There are few places in the world where the Jewish people are not part of history in some way. Visiting Jewish sites when traveling is a great way of seeing how our people and faith are part of a global phenomenon. Travel to Israel brings this to the next level allowing us to walk the path of our ancestors. Traveling to Israel with NVHC is even more powerful. NVHC now has a tradition of congregational trips to Israel, three trips in six and a half years – summer 2006, spring 2011 and winter 2012.
Thoughts from Israel Trip Participants
Henry Chadwick related several things that made him feel connected to Israel:
The vibrant, prosperous, high-tech life of Tel Aviv, which reminded me of California. The Mediterranean coastline, which reminded me of Italy. The beautiful Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. The view looking out from a highway rest stop on the Golan Heights looking out over the demilitarized zone into Syria, which looked so peaceful, but knowing that within a few miles there was desperate fighting going on with death and misery. The map handed out by the guides that made no distinction between Israel and the West Bank. Observing a Shabbat service in an Armenian restaurant in the Old City with a Christmas tree in the dining room. The guide, Mordi, seeing a tour bus full of Nigerians and greeting them in their own language, and breaking out into a Nigerian dance.
Kay Menchel shared this:
I was not born Jewish, so I did not grow up hearing “next year in Jerusalem!” the way my husband did, and if Israel was ever discussed in my childhood it was in the context of (Christian) religious education lessons. I expected to be interested in the history and culture of Israel, but I was completely blindsided by the emotional impact; it was a deeply moving experience for me. It is a cliché (but then clichés are all based in truth) to say that I truly understood that I had chosen to be part of something much bigger, but that’s what happened. On our first Shabbat in Israel we watched the sunset over the Negev Desert from Ben Gurion’s tomb. We gathered in a circle, holding hands with the members of the Kiriat Ono congregation, and sang and prayed together. It was overwhelming; a feeling of concentric circles of connectedness – our NVHC community, the wider circle of the Kiriat Ono community, and ultimately, an affinity with all the amazing people we met in Israel.
Hannah Grausz wrote:
Israel has always been on the list of ‘places I’d like to see’, but to be honest, wasn’t even in the top three. In fact, I had always groaned internally when others described their “connectedness” to Israel. However, being a rather practical person, this trip seemed like a great way to check it off my list, and do it easily with my family. I was certainly looking forward to feeding my interest in ancient history as I have done before in Italy and Greece. And I thought, what a unique opportunity to learn from my own clergy. I had no inkling that this would so significantly differ from my other vacations, or that I would so quickly understand that I will need to atone for all those groans come Yom Kippur.
Since returning I have concluded that being in Israel for a Jew must be somewhat like what most Christians experience in the US. There is a feeling that everyone around you ‘gets’ your personal and religious history, your celebrations, your traditions. . . .All the things that have ever been hard or awkward to me about being a Jew seemed part of the everyday world in Israel.
Finally, there are almost innumerable ways in which our experiences were personal. While I have a very small immediate family, I met distant cousins on my father’s side, some of whose families have been in Israel since the 1920s. (In fact the husband of one of those cousins was our guide at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.) During our visit, one cousin brought out his family tree project, which showed that we have connections to branches in South America, Sweden, Israel, Australia and Europe. At Yad Vashem I saw and heard about the experiences of many, who, like my father, wore a yellow star on their clothing, and who, like my father, lost friends and relatives and a portion of their childhood, and who, like my father, had to transplant to a foreign land to begin to live again. I stepped in the Dead Sea of the bible stories I learned as a child, imagined what it would have been like to watch the water part and wondered if I would have had the faith to walk into the unknown. At each of these moments, and so many more (sharing the b’nai mitzvah, standing at the wall, even shopping in Safed and the Cardo), I became so very aware of how much of me is reflected in all the different facets of this place, the land of Israel.
Seventeen-year-old Cameron Menchel, who is Editor-in-Chief of The Highlander Magazine of McLean High School, wrote a terrific cover story on his experience for the January 30, 2013 issue, entitled “Jerusalem Calling: One Student’s Experience Traveling in Israel.” Here’s an excerpt:
The most powerful moment came later, when, as a favor to my rabbi, I carried the Torah back from Shabbat (Sabbath) services to the hotel. Needless to say, walking through the streets of Jerusalem on the Sabbath with a Torah in one’s hands is a remarkable experience. As I walked through the streets, my arms awkwardly holding the scroll against my chest, groups of people parted to allow me to pass through, while two people came up to touch their tallit (prayer shawls) to it, wish me a good Shabbat, and thank me. The ultra-orthodox simply stared, clearly torn between their distain for the fairly secular, jean-wearing kid carrying the Torah, and the object they, like all Jews, so revere. The expressions on people’s faces changed as I passed. People stared, became more solemn. The mouth of one IDF man, who was wearing a gun across his back, dropped open, while I wished him a good Shabbat and walked on. Wielding the holiest object in the Jewish faith, I pressed on through a sea of people, almost all of whom continued to look awestruck. But all I could discern was my mother’s voice in my ear, as she walked beside me. “Whatever you do,” she said, “don’t drop it!”