The first stop on today’s itinerary was Rosh Hanikra. Located at the northern corner of Israel, right along the border with Lebanon, Rosh Hanikra is a testament to the laws of nature. The eternal, constant crashing of waves from the Mediterranean into the soft limestone of the cliffs has slowly and relentlessly created vast grottos that provide a small but dramatic view of this timeless process. The weather today was beautiful, but there was also a strong a wind blowing. That, coupled with high tide, meant that we were treated to quite a show at Rosh Hanikra.
From Rosh Hanikra we headed to Acco. In Acco we visited 3 very different sites: a Crusader fortress, a Tunisian synagogue, and an Israeli mall. Each site contributed to the overall experience of the day. The Crusader fortress is a testament to the strength and determination of humankind. While not the most cordial bunch of conquering knights, the Crusader’s make a strong impression. They built grand and intricate fortresses, lived by a code completely their own, and sought to make their names and memories known for all eternity.
The Tunisian Synagogue, with its thousands of mosaic art installations, is unique among synagogues in the world. We had the honor of being hosted in the synagogue by a young man who grew up there, maintains a leadership role there, and is a friend of Davis and the Atlanta Jewish community. Eliad Eliyahu Ben Shushan welcomed us, graciously pulled back the curtains of the ark, explained some of the Kabbalistic significance of the architecture, and led us in a spiritually engaging shofar blowing ceremony. For some reason, it always feels risky to take our kids to “another synagogue.” But the Tunisian Synagogue, with its many mosaics, and its compelling story, never fails to speak to the Jewish spark that burns in so many of us.
The highlight of our time at the mall was celebrating Mai’s birthday. We had him stand up on a bench right in the middle of the mall, placed a garland of plastic flowers on his head, lit a sparkler, gave him a balloon and took it from there. The whole experience was documented on the phone of more than a few Israeli mall employees. Beyond that it was simply fascinating and unforgettable to be in a shopping mall where there were Israelis selling items from stalls and booths located right in the middle of the mall. Unprecedented!
The drive from Acco to Tzfat cuts a line between the lower and upper Galilee. Most of the route is lined with orchards of olive trees. Tzfat, with its twisting alley ways, blue doors, intimate synagogues, and funky art stores, is a favorite stop for our kids. While they love their first taste of shopping in Israel, they also love exploring the spiritual side of Judaism that emerged from Tzfat in the Middle Ages and continues to this day. The legacy and genius of Tzfat is the realization that religion and spirituality are strongest when they are woven together into a single garment of life.
After dinner we had a good time making a short Mother’s Day video for all of you back home. We’re sure you miss your kids and we suspect that they miss you as well. This Mother’s Day you’ve given them the gift of sending them to Israel. For many of you, this was and is a profound and challenging gift to give at least in part because it is a significant act of letting go. Know that they are honoring all of you through their menschlichkeit and through their genuine appreciation of all that we are doing and experiencing here.
Today we learned that if you play with the letters in the Hebrew word “Acco” you end up with a phrase that means something like, “To this point and no further.” From that wordplay we learn that when the biblical flood of Noah’s Ark covered the entire world, it spared Acco. So too, when Napoleon conquered so much of the civilized world, he was unable to seize Acco. Eliad explained that Acco was spared from these devastations because the people of Acco have always tolerated, lived alongside, and loved one another. Acco is a city where Jews, Muslims, and Christians coexist in relative harmony. It is a place where Jews invite their Muslim and Christian neighbors to eat in their Sukkot. A place where neighbor cares for neighbor and everyone celebrates together. A community like Acco cannot exist without Jews, Muslims, and Christians who are knowledgeable, devoted, and comfortable with their personal religious and spiritual lives. That's because we are best able to honor and celebrate diversity when we participate in that diversity through the lens of our own personal narrative. To know another, to respect another, to love another, we must first know, respect, and love ourselves. By letting go of your kids for these two weeks and giving them the gift of traveling in Israel you are helping them be ready to live in a world that looks and feels a little more like Acco than our world today. I hope that feeling comes through when you watch the short video that we posted in our Google Album!