah Orna was working behind the scenes to see if we couldn’t participate more formally. Even though there were well over 500 people present everyone there knew we were in attendance and was curious about why we’d chosen to be with them. Who were we?
The look on Morah Orna’s face when she told me that we were going to sing “Kol Yisrael” as the closing song of the ceremony was certainly a mischievous one. It’s fair to say that Mr. Kudlats and Ms. Kendrick were nervous about the performance, but the kids were all over it. The entire group ascended the bimah and the entire crowd stopped what they were doing to check us out. We gave it all our hearts and by the end many of our new friends were singing and clapping along. We presented the community with a copy of “Be a Blessing.” But that’s not all.
As we were hanging out afterward a few men came looking for some boys to help form a minyan. In the entire moshav they aren’t able to create a minyan. Our boys were more than happy to help and followed along with the service well. At the end we took a picture together in their beautiful sanctuary. We agreed that together we can strengthen one another. On the way back a very “inspired” man on a motorcycle stopped to complement our performance and encourage us to make Aliyah. After taking a picture with him we discussed the idea—for some it might not be as far fetched as it once was. I encourage chatting with your kids about this as part of the trip debrief…
We returned from the miyan to find our kids hanging out and eating the most delicious treats imaginable. But we were surprised to find that they hadn’t yet connected with their Israeli peers. That had to be fixed!
In the past we’ve had mixed experiences when our kids interact with Israel teenagers. But I have to say that these kids were the sweetest, most engaging, curious, respectful, and friendly group of Israeli teens I’ve ever met. We extended our stay by 45 minutes so we could take pictures, exchange Facebook info, and practice Hebrew. Of all the emotional moments on this trip, this was, for me, a true standout. When we talk about it “all making sense” this is it. Think of how bizarre this whole experience could have been—half way around the world, far from the touristy sights, participating in a Shavuot experience that is totally foreign, and then being thrown together with a group of kids that speak a different language. When I tell you that our kids could not have been happier I mean exactly that. We’re looking forward to visiting K’far Yehezkel in future years.
Prior to Shavuot our day started with a trip to Tzfat, one of the most spiritual cities in Israel (and the world). Tzfat is one of the birthplaces of Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism. Tzfat is a city full of twisting alleys, beautiful synagogues, and religious scholars and seekers. It pulsates with a quiet intensity, mystery around every corner. Our visit today was truly special.
In the past when we’ve visited the synagogue in Tzfat we’ve felt the need to tiptoe. Today the attendant saw that we had a guitar and encouraged us to sing a song in the ancient synagogue. We sang Shalom Aleichem and then continued the song session in a nearby courtyard. We used the experience as an opportunity to let the kids know that not all ultra-orthodox Jews frown upon Reform Judaism. As Birthright groups and other passersby stopped to enjoy our spirited singing we also pointed out that our Jewishness is not only legitimate but also brings joy to others. Then we shopped and ate lunch.
A quick word about Tzfat before signing off (and by the way the accommodations we are staying in for the next two nights are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen—right on the southern shore of the Kinneret)…
Kabbalah has contributed many teachings to Judaism over the years. The ones that standout to me at this moment as being particularly relevant are the following: 1) The idea that the universe is designed with purpose and that, through study and devotion we can catch glimpses of this purpose even though our human perspective is so limited. Mirroring the universe, each of us is a small universe, created with purpose. As we journey through life we are blessed with opportunities to connect with our purpose(s). Making these connections is a source of great joy and affirmation. 2) Human beings thrive when we assume a posture of receptivity and openness. It’s easy to shut down, to seal ourselves off from others, and be closed-hearted and minded. It’s somewhat harder to maintain a posture of openness. Being open means being vulnerable, it means being willing to grow and change. It means being susceptible to greater hurt than if we remain closed. Hard as it may be maintaining a posture of openness is really the only choice we have if we want to live life to the fullest. To be human means to be open to new ideas, different perspectives, complex emotions, and learning from others. It means being open to forming deep relationships, to sharing our gifts with others and to receiving theirs, it means breaking down walls and pushing open doors.
My prayer for this Shavuot is that all of our kids take a moment to reflect on today’s lessons. When our ancestors stood at Sinai and received Torah they believed in the purposefulness of the universe and their place in it. They maintained a posture of openness. The rest, as we say, is “history.” Except it isn’t. It’s us. Even more than it’s us, it’s our kids.
Today was a truly exceptional Shavuot—not only for us but for all of Israel. We set out from the kibbutz to enjoy a morning of connecting with nature by rafting on the Jordan River (or as we now call it, the Jordan [Goldstein] River!). Along the way we saw storm clouds rolling in. Eventually it started to pour… and pour… and pour. Every Israeli we saw today was literally shocked that it was raining on Shavuot, a true rarity in Israel. Fortunately there was no thunder or lightning so we were able to proceed with our rafting adventure. Aside from one of our tour guides falling out of his boat everyone managed to have a relatively drama free ride down the river. We worked up our appetites and ate fresh baked pizza. When I say fresh I literally mean, “cooked as we sat there.” The kids were adventuresome trying to “corn” pizza as well as the “tuna” pizza, and the special spice packets that accompanied. Dairy free/ allergy folks also ate well, so fear not!
Following our Israeli Papa Johns experience we drove up to Mt. bental. Mt. bental is deep in the Golan Heights. It is so deep that it overlooks both Syria and Lebanon. Needless to say the situation in Syria is deeply troubling. While the view from Mt. bental was serene we took a moment to recognize the fact that we were overlooking a war zone. At least a few of our kids commented that someone had expressed disbelief that they were travelling to Israel. Likely this stems from the fact that most people relate to Israel via 24 hour news networks. Looking over the Syrian landscape we considered the stark contrast between Israel and many of her neighbors. Israel is a democracy. Israel is a country where men and women of all races and religions share equal rights. Israel is a country where people can be openly homosexual without fearing death. It is a country where individuals can and do express virulent dissent against the government without fear of torture or imprisonment. None of this can be said for Syria, and little of it can be said for much of the rest of the Middle East. It’s a perspective that we all must share, and one that our kids are beginning to understand. Before leaving we took a moment for silent prayer on behalf of the tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children in Syria who have died or had their lives irrevocably ruptured in recent years.
We came back to the hotel to enjoy a beautiful afternoon by the seaside. We played Frisbee, wrote in our journals, sat in the sun, napped, and packed our overnight bags for the Bedouin tent tomorrow.
After dinner we found a very special spot overlooking the sea for our first “Spiritual Check-In.” Mr. O’Dell introduced three Hebrew words: 1) Ayeka, 2) Hineni, 3) L’famim. “Ayeka” is the first question asked by the Torah. God asks Adam, “Ayeka?” It means, “Where are you?” Commentators have long noted the strangeness of God asking Adam this question. Clearly God would’ve been able to find him if God wanted to. Subsequently “Ayeka” has been understood as a spiritual question rather than a literal one. In addition to being the first question asked in the Torah it is also the first word Mr. O’Dell asks his students when they arrive to his class at the beginning of the year. “Hineni” means, “I’m here.” But it’s different than saying, “Ani Poh.” When your teacher calls roll at the beginning of class you say, “Ani Poh.” It basically means, I’m physically here. I’m in the room. “Hineni” is what Abraham said to God when God called out to him. It’s how Moses responded to God at the Burning Bush. “Hineni” means “I am full present, body, mind, heart, and spirit.” “L’famim” means “sometimes.” It’s the recognition that we’re all in different places and that “sometimes” something clicks for one of us but not for another. “L’famim” is why we never know the impact of our actions, or the power that our experiences have in shaping our lives.
Based on this powerful framework we then circulated a bag full of questions that the chaperones prepared before the trip. Of the 70 questions we were only able to discuss 4-5. But the discussion, lasting about 90 minutes, was absolutely incredible. There were tears of laughter and tears expressing a wide range of emotions. We processed our Shabbat experiences, our experiences at Yad Vashem and on the Jordan River. We processed the Women of the Wall and also our celebration at K’far Yehezkel for Shavuot. We shared funny stories, gave shout outs to one another, and thought about people who have touched us in our lives.
Life happens so quickly that taking time for reflection seems like an expendable luxury. The deeper truth is that we can actually slow down the pace of life through intentional moments of reflection. When we reflect we are able to recapture moments that might otherwise be gone forever. In recapturing them we extend them, temporally and spiritually. Reflection is a way of being more mindful of the compacted fullness that exists in every moment, even the ones we let slip through our fingers without paying any mind.
One of the most powerful stories that was shared tonight came from one of the kids who recalled a moment he had looking at an ultra orthodox child. It’s unclear how long he spent looking at this child but it couldn’t have been more than a minute. As he looked at the orthodox child he saw a kid who, like him, just wants to be a kid and doesn’t always want the pressure that he thinks adults sometimes place on him. The momentary experience that one of our kids had while looking at an orthodox child demonstrates the power of reflection. It’s a moment, that because it was captured and reflected upon, will last a lifetime.
Reflection might not help us live to infinity, but it just might give us the slightest taste. Given the rush our world is in, we look forward to dedicating more time for reflection while we’re over here. We’ll let you know how it goes!
It’s hard to believe that we’ve crossed the midway point of the 2013 Israel Trip. It’s hard to believe but it’s true!
I’m writing to you now from Kfar HaNokdim, a serene Bedouin oasis in the heart of the Judean desert. We arrived here late in the afternoon and immediately hoped on some camels for a sunset ride. The camel ride came with all the usual fanfare—shouts of joy from the kids and other, less admirable sounds from the camels. Take a moment to picture the ideal place and circumstances under which to ride a camel (some of you may struggle with this). That’s where we are right now.
Prior to arriving at the Bedouin tent we spent a few hours at a very different kind of oasis—Sachne. Sachne is large natural spring at the foot of the Gilboa Mountains. The water is crystal clear and always the perfect temperature. There are waterfalls and palm trees as well as little fish that nibble at your toes whenever you’re not swimming. Some people believe that Sachne was part of the Garden of Eden—it’s that kind of place. Imagine the most beautiful water you’ve ever experienced. Now imagine it pounding on your back as it cascades from a waterfall while dozens of fish give you a pedicure. Admit it men—sounds like an ideal spa day, no? As good as Sachne felt physically it felt even better spiritually and emotionally. We all felt at one with nature, content to be exactly where we were, and appreciative for the gift of the cool water and the beautiful surroundings. Maui ain’t got nothing on Sachne.
Driving through the desert changes your mood. Your mind wanders, but it wanders in a way that leads you to consider matters of ultimate concern and great personal importance. As we passed the Dead Sea and Masada the power of the changing landscape wasn’t lost on those of us who were awake. I’m fairly certain that the dreamers were taking it in as well.
Bedouin culture is at least 7,000 years old. At the heart of Bedouin culture is an unflinching commitment to hospitality. Our host, Mohammad, shared aspects of Bedouin culture with us. During the Q&A he shared that his brother hosted a homeless elderly Jew from a neighboring city in his home for over a year without ever asking a question about the man’s intentions or future plans. Mohammad also has three wives and 19 children (the oldest of which is 15 years old). It sounds like the premise of a mathematical word problem that even Levi D. might need a few minutes to solve! (I say that because Mora Orna did some math riddles with our kids and he got every one of them right instantly).
Given their commitment to hospitality you might have surmised that Bedouin dinners are more like feasts than they are a trip to Moe’s. We sat on the floor and were presented with large round platters containing all sorts of different delicacies. At the end we ate sweets and drank even sweeter tea, which the kids love. Bedouin tea is to Southern US Sweet Tea what Coca Cola is to Pepsi. The good news is that your kids won’t want to drink sweet tea anymore because it won’t be as sweet as it was at the Bedouin tent!
I’m sitting at a wooden table overlooking a large Bedouin tent. All the kids are in there along with the chaperones, getting ready for bed (slowly). It’s the one time on our trip when we’re truly appreciative to have a mechitzah (division between men and women). We had a campfire tonight with more rousing renditions of “Seek Peace” and “Kol Yisrael.” Eventually we’ll share our traditional Bedouin tent bedtime story and fall asleep under the same stars and sky. In the meantime kids are trampling all over Mr. O’Dell’s stuff so I’m going to go help him out!
5/17/13 Eilat, IL
3:45 AM definitely came early but it was a small price to pay for the magnificent journey we took to Masada. Blurry-eyed we boarded the bus and began the winding climb to the base of the mountain. We arrived as the gates were opening and quickly assumed our place as the first group to make their ascent.
We climbed via the “Roman Ramp.” It’s deceptively steep and deceptively quick bringing us to the summit in less than 25 minutes. We scurried over to our favorite lookout point just as dawn was breaking.
Like every breath, like every soul, like every moment, every sunrise is unique. Sometimes the beauty is so subtle that we might feel disappointed. When we hope for something bold and stunning our appreciation for simplicity can fall by the way side. It wasn’t an issue today. This morning’s sunrise was pure joy. A healthy cloud cover absorbed the light of the rising sun in all of its various hues. For 20 minutes we appreciated the unfolding of a new day only then to have the sun come officially over the mountain. After 10 minutes of direct sunlight, the sun once again hid behind the clouds. For those who have been on top of Masada you know that this is a true blessing. The whole time we spent on the mountain top it was cool, breezy, and cloudy. Consequently we were better able to focus on the complicated story of Masada. Like so many other places in Israel, Masada evokes the past, present, and future. As a historical site it recalls the official end to Jewish sovereignty during the Roman period (76 CE). During the present it is a geological testament to the commitment of the Jewish people to, as it’s said, “never let Masada fall again.” While on Masada we visited the ancient sanctuary, toured the palaces and learned the story. Last but not least we visited the Olympic size swimming pool built on top of the moutain. Sadly it was empty and the lifeguard was last seen back in ’76 (CE). But we swam later.
We descended from Masada via the famous “Snake Path.” While making our way down we had a really special experience. We encountered two men slowly making the same journey. The one in front was guiding his blind friend. Neither of our tour guides can recall ever witnessing a visually impaired person ascending or descending Masada. As our group respectfully passed them all our kids had a chance to chat with this unique character. Only in Israel as they say.
The Dead Sea, though rapidly evaporating, was all that we had hoped for and more. While some of us didn’t appreciate the stinging sensation that sometimes attacks our various cuts and orifices (we’re getting very well acquainted here!), we all enjoyed exploring the Sea and the pool on the premises. The Dead Sea experience is basically the same for everyone—salt, mud, and floating. Also lots of elderly people seeking rejuvenation and a healthy amount of fashion no-nos. It’s truly a cultural experience. When reviewing pictures be sure to check out the milieu. The Dead Sea was followed by lunch, driving, and napping. A quick pit stop for delicious ice cream and we reached our Shabbat destination: Eilat.
We freshened up and went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. From there we found a spot overlooking the Red Sea for Kabbalat Shabbat. We used “water” as our guiding image, thinking back over all the various bodies of water that we’ve visited on our trip. Water= life, cleansing, refreshing, birth, transformation, healing, and so many other things. During Kabbalat Shabbat we took a few moments for silent prayer. Those who wanted to share their silent prayer were welcome to. We heard prayers for health, long friendships, strong memories, compassion, caring, and other prayerful things. Julia R. and Jenna G. shared beautiful Divrei Torah and then Max F., Brendan and Jordan G. led us in V’shamru by sharing a special dance that Max F. created. It was a truly joyful moment. We ended with Kiddush. As we say each Friday at Davis, Kiddush is a chance to think about what brings joy and sweetness into our lives. When given an opportunity to share more than half chose to do so, speaking of friendship, family, and many other blessings that, it turns out, they do in fact recognize and appreciate. We lifted the cup and concluded our Shabbat.
If last Friday at the Kotel marked the beginning of the “first-first Shabbat in Israel” this Friday marks the beginning of the “first-last Shabbat in Israel.” We all agreed that we would one day return to Israel for Shabbat, but understood that much will happen to us in our lives between now and then. In the meantime we also agreed that we had “Eilat” to look forward to this Shabbat and that we’d save tomorrow for tomorrow and do our best to appreciate today instead.
Shavua Tov! The thrill of the disco cruise hasn’t worn off yet but the kids are headed up to their rooms so that they can pack for our departure early tomorrow morning.
After a leisurely breakfast we boarded the busses and headed north to explore Timnah. Timnah is a place with rich history and great natural beauty. There’s no way to describe the magnificent colors of the rock, the steep slopes of the mountains, or other aspects of the landscape. Words absolutely, positively fail.
We celebrated Shabbat at the foot of a natural rock formation called Solomon’s Pillars. There we listened as Shelby N. chanted from the weekly Torah portion and Carolyn F. shared her D’var Torah. During the Mishebeirach this morning we took a few extra moments to really focus on people in our lives who need our prayers for healing.
In addition to the desert landscape Timnah also has a unique exhibit—an exact recreation of the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting) as it is depicted in the Torah. The Ohel Moed was the location were the Ancient Israelites worshipped during the sojourn through the wilderness. Our guide at the Ohel Moed was one of the most engaging we’ve had so far—she was literally overflowing with knowledge about the Ohel Moed. At the end she graciously asked if I had anything to add. I was fairly certain that she’d covered the topic sufficiently for our purposes! I also have to confess that the Ohel Moed didn’t look exactly like I thought it would. One of the great things about Judaism is that there’s always something new to learn and discover!
Then we had lunch and were off to snorkeling in the Red Sea.
This trip has included many firsts for the kids. For many of them this was their first time snorkeling. In spite of the fact that there was a pretty strong breeze blowing we all embraced the opportunity. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that our snorkeling guides promised that we would see “Nemo” in the water. Everyone had a great snorkeling experience. Some kids encountered small obstacles like needing to adjust their masks in the water or having to clear the air pipes, but they met these challenges with poise and confidence. Morah Sigal and Morah Orna waited for us at the end of our swim to take pictures documenting our triumph. After snorkeling we splashed around the sea and worked on our suntans. Ice cream ensued as well.
We viewed the Taba border crossing between Israel and Egypt and headed back to the hotel to get ready for our evening out. For “pizur” tonight many of the kids chose to go with some familiar favorites, a taste of home if you will: McDonalds, pizza, and Chinese. Then we did some light shopping and headed to the disco cruise or “boat mitzvah”—a Davis tradition. Things definitely took a step in the right direction when Mr. Barry took over as DJ. There was a lot of group dancing as well, especially when Miley Cyrus and her evil spiritual predecessor Britney Spears came on (not courtesy of Mr. Barry). We took our time walking back, giving the kids a chance to peruse the various storefronts along the promenade and sent them promptly to bed. Tomorrow we leave Eilat and will wind up in Tel Aviv.
There are many ways of thinking about and relating to Shabbat. I like to think of Shabbat in terms of three concepts: Oneg, Kedushah, and Menuchah. Oneg means “joy” as in “oneg Shabbat.” When taken together with Kedushah (holiness) and Menuchah (rest) these three concepts frame the essence of Shabbat in a way that can be applied to many different types of activities. I’ll leave it to you all to imagine which activities from sundown last night to havdallah (on the boat) this evening correspond with which categories. Spoiler alert: there are no right answers.
I’d encourage everyone to consider the possibility of helping to keep the magic of Israel alive for our kids by thinking about Shabbat activities back home in terms of Oneg, Kedushah, and Menuchah. We’ve found these to be a powerful framework at Davis and on our Israel trip in particular. I hope that Shabbat in Atlanta was filled with joy, holiness, and rest, and that you’re enjoying following along with this spectacular journey from afar. As you might imagine, you’re not as far as away as any of us might think!
Driving into Tel Aviv is an unforgettable experience, especially when coming from the desert. The streets are narrow and crowded. People are walking, riding, and driving every which way. Some are lingering, some moving with purpose. There are sparkling high-rise hotels and apartment buildings as well as abandoned tenements in need of demolition. There’s energy and excitement in the air and our hotel—Sea Net—is right in the heart of it all. In fact, our bus driver, tour guide, and security guard had to physically lift and move a parked car in order for one of the busses to pass on the narrow street where the hotel is located.
We just took the kids up to the roof of the hotel to enjoy the Tel Aviv skyline and say Shehiyanu on the occasion of reaching our final hotel of the trip. Now we’re focused on getting a good night’s rest though we just caused a ruckus by surprising Levi D. with one last rousing version of “Yom Huledet Sameach.” Tomorrow is another busy day including an archaeological dig, time at the beach, and an evening in the ancient port city of Jaffa.
Today’s main attractions included a visit to the grave of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David ben Gurion, as well as a very special hike: Ein Avdat.
Unlike most of Israel’s political leaders, ben Gurion isn’t buried on Mt. Hertzl. He chose instead to be buried, along with his wife, in the middle of the Negev desert. Ben Gurion understood that in order for Israel to grow and prosper the early pioneers (halutzim) needed to “make the desert flourish.” Rather than simply espousing an idea he lived it by joining an agricultural kibbutz in the Negev at the age of 63. In the years since his death the area surrounding his grave has flourished. There is a university there. Also, when learning about ben Gurion we had a chance to enjoy a beautiful park with flowering trees and soft green grass—in the middle of the desert. We ate lunch in a dining hall at the university and headed to Ein Avdat.
Ein Avdat is one of the great and unexpected highlights of the Israel trip. The kids aren’t really sure what to expect when we tell them that we’ll be hiking in the desert and climbing the side of a mountain. There was definitely some nervousness and, candidly, a little suspicion about why we chose to impose this challenging task on the kids. By the end of the hike everyone understood.
Shortly after setting out we gathered in the shade of a beautiful tree. Menash, one of our guides, explained that such a tree could only grow if there was water close by. He then went on to tell us about the miracles of daily life in the desert. The centerpiece of his teaching focused on the mating rituals of the Ibex. Menash used a few students—Emily B., Max F., and Matt D., as his unwitting subjects. They became the Ibex and closely followed Menash’s instructions (which included some butting of heads, grunting, circling, and “flirtation.”). Fear not, it was definitely PG and also very educational. Did you know that Ibex mate during September and October, are pregnant for 5 months, and have their offspring in March/ April? This is to ensure that there is water from the rainy season to help the young Ibex grow. Menash shared something very dramatic—if there is no rain during the wintertime then it is often the case that female Ibex will actually terminate their pregnancies by dashing themselves against the rocks because they know that the offspring will not survive. Menash also shared some of the ways in which human beings, through carelessness, can endanger local wildlife. The kids paid close attention, and several decided to help clean the little remaining trash on the trail as we walked. We had the trail entirely to ourselves, which rarely happens and is very special.
We quickly discovered the oasis of Ein Avdat—deep pools of fresh water fed by a cascading waterfall. We appreciated the tranquility for a few moments and began the steep ascent which included two ladders and countless steps. Mr. Barry raced ahead of the group to meet the kids at the top and he reports that every kid felt a great sense of accomplishment upon reaching the end of the hike. We refilled out water bottles and continued our journey to Tel Aviv with an ice cream stop en route.
As I try to take a step back and review the day as a whole it seems to me that the common thread is the idea of being a halutz (pioneer). Unlike most graves, which contain only date of birth and date of passing, ben Gurion’s grave also has the date that he made Aliyah to Israel (1906). He and thousands of others took the road less traveled and paved the way for others to follow them. The result is that we are sleeping in the heart of one of the most vibrant cities the world has ever known.
Knowingly or not, every member of The Davis Academy class of 2013 became a halutz when we boarded the busses at Temple Emanu-El. I say that because every kid has, in some way, shape, or form, traveled one of their own less traveled roads. They’ve formed new friendships, taken on new challenges, tasted new foods, met new people, and discovered inner resources that they might not have known existed. Some of them discovered this before we left, others have discovered it along the way, including today on the hike, and some will figure it out only after we’ve returned and the experiences have become memories. But the chaperones see it and when we return you’ll see it too!
This morning we headed south from Tel Aviv to Beit Govrin and the archeological dig at Tel Moresha. While this archaeological experience is a part of virtually every Israel trip undertaken by every group that visits the country nothing can detract from the unique experience of being the first person to touch ancient pottery in over 2.000 years. Our visit to Tel Moresha included an overview of the area as well as explorations of both partially and fully excavated caves. At times we had to crawl, with only candlelight to guide us. After getting the gist of the cave network we stopped to visit the ancient oil press and then went on to do some excavating in one of the caves. The latter was definitely the most exciting part of the visit as every kid found at least a few pieces of pottery. Eli R. made the big find for Bus 1 when he dug out a large portion of an oil lamp. Little did the kids know as they were digging that they would then have to schlep out all the buckets of dirt and sift through it for overlooked finds. During the sifting Nathan B. found a coin that was covered in dirt. We were very excited for a few moments until we discovered that it was a shekel from 2011. Even so, we truly tasted the thrill of discovery. There have been some major finds at Tel Moresha, particularly relating to the Hasmonean period and the Maccabees.
Our brief stint as archeology experts definitely got the stomachs rumbling. We stopped at a mall in the town of Kiryat Gat and the kids had a variety of options to choose from. We threw on our swimsuits and headed to the Tel Aviv beach.
The Tel Aviv beach is as iconic as any site in Israel. It’s a stretch of white sand that begins at Jaffa and heads north. There’s a promenade that separates the beach from the bustling city. Israelis and tourists alike roll out to the beach around 8am and the beaches are basically packed until sunset. We found a spot and dove in. The kids had a blast splashing around. Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any better we had a surprise visit from Natalie Fisher. Natalie was the kids Jewish Studies teacher when they were in 6th grade. They had a really positive year of learning together before Natalie moved to the Lower School and, recently, made Aliyah. When the kids realized that Natalie was there they all, en masse, ran out of the water to give her a much welcomed (if not a little wet) hug. I was amazed to hear about what it’s actually like to make Aliyah. Natalie has had a very positive experience and the kids were happy to hear about it.
We returned to the hotel for dinner before setting out for an evening exploring the ancient port city of Jaffa.
Tonight was a picture perfect evening for exploring Jaffa. I mean that literally as we saw two wedding couples taking pictures on the shore of the sea. We spent about 15 minutes at an overlook with Tel Aviv on one side and Jaffa on the other. It was twilight. The kids mingled, took pictures, and appreciated the moment. From there we ascended through the twisting alleyways doing our best to keep quiet out of respect for the people who live there. We reached the top and sat down for a song session only to have a local restaurant start blaring disco music. Our song session quickly turned into a freestyle rap/ poetry slam. We struggled a bit to get the rhymes flowing but we had a great time. Everyone is now resting up for our last couple of days.
As the kids were chasing each other around the Mediterranean it occurred to me that I was witnessing something really special. This trip generally, and this afternoon in particular, may be one of the most carefree times in their lives. They’re done with finals, they have summer ahead of them, and so much to look forward to. It’s a really unique moment—one that we can appreciate as adults but that I’m not sure the kids can fully grasp.
When the lifeguards left we had to pull the kids out of the water. But a few of them stayed to take a couple last pictures. It was really touching to watch them frolic with such abandon and also to watch them try to hold on to and document the memory. We might be tempted to over romanticize youth these days, and there was definitely a moment when I felt a tinge of envy that life could be so seemingly simple. Then I got an email from my daughter’s school with a picture of her playing in the yard (they know I’m away and have been sending occasional phoyos), and I thought about the fact that every step of life’s journey is overflowing with blessings to the point that we can’t fully appreciate all of them. It seems that one of our central tasks as humans is sensitizing ourselves to the many small wonders that, when taken together, weave the tapestry of our lives. This trip has helped all of us move a little further down this important path.
Well… All our bags are packed and we’re ready for the last day of the Class of 2013 Israel Trip. Our penultimate day (today) ended up being the perfect blend of activities: Independence Hall, Nahalat Binyamin/ Shuk HaKarmel, the Palmach Museum, Rabin Square, dinner and a “closing circle” on the beach. Here’s my attempt to summarize.
Unlike its American counterpart, Independence Hall is remarkably unremarkable. From the outside it is a very simple building. When we arrived there utility truck parked directly in front.
During our visit we learned more about the history of Tel Aviv as well as the buildup to the declaration of independence. We saw that in 1909 Tel Aviv was nothing more than a collection of sand dunes adjacent to Jaffa. We also learned that one of the first structures built in Tel Aviv after the initial cluster of houses was a coffee house—a testament to Tel Aviv’s commitment to the arts and culture. We also learned that prior to becoming “Independence Hall” the building served as Tel Aviv’s first art museum. Imagine if all countries declared their independence in art museums—what a different world it would be.
Our guide for independence hall was one of the most compelling guides I’ve ever encountered anywhere. With impassioned articulateness he helped us understand that Israel is a home for all Jews. He pointed out that the Jewish victims of the Holocaust had nowhere to turn to when their host countries abandoned and betrayed them. He explained that without Israel most Jewish refugees would not have had a guaranteed place that they could go once their European homes and cities had been seized or destroyed. While he praised the Allied Forces he also pointed out that, in spite of thousands of flyovers, not a single bomb was dropped on Auschwitz, even though everyone saw the smoke. “Why?” he asked. Because the pilots were not Israeli.
We listened to ben Gurion declare the Jewish state and stood for Hatikvah. From there we headed to Nahalat Binyamin/ Shuk HaKarmel for our final pizur and shopping extravaganza.
Nahalat Binyanim is a collection of artists’ booths. It is truly a testament to human creativity with an Israeli twist. I can’t think of any place on earth that has such a dense concentration of brilliant arts and crafts—and reasonably priced! Shuk HaKarmel is Tel Aviv’s central market. You can buy everything from figs to cell phone cases. As you might imagine, the kids loved it. If you’re ever in Israel keep your eyes open for anti-smoking posters. They have some of the best in the world. Today I saw a Marlboro spoof that said, “Moron.” Pretty direct.
At Rabin Square we learned about the darkest moment in Israeli history—the 1995 assassination of the Prime Minister by a fellow Jew. Like the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11—everyone over a certain age remembers exactly what he or she was doing when they heard the news. It’s a moment frozen in time but it’s also still a very open wound. Menash walked us through Rabin’s final moments. His impassioned speech in support of the Peace Process, his departure from the rally, and his untimely murder. Menash also walked us through the thought process of the murderer (or, “the animal” as Menash called him). The murderer had a degree in law, was an ultra orthodox Jew, and believed that he was doing the world a favor. While Rabin is long deceased and the peace process still basically stalled, the murder remains incarcerated in isolation but has been allowed to marry and also fathered a child. There’s no resolution to the story.
The Palmach Museum is unlike any museum most of us have ever visited. It is a multimedia journey that follows an imaginary “brigade” of young Jews who fought courageously against various antagonistic forces in the years leading up to 1948 as well as the War of Independence. It also serves as a memorial to the 1,000+ young men and women (average age 16) who lost their lives during this time.
After dinner we headed to the beach for our closing circle. Once we finally managed to get into a circle we began our group reflection. We randomly distributed our pre-written questions and let the kids take it from there. One of the most meaningful parts of the reflection came in response to the question: “Share something you discovered inside of yourself that you didn’t know was there?” One person shared that this trip had helped them regain their self-confidence. Another shared that she realizes that she has an adventurous side and likes getting scratched and bruised because it shows that she’s not afraid to “go for it.” Another shared that he discovered that he liked the version of himself that was more outgoing. Yet another shared that they discovered they didn’t have to hide aspects of their personality for fear of judgment by peers. We concluded with the “funny stories” prompt and great hilarity ensued, but I’ll leave that for y’all to hear about in person.
Tonight Mr. O’Dell shared the following thought about Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv demonstrates the Jewish people’s commitment to living life fully and vibrantly regardless of the obstacles we’ve faced in our history. We took a pile of sand and turned it into one of the greatest cultural centers in the world. We took a pile of sand and turned it into a wonderful home. During the reflection one of the kids shared that he was surprised how proud he was to be Jewish. Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular, show the undeniable spirit of the Jewish people, the thirst for life, the desire to build, create, and nourish things of purpose and beauty. The name Tel Aviv is an intentional oxy moron. Tel refers to an archaeological site. Aviv means Spring. Tel Aviv is the synthesis of the Jewish past and the Jewish present. In this respect it’s a perfect metaphor for our kids and a great place to reflect on what it means to be a Jew in the world today.
“Snorkeling in Eilat and seeing the coral reef.” Peyton R.
“Watching women of the wall at the Kotel.” Sophie Z.
“The most beautiful and peaceful sunrise at Masada.” Emily B.
“Floating in the Dead Sea.” Jodi G.
“Israel was probably the best trip of my life and it was a life changing experience.” Eli R.
“Our first Kabbalat Shabbat in Israel—right outside of the Kotel.” Jenna R.
“The Tel Aviv Shuk-- all the people all the excitement.” Ben C.
“The ability to experience the changes with my friends and undergoing many wonderful things with the help of the chaperones.” Rachel F.
“Finding out Rabbi Micah is really funny.” Avielle K.
“The fish nipping our feet at Sachne.” Jacob C.
“After the hike at Ein Avdat looking at the amazing Negev view.” Zakk R.
“Sitting with the grade at dusky at the Kinneret.” Nathan B.
“The first time I saw the kotel.” Matt D.
“When we were on the beach in Tel Aviv and I could feel the wind, and see the stars and moon.” Caitlyn M.
“When I fell outside of Hezekiah’s tunnel as I was reading the shirt that said: ‘I survived Hezekiah’s tunnel!” Jenna G.
“We were in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and I got to speak with a resident there who was a street artist and was drawing an oil pastel of one of the entryways.” Ali S.
“Being hugged and kissed by the person at the Shuk when I bought his merchandise.” Max E.
“Floating in the Dead Sea—I’ve seen the pictures and I’ve always wanted to do it.” Lindsey G.
“Storytelling at our closing circle on the Tel Aviv beach.” Halle B.
“Meeting the other Neta at K’far Yehezkel—I’d never met another Neta.” Neta G.
“At the hotel in Haifa me and my roomates really bonded.” Jessica Z.
“The bus rides— we had a ton of fun and they were very eventful.” Hannah P.
“Singing ‘Seek Peace’ on bus 1.” Sammie H.
“Going on the raft with my friends and Morah Sigal singing ‘Hakova Sheli.’” Dawson V.
“When the camels tried to eat our feet.” Peyton E.
“Answering the questions at our closing circle on the beach.” Ross W.
“Going into the Kotel tunnels.” Alex W.
“Arriving at the Kotel and feeling a new sense of Judaism awaken in me.” Tyler K.
“Singing the song we wrote on the beach last night.” Carly C.
“Shabbat at the Kotel—singing and dancing with all the other people there.” Josh L.
“When I first kissed the Kotel.” Olivia W.
“When I went to Eilat— it was a new place for me to visit in Israel. It really opened my eyes.” Emily K.
“Snorkeling in Eilat—seeing Israel below the surfance.” Jacob K.
“When we were singing near the Kotel at our first Kabbalat Shabbat.” Korin P.
“I felt like I was taking an SAT exam— the kids had SO many questions!” Coach Spaulding
“Rafting down the Jordan River—it was definitely a thrill.” Lyndsi F.
“Touching the Kotel for the first time.” Noah W.
“Staying at the hotel on the Kinneret—it was really beautiful and I’ll never forget it.” Scott S.
“Shopping in Tzfat and exploring the beautiful city.” Julia R.
“Being at the Kotel, celebrating Shabbat with all my friends and hundreds of other Israelis.” Jack S.
“All of us singing ‘Kol Yisrael’ as part of the Shavuot celebration at K’far Yehezkel.” Rabbi Micah
“When I went to Yad Vashem and I saw the way that it was built and how the museum was structured.” Micah B.
“Climbing Masada.” Bari S.
“When we were at the Kotel with the women of the wall- we saw history being made and it was amazing to watch Jews standing up for what’s right.” Becca S.
“When we first landed.” Alec R.
“When we had our first reflection session at the kibbutz by the Kinneret.” Sophia B.
“Being woken up by Max F. singing V’shamru at 6am.” Brandon J.
“Bargaining for a ceramic fish at Shuk HaKarmel and getting it for ½ price.” Josh G.
“Eating all the different foods.” Emma S.
“Crying with one another at the Kotel.” Alana S.
“Sunset on the beach at Tel Aviv.” Carolyn F.
“Rafting down the Jordan.” Max F.
“Taking kids to and from the bathroom at EVERY destination.” Mr. Barry
“Riding a camel because I was so scared.” Sophie B.
“Sunrise at Masada.” Jordan G.
“My first bite of Moshiko Shwarma.” Jessica T.
“The sense of accomplishment at the end of Ein Avdat.” Sophia F.
“Getting a free bracelet at the Shuk because I did all my shopping in Hebrew.” Shelby N.
“Touching the Wall for the first time.” Alex H.
“Being with the whole entire grade and having the whole experience.” Emily N.
“When I went in the Dead Sea with an injured toe but toughed it out!” Jaron L.
“The mind blowing moment I had falafel in Tzfat.” Josh W.
“Bargaining in the Shuk.” Caroline P.
“I liked rafting down the Jordan with my friends.” Sophie S.
“I had a blast on our rafting trip with Morah Orna and our whole group.” Willie L.
“Floating in the Dead Sea.” David G.
“Singing songs with my grade.” Amanda K.
I’m writing now from the Philadelphia airport. In many ways it’s fitting that yesterday, our last day in Israel, was so jam packed that there wasn’t time to write. As the hours slipped away we tried to get the most out of each of the day’s activities.
Our day started with a visit to Neve Shalom- Wahat Al Salam. Neve Shalom is a village that was founded with the explicit purpose of fostering coexistence between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. From an American point of view this may seem like no big deal, but in Israel it truly an anomaly. 20% of Israel’s population is Arab. Yet most Israel trips taken by Jewish schools from the US have little or no interaction with Arab Israelis. As it turns out Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel also have little meaningful interaction. Arab children attend Arabic speaking schools while Jewish children attend Hebrew speaking schools. Military service is compulsory for Jews and optional for Arabs. The unintended result of this segregation is that both cultures rely primarily on stereotypes and national narratives rather than personal relationships when thinking about the complex identity issues that face Israel. The villagers of Neve Shalom believe that Jews and Arabs must learn to coexist on a basis of mutual respect and acceptance. The believe that they are living life as it should be rather than as it is. Rather than trying to answer these questions for the kids, our goal in visiting Neve Shalom is to raise these questions. We don’t want them to be blindsided when they get to high school or college and encounter a wide array of opinions (many of them misinformed). Instead, we want them to be able to speak from experience.
As is the case with The Davis Academy, the central institution of Neve Shalom is a school. Their pre K- 6th grade school is 1 of 5 bi-lingual schools in Israel. Arab and Jewish children attend the school in equal number and have equal amounts of instruction in both languages. If you think Davis has a lot of days off for holidays imagine what it must be like at the Neve Shalom school!
Last year we were only able to view the playing school children from afar. This year, thanks to the persistent efforts of Morah Sigal and Mr. O’Dell we were able to do an activity with their 6th grade students. We sat in a circle on a shady field and a few of their students did some gymnastics. We countered by having Ross W. do his inimitable robot dance. When Ross started breakdancing a kid from Neve hopped into the middle and started break dancing as well. It turned into a good old fashioned dance off! Then we broke into groups and learned how to write “salam” in Arabic as well as our names. We took a bunch of pictures and exchanged info. We also presented the school with a copy of “Be a Blessing” which they plan to use to help teach English. The student singers and artists were particularly proud of this gift. It’s clear that our visit meant a great deal to the Neve Shalom community as they posted a lovely blog (with photos) only a few hours after we departed.
After Neve Shalom we headed to Neot Kedumim to fulfill the mitzvah of planting a tree in Israel. As the noonday sun beat down on us each of us took a shovel and a sapling and laid down our roots in Israel. We were reminded of the Talmudic story of Honi. A passerby saw Honi planting a tree. The passerby asked, “Don’t you know that you won’t be around to enjoy the fruit and shade from this tree?” Honi replied, “When I came into the world I found that it was full of beautiful trees. It’s my duty to ensure that others find it that way as well.” We learned a very interesting fact: Israel is the only country that has more trees at the beginning of the 21st century than it did at the beginning of the 20th century. That’s Israel.
Our last stop before dinner was the Armored Corps Museum know as Latrun. There the kids had a chance to see a variety of tanks from different eras in Israeli history. Israel manufacturers one tank known as the Merkava. There are several unique features to the Merkava tank. Most notably, the engine of the Merkava tank is in the front of the tank (as opposed to most tanks that have the engine in back). While most countries are concerned with protecting the engine, due to its great cost, Israel uses the engine to protect the soldiers. That’s Israel.
While at Latrun we visited the Hall of Tears, the memorial wall, and also took a moment to learn more about Morah Lahav’s cousin who lost his life while serving bravely during the Yom Kippur War. They were preparing for a huge ceremony at Latrun so we got to see many different types of soldiers milling about. One of our tour guides from Latrun couldn’t resist giving the kids a bunch of advice about high school. It turns out that he made Aliyah from New Jersey. That’s Israel.
Dinner at Abu Gosh is nothing short of a world- class feast. Abu Gosh is an Arab village outside of Jerusalem. It’s been our final destination for years. Upon arrival the students found beautiful tables covered with all different types of vegetarian dishes—purple, red, yellow, orange, green… More colors than any rainbow I’ve ever seen. Each dish is a world unto itself—kind of like each person. We warned the kids to make sure to leave room for the meat courses and most seemed to be ready when the skewers of chicken and lamb came sizzling out of the kitchen. After the meal we spent a few more minutes sharing funny stories from our trip. Then we joined together in the most spirited version of “Birkat Hamazon” that these kids have ever done. I was personally very inspired to see the authentic joy in their singing. We talked about the idea of offering a blessing for the fact of being “full.” We talked about being physically full but also spiritually and emotionally. We visited the bathrooms to become a little less physically full and headed to ben Gurion. As we left the Arab village we caught the peak of a beautiful Mediterranean sunset. That’s Israel.
The airport ended up being a bit of a saga. Though we arrived plenty early we had little time for buying chocolate. When you see the amount of chocolate that was purchased marvel at the fact that it was acquired in about 20 minutes.
As with the flight to Israel, nervous fellow passengers quickly warmed to our kids. I’m sure no Facebook info was exchanged but there was plenty of chit chat before the snoring started.
So here we are in Philly. Customs was easy. America, in many respects, is easy. You can always count on there being toilet paper for example! The kids are excited to get back to Atlanta so they can fill you in on all the details of the trip themselves.
In addition to serving as a chaperone on this trip I’ve been honored to serve as the official blogger. As I reflect on my blogging tendencies I can’t help but feel like I’ve crammed a year’s worth of sermons into a two-week period. My only hope is that this blog has helped family and friends understand what our Israel trip is truly like. Embedded in any single experience are layers upon layers of meaning— like an onion. I’ve tried to identify some of the shared meanings that we’ve all experienced as well as indicate ways that kids might have related to the same experience but through slightly different, or very different lenses. While some kids and chaperones have been mentioned by name in specific circumstances, others have been referenced but remained anonymous. I hope you’ve asked yourself—“Could it have been my child who said or did that? Or, “I wonder how my child related to that part of the trip?” It shouldn’t take too much to get them talking once we return, but know that some of the deepest takeaways might not be the first experiences they point to. Like a good book—give them some time to tell their stories and develop their characters.
As for me, I didn’t know it at the time, but when I chose to become a rabbi it was to do precisely what I’ve been privileged to do the last two weeks: facilitate, witness, record, reflect, protect, and celebrate.
It’s been an unforgettable trip and we’ve all made a very wise investment in our children, in our future, and in our world.