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Israel Journal (2012-2013)

From December 23, 2012, until January 3, 2013, Temple Emanu-El will be in the Land of Israel! Join us as we explore our Holy Land both ancient and modern. On this webpage, we’ll be able to share our experiences with our friends, family and Temple community. Check back often to read about and see what we’re doing through text, pictures and even some videos of our trip.

Day 10: January 2, 2013 — A Fond Farewell
By The Zgodny Family
AS THE LAST DAY of our trip enfolds, we are on Route 1 from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. We are excited to experience Mayor Dizengoff's home, which became the Israel Hall of Independence. We arrived to see a short film recounting the pain and struggle for the State of Israel. Entering the auditorium, we are transported back in time to 1948, and we can envision what it must have been like to hear Ben Gurion give his impassioned speech proclaiming the State of Israel. Singing “HaTikvah” with music was inspirational.

We continue down Rothschild Boulevard and observe the Bauhaus architecture, the Mann Auditorium, the theatre district and Rabin Square Memorial, where the assassination occurred.

We continued to northern Tel Aviv, and crossing the Hayarkon River, we arrive at the Palmach Museum. This is a remarkable “virtual experience” that brings “to life” what it was like to be a young person fighting for survival in the early life of Israel. These young men and women first were trained by the British and subsequently became the “freedom fighters” of the State of Israel.

Many lives were lost in this heroic battle, artistically depicted by Ludwig Blum, who lost his son in the mission to blow all border bridges. His gallery can be found in the lobby. His exhibit is beautiful.

We arrive in Jaffa for lunch and to “poke and meander” around the shops and flea markets, to have a taste at Abulafia Bakery...world renown with lines beyond.

We hop on the bus back to Jerusalem, to pack, and share with all our “farewell dinner.”

We had Benny, our driver, do our last run to the farewell dinner at Zion Ha Gadol in Talpiyot. Lauren made a toast, as did Jordan and Evan. A good time was had by all. Now, slowly, everyone is leaving for his or her respective flights.

L’shanah habaah birushalayim! Next year in Jerusalem!

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Day 9: January 1, 2013 — Mitzvot and Schwarma
By Susan Zucker (Part I) and Rabbi Ben Zeidman (Part II)
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Israelis seemed to be out celebrating last night at midnight, even though they don’t observe it as a holiday. They were having fun.

Up and out late today! 8:45am!! We took an hour’s bus ride near Rehovot to work on our mitzvah project with Leket Israel. In Leviticus we read that you reap a harvest but not until it is bare; leave some for the poor. (This is called Leket). We picked oranges off many trees — enough to feed 700 people! Leket Israel feeds everyone who is needy and lives within Israel’s borders. We loved helping! Afterwards we went for lunch at a shopping center near Benny’s home. (Benny has been our driver.) There Rabbi Zeidman sat down for the great schwarma-eating contest against two of our students.


Rabbi Zeidman took on two of our students in a schwarma-eating contest. He insists that he was the winner, but it is possible that our 10-year-old contestant won when measuring the amount of schwarma based on contestant size and weight. Our 14-year-old contestant definitely won the messiest eater prize. It was a filling lunch but very fun.

After lunch we proceeded to an archaeological dig at Beit Guvrin. We helped to dig out caves from the Hasmonean period, specifically used between 169 B.C.E. and 112 B.C.E. We found a lot if pottery, but the major finds were two coins! We helped find a lot of great stuff and helped removed a significant amount of dirt. Afterwards we formed a chain and got the dirt out if the cave (not as easy as it sounds).

For the more adventurous of us, we then went through an unexcavated cave. We had to crawl and wiggle our way through tight spaces, and the whole thing was lit only by candlelight. We then met up with the others and went with our guide to see an olive press in an excavated cave. It was used around 130 B.C.E.

It was a day of dirt and mud — a day of setting our hands to truly ancient tasks.

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Day 8: December 31, 2012 — Masada and the Dead Sea
By The Cramer-Zucker Family
WE ALL AWOKE to another beautiful weather day for celebrating in Israel. Although we started the day in Jerusalem, we immediately set off for Masada and En Gedi where the group split roughly in half. Our division embarked on a hike up the snake path route to the top of Masada. Although every climb up Masada is special, there was a unique significance for the Cramer/Shorrock families in that we were led by Rabbi Zeidman and our b’nei mitzvah — Will and Evan. Alex, followed by Robert and Eli, led the physical climb, but Will and Evan were responsible for ensuring that Rabbi Zeidman actually made it to the ceremony on time and in one piece.

Although we chose to come to Masada months ago, it was amazing to be present and celebrating such a wonderful family event in a location possibly dating back to the Hasmoneans prior to 100 B.C.E. Herod chose the mountain as his fortress refuge, but after his death and Rome’s annexation of Judea, the Romans took over the town until 66 C.E. when a Jewish revolt took it back. In fact, by 70 C.E., it was the last remaining Jewish stronghold in Judea. Eight thousand Romans spent years in full-out siege, and in 74 C.E., Masada was destined to fall. Eleazar ben Yair persuaded the almost 1,000 residents to take their own lives rather than be enslaved by the Romans. It was a last act of rebellion and defiance in the final fight for Judea that demonstrated the ultimate resolve of the Jews. Having a service together almost two millennia later and seeing our kids chanting from the Torah demonstrates the value of that resolve and the fruits of traditions and dedication handed down through generations that cannot be suppressed.

The moving morning was followed by lunch at the foot of the mountain and a trip to the Dead Sea. It was amazing how quickly this “somewhat civilized” group took to rolling in the mud. If we’re lucky, there won’t be a lot of photo evidence because it wasn’t pretty! After showering off, we proceeded on the very, very long hike to the Dead Sea, which evidently has receded almost a mile from the En Gedi Spa (not so aptly named!). Several among us tested our floating skills in the incredibly salty water as the lifeguard scolded us to stay in the shallow area but to no avail.

Two hours later, muddied, salted, sulphured, washed and scrubbed, we climbed back on the bus to begin our New Year’s Eve celebration: a sound and light show above the Tower of David followed by individual family dinners around Jerusalem. Another full and fabulous day in Israel.…

Mazel tov to Evan and Will and warm thanks to Rabbi Zeidman (whose immense spirituality — rivaled only by his hiking skills — shone through in every moment), Saul (whose musical gifts enhanced the already magical setting) and Gila (without whom we never could fully appreciate the history and significance of all that we are seeing) for helping to make the day so special.

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Day 7: December 30, 2012 — The Western Wall and Kotel Tunnels
By The Cravetz-Katz Family
TODAY WE STARTED OUT the day by going to the Western Wall. Everyone put a prayer in, and then we continued on to a tour of the tunnels beneath the wall. They were created when Muslims built houses on large arches. These arches buried most of the wall. Today, we only see 1/8th of it.

In the Kotel tunnels, we saw the foundation stones of the wall, and we got as close as 300 feet to the Holy Rock. We then continued on to the southern wall excavations and learned there about the ancient Jerusalem Temple at the Davidson Center. We ascended the steps that once led to the Temple. We said prayers and explained why Judaism is important to us. It was a moving experience.

By then it was lunchtime, so we explored the Jewish Quarter. Our family got falafel and schwarma. It was delicious! We then continued on to the market and looked at the beautiful kippot and tallit.

After lunch and the market, we toured David’s City, the most ancient section of Jerusalem built by King David. We toured the actual tunnel through which David entered the city! We then traveled to the streets that pilgrims walked on in ancient times.

Finally we returned to the hotel, and parents took the night off. The kids went out with Saul Kaiserman and Rabbi Zeidman for pizza, ice cream and a photo scavenger hunt on Ben Yehuda Street.

It was a great day filled with history, Judaism and fun.

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Day 6: December 29, 2012 — Jerusalem (continued)
By Rabbi Ben Zeidman
THERE’S NOTHING QUITE LIKE Shabbat in Jerusalem. Everything stops (or at least slows down), and usually you have a chance to breathe. But not our group! Even with the option to slow down, everyone seemed to be go-go-go.

First, some went to services, some slept a little bit later than the past few days (which doesn’t say too much), and many went on a walking tour of Yemin Moshe. Yemin Moshe is a neighborhood, the first outside of the Old City walls. It was built by Moses Montefiore (hence the Moshe in the name) and was an attempt to provide much needed space to those living in Jerusalem, as the Old City got more crowded. Its famous landmark is the windmill, built by Montefiore with the idea that one day the community might be more self-sustaining.

Next came a walking tour of the Old City itself, particularly the Christian Quarter. We wandered up onto the rooftops with our guide to see the different quarters all at once. Then over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church is believed to be built on the spot where Jesus was crucified. It was a very quick visit, especially considering it was crowded with tourists because Shabbat means there isn’t much open!

Our last scheduled piece of the day was the Israel Museum. We came in and suddenly were overlooking the entire city of Jerusalem from the time of the Second Temple. The model of the city shows how the city was constructed nearly 2,000 years ago! You can see the different sections and where different groups lived. You also can see some of the locations we still know today: City of David, the Temple Mount and Western Wall, and many others. It is hard to imagine how much research and energy went into creating it. We then, almost like the Essenes at that time, “departed” Jerusalem of the Second Temple and went to the Shrine of the Book to learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran. Afterwards, we had a chance to look around at the museum’s other exhibits.

After the museum, we all gathered in a beautiful courtyard to say goodbye to Shabbat and welcome the start of the new week with Havdalah. Standing with one another, we were a little chilly. Yet we were warmed by the sense of possibility and excitement with all the new week will bring for us and by the presence of loving families and new friends.

This evening we all went our separate ways. It was amazing to see Jerusalem coming alive. On Ben Yehuda Street, everyone gathered to shop, hang out and eat. The same goes for the crowds at Mamilla mall right near the hotel. I imagine Emek Refaim and Mahane Yehuda were similar.

There are so many things to see and do on Shabbat in Jerusalem, but we only had one. I guess we’ll all have to come back soon!

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Day 5: December 28, 2012 — Jerusalem
By Robert M.

Looking out over Jerusalem »

TODAY IS A DAY of opposites. We go from quiet remembrance at the Holocaust museum, Yad VaShem, to the extremely present-day chaos of the Jewish market; the festivities of the Western Wall to the quiet of Jerusalem on a Friday night; the lowest place on earth to the city most connected with God.

Our day starts by the Dead Sea — 1,400 feet below sea level. Driving through the Judean mountains up to Jerusalem, we pass thousands of years of Jewish history. We pass the cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Masada (Spoiler: We climb it on Monday) and Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. We finally arrive on Mount Scopus and say Mah Tovu looking out over Jerusalem just as Balaam said it looking out over the Israelite tents. (Numbers 24:5) Jerusalem stretches out in front of us in a beautiful jumble of ancient houses, synagogues, mosques and churches. The city is blindingly bright. The walls of the Old City glow warmly, the golden Dome of the Rock dazzles the eye, and every house seems to have at least one face fully exposed to the sun. For the first time, gazing at Jerusalem, I feel the sense of homecoming that defined the Zionist movement.

From there, we drive to Yad VaShem, the Holocaust memorial museum and research institute. The museum is a huge triangular room, stretching over a cliff on the lower end and ending in the sun-drenched balcony looking over Jerusalem. This layout parallels the journey of the Jewish people toward the light of Jerusalem and a Jewish homeland. We then say the Mourners’ Kaddish in the memorial for those who died.

Lunch in the shuk, the open-air market, on a Friday in Jerusalem is overwhelming. People shove (the only way to move) in all directions, and the air is filled with the smells of meat, fruit, flowers and almost anything else with a smell. The bakery and pastry shop Marzipan sells what is undoubtedly the best rugalah in the Galaxy. (Rabbi Zeidman whole-heartedly agrees). The shwarma, falafel and pomegranates are excellent. The transition from the minimalist silence of Yad VaShem to the hyper-stimulation of the shuk is both jarring and deliberate. It reminds us not to dwell for too long in the past and to continue life in the present.

Even at 3:30 PM when we leave the market, the city is beginning to calm. Shops are closing, people walk with a hurried purpose and a bag of groceries, and men with enormous fur hats begin to fill the streets of the Old City. At the hotel, some of the people in the group go through the Old City to the Western Wall to see the beautiful festivities of Shabbat at the holiest location in Judaism. Singing and dancing break out around the wall as darkness falls over Jerusalem. The rest of the group goes to a lovely service at the Reform synagogue Kehilat Har-El.

During the service, Rabbi Ada Zavidov invites Rabbi Zeidman and all of the children of the congregation to lead the blessing over the wine during the service. Cantor Evan Cohen is accompanied with a magnificent and beautiful sounding harp. One of the founders of the congregation also welcomes us and tells everyone about the historic and important connection between Har-El and Temple Emanu-El. After services, the group splits and each family has dinner with an Israeli family from the synagogue. Everyone’s Shabbat is filled with life, light, laughter and good food.

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Day 4: December 27, 2012 — The Negev Desert
By Sophie and Robyn L.
TODAY WAS ANOTHER great day in Israel. The schedule was filled with diverse activities in the Negev. Part of the group hiked into the Ramon Crater, and the rest traveled up to the Israeli Air Force Museum. At the museum, a guide led us through the history of the Israeli Air Force’s airplanes and helicopters. We even climbed in some of the earliest planes. We sat and watched a film in the Boeing airplane that was the hospital plane in the raid on Entebbe, where more than 100 Israeli citizens and other Jews were rescued in Uganda in the 1970s.

After the museum, we visited David and Paula Ben Gurion’s graves, and the views of the Negev landscape were outstanding. We learned about Ben Gurion’s life: He was the first prime minister of Israel. In the afternoon we went to a desert archery range were we learned and practiced our archery skills and popped balloon targets.

Finally, we ended the day with a beautiful sunset camel ride. The ride was bumpy and very fun. We ended our evening with a delicious dinner in a Bedouin tent. We sat on the floor and enjoyed our meal together.

We are excited for tomorrow...on to Jerusalem!

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Day 3: December 26, 2012 — The Jordan River Valley
By The Goldfischer Family
TODAY, AFTER A DELICIOUS Israeli buffet breakfast, we said goodbye to Kibbutz Lavi and took a scenic drive south to the Sea of Galilee, passing banana trees, date palms and beautiful vistas.

Our first stop was Kvutzat Degania, where we stopped at the Galita Chocolate Farm. At our visit to the workshop, each of us filled truffle shells with praline nougat then dipped the creations into white or milk chocolate. Before the truffles dried, we had opportunities to decorate the tops with sprinkles and other fun candy toppings. Some people remarked that they found a new career as a chocolatier. Everyone seemed to have a blast, especially those who “tested” as they created.

While our chocolates were cooling, we saw a movie about the process of making chocolate, including everything from the harvesting of the beans in Africa to their final processing at the greatest candy factories around the world.

We continued our long drive south to the Negev Desert, stopping at a shopping plaza where we found an extensive food court with lots of tasty options for lunch. Most people opted for falafel or schwarma sandwiches.

Late on this chilly afternoon, we arrived at the Ramon Crater, where the owners of Israel’s only brick-making factory greeted us with hot tea, cookies and a warm fire. We learned about the history of the crater and how it is ecologically friendly to build homes out of mud bricks. We then participated in a mud-brick construction workshop, where we made the mortar out of sand, clay and water. We even had the opportunity to build an arch out of bricks and mortar. We stood in awe as the arch held shape within minutes of creation.

Dinner was a huge buffet at our hotel in the desert,
which was a nice ending to a long day.

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Day 2: December 25, 2012
By Saul Kaiserman
THE SECOND DAY of our trip began with a huge Israeli breakfast at Kibbutz Lavi, followed by an exciting tour of the kibbutz. At least, that’s what I’m told — I slept until mere minutes before our bus headed off for the first of our many destinations in this jam-packed day.

After a brief photo opp at the Jordan River, our first stop was Katzrin, the “capital” of the Golan Heights, with a multimedia presentation on the story of Gamla, the Masada of the north. During the Jewish revolt in 67 C.E., this small town of 9,000 Jews heroically fought against the overwhelming numbers and might of the Roman army. In 1967, Israel defeated Syria in the Six Day War, and this town was returned to Jewish rule after 2,000 years.

Then we visited a former Syrian outpost, now a memorial to Israeli soldiers that have fallen in wars in the region. Gila told us the incredible story of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who worked undercover in Syria in the 1960s. He was able to convince the Syrian military leadership to plant Eucalyptus trees at every one of their outposts and fortifications to provide shade for the soldiers, thereby enabling Israeli forces to easily identify the locations of Syrian troops!

Most of the rest of the day was spent in the holy city of Tzefat, also known as Safed. We lunched on falafel and shawarma, visited a synagogue from the 16th century, watched candles being made and shopped in the shuk (street market). A highlight of the day was a mystical clay sculpting workshop. Each of us was given a small ball of clay, and we had two minutes in which to silently create an object. Then, we passed the object to the left and received the sculpture of the person to our right. We had another two minutes in which to add to the creation. We continued in this fashion until everyone around the table had modified the original object; then, we decided together what the objects we had created represented and made up a story about how the objects went together. It was a real lesson in letting go of control, and it was a whole lot of fun.

It also should be noted that our time on the bus together is a lot of fun. We have divided ourselves up into various groups to make taking attendance easier, and none of the groups is cooler than “Schwaggr” (as is evident from the fact that they have grown from six to eight members). Composed entirely of kids, the group surprised us during roll call with a Jewish version of “The Eight Days of Christmas,” beginning with “Eight Schwaggrs schwagging” (whatever that means) and concluding with “One rabbi in a tallit.”

Dinner was not only delicious but also incredibly meaningful. We ate at a steak restaurant, Le Charolais, run by a former Israeli army captain. He set us up so that we could host at each of our tables a soldier on active duty. The five men who joined us were from an engineering unit, responsible for the dangerous task of land-mine removal. They were very willing to talk about their lives, their political views and anything else we wondered about (and believe me, some of the kids had some pretty unusual questions). With promises that we would see one another again soon on Facebook, if not in person, we headed back to the kibbutz for the night.

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Day 1: December 24, 2012
By The Shorrock Family
DAY ONE of our Israeli adventure started off with half of the group heroically rallying after a long flight to help minister to a herd of sheep. After gathering the rest of the group from their flights, the whole group set off for Galilee and a first major stop in Nazareth. Considering that it was the day before Christmas, it felt appropriate to visit the Basilica of the Annunciation, built on the location about which it is written in the New Testament that the angel Gabriel informed Mary for the second time that she was pregnant with Jesus.

It was clear pretty early how tense the emotion in Israel can be, as we came upon a prominent display of writings quoted from the Qu’ran beseeching Christians and Jews to forsake “their God” for the “one true God.” On the other hand, one of the highlights in Nazareth was being surrounded by a large Christian group from Nigeria singing as they entered the walls around the Basilica. Another highlight from Nazareth was some amazing Arab pastries and falafel.

On our drive to Kibbutz Lavi, a dairy cooperative where we are to spend the next two nights, we were informed about some of the history and current political situation in Israel by our excellent guide, Gila. Using the imagery we saw out of the windows of the bus, her stories and explanations really came alive for all of us. Her discussions of the security wall and Jewish/Palestinian relations were fascinating when you see the wall and the towns on both sides of the “border.” This is especially true when it is clear that there are towns on the “Israeli” side that have quite a few minarets evident, while some Jewish settlements can be seen on the other side of the wall.

An otherwise relaxing evening at Kibbutz Lavi was concluded with a tour of the cow milking operations. We were surprised and delighted to be invited into the milking shed to get a closer look. An even bigger surprise was an “offering” from one of the cows to the group. From our vantage point slightly below the cows, and again keeping with an appropriate theme for our first day, this “offering” served as an initiation of sorts for a few members of our group. Our intrepid leader, Rabbi Ben Zeidman, was one of those blessed with the initiation and is probably cleaning up in his room as we conclude this journal entry. I guess we can coin a (likely new) phrase that “a little manure cannot ruin a great first day in Israel!”

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