“All Jews live in Mayberry.” I made that one up myself years ago. This trip has shown I’m still right. Our TBA group – 41 strong! – has been travelling the country and we seem to be run into fellow congregants everywhere. The Gottsegen tribe turns up wherever we go – Yad V’Shem, Masada, the Dead Sea – and they and the extended Goldson family joined our Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Wall. Mallory Breg came over to say hello, but needed to remain with her Birthright group in prayer.
So here we are, the Altman, Lastorino, Shapiro, Glassgold/Feldman, Levine, Bisk, Goldberg/Lawrence and Kulwin families. Some of us knew each other when we began. All of us know each other now. The dynamic is familiar. At first, the kids are shy and cling to their parents and grandparents. After a few days, they rule the back of the bus. Their experience has been enhanced by special activities geared toward them, like the visit to the secret underground War of Independence bullet factory near Rehovot and the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem. They’ve also loved hanging out with 23 year-old Tal, our madricha. Tal served in the social work department of the Israel Defense Force for her military service, and will start college soon to study education. She has an amazing smile and a sweetness the kids (and adults) adore; we know she will be an amazing teacher.
For probably the seventh or eighth time, our tour guide has been Mark Goldberg. By now, literally hundreds of us have had the chance to be guided and educated by Mark. A New Orleans native, he has lived in Israel for over forty years. It is not that he seems to know everything there is to know about Israel; it is also that his enthusiasm for the country is inspiring. Yesterday we travelled through the Negev, where Mark reminded us of our ancient roots in this land. A few days ago, in Tel Aviv, we discussed the plight of the Sudanese refugees, and Mark was candid in his description that Israel’s handling of the situation may have been less than one would have hoped. This combination of genuine ahavat tzion, love of Zion, with candor about contemporary Israel, earns our trust, respect and affection every day.
So what have we done? How much time do you have? We began in Tel Aviv where we hit Independence Hall and heard Ben Gurion declare Israel a state. Some went to the Palmach Museum and some to the Rabin Museum, and all of us wandered around Israel’s cosmopolitan international city, shopping, gawking and breathing it all in. Thanks to our Greater Metrowest Federation we visited the community center in the poor Rishon L’Tzion neighborhood of Ramat Eliyahu. We saw some of the programs our philanthropic dollars support to help youth at risk there, and the center’s staff made sure we felt like colleagues in the important work taking place.
A few days in the far north followed itineraries from past trips, except the tumult in Syria and rockets from Lebanon – the day after we looked down into Lebanon from Israel’s northernmost point! – caused us to look at the situation with different eyes from before.
As always, lunch with several soldiers was a highlight…everybody had an “up-close and personal” opportunity to visit with at least one, ask questions, and learn about their lives. Israeli young adults follow a different path that ours do. Many spend a gap year doing some kind of service, then spend two or three years in the army, the travel for a bit. They often don’t start college until their mid-twenties, a concept hard for us to relate to…except when we recall that life here is complexities and challenges that we, thankfully, need not confront.
Several members of our group asked both Robin and me if we don’t tire of doing this. We have the same answer. Absolutely not. Israel is a focus of both our lives, and the lives of our children, as well. In fact, Noah and Molly came with us, spending about half the time with the group and about half the time running around the country visiting different friends from different summers and semesters and years they spent here during adolescence. I confess. Watching my children be at home here, knowing the language and moving around freely and easily, is one of the greatest parental thrills I have ever had. Someday I suppose I will feel the same way about grandparenthood….but that’s still quite a ways off!
I write these words from the Dan Panorama, TBA’s usual home in Jerusalem. In a little while we will gather for a final session, sitting in a circle, and I look forward to the comments from those I have been travelling with. Obviously, it happens to a greater or less extent, but regardless of extent, I know that everyone has been changed.
We fly through the night tonight, and arrive home to welcome the secular new year, though I am not sure how many if any of the Kulwins will really make it to midnight. I am excited to come home, but even more excited that in another six weeks I head back with another Temple group, another chance to introduce or reacquaint parts of my extended family with the wonder that is Israel.
As I noted earlier, there was a rocket attack from Lebanon a day ago. It seems to have been an isolated incident and nothing more has been heard. Things have been quiet, and as we all know…quiet is good. May it continue, and may we continue to pray, as tradition puts it, “for the peace of Jerusalem.”
With much affection from the Jerusalem of Gold, and with hopes for a 2014 of health and prosperity for you and yours, and peace for all Israel and all the world.