Beth Zion Congregation
Bar/Bat Mitzva Israel Trip Day 8
As I mentioned yesterday, Mitzpe Ramon is the largest crater in Israel. This morning, we had another opportunity to explore it. The young adults set out bright and early on a jeep tour of the bottom of the crater while the older folk had a mountain bike experience into the canyon. It was spectacular.
Then we were off. Our first stop, was to visit the Kibbutz Sde Boker, where David Ben-Gurion is buried. We had a lesson on Israel’s history and took a few moments to appreciate the early Zionist leaders whose vision created the modern day State that we appreciate.
Our next stop, was at Montreal’s sister city, Beersheva. One goal of our trip was to be involved in a Chessed (community service) project. We visited the Beit Halochem centre. The centre offers services to Israeli Army veterans who have been wounded in service. We played a very exciting game of wheelchair basketball with the veterans and had a glimpse into the life of a person with disabilities. The veterans as we say, wiped the floor with us. They manoeuvred their wheel chairs with so much agility it was impossible to keep up. We then had the opportunity to hear from an Israeli soldier who was a victim of Arab terror. He told us his story and shared with us his long road to recovery. We all left with a deep sense of appreciation for the Israel Army (IDF) and with a new understanding of the heroic efforts these men and women go through before and after injury.
We arrived in Tel Aviv as the sun was beginning to set and look forward to a full day tomorrow.
One cannot visit Israel without developing an appreciation for the diversity of its geography. We began our trip last week in the lush North with flowing rivers and the Sea of Galilee. We then travelled to the hills of Jerusalem and cool evenings. Now, we are in the desert, and soon we will experience the Mediterranean coast.
As we descended from Jerusalem, the first thing that you notice is the rolling mountains of the desert terrain. The second thing you notice is the heat. Montrealers love the heat, however for some, the 43 degree temperature was a bit too much. I personally love the arid heat of the desert and enjoyed every moment outdoors.
Our first stop was Masada. Due to the extreme heat, we were not allowed to climb up, so the cable car had to suffice. Touring the mountain and hearing it’s history was inspiring. It was there that we chose to have a very special Bar & Bat Mitzva celebration.
I am sharing a summary of what I said to the group as we stood on the top of the mountain surrounded by its history, its lessons and its legacy:
“Allow me to share a few words as we stand on top of Masada.
Israeli army soldiers who complete their training, climb to the top of this mountain and take an oath. They say the words –
“מסדה לא יפול עוד – Masada Will Never Fall Again!”
It is a symbol of Jewish Freedom and Courage. It represents our desire to live free. To have the ability to practice our religion, follow our laws and customs without fear. It also represents our willingness to defend these rights and privileges, and unfortunately, as we have seen thought our history, to make sacrifices when called upon.
Masada calls out to each of us to prioritize our Jewish lives. Be willing to make hard decisions to allow that part of who we are to extend its influence to all of the arenas we live in. We live in many different worlds: our home lives, school or work, our Jewish lives and our public lives which often are not in sync with each other. Masada also represents our challenges in our lives. We all have our personal Masada.
While standing here, let us join together and say several Tefilot (prayers) and sing several songs:”
· Shema Yisrael
· Am Yisrael Chai
After leaving Masada we traveled to Ein Gedi, the desert oasis, to hike, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and to cool off under waterfalls of fresh flowing water. After leaving Ein Gedi, we travelled to our hotel for the night – tired but very fulfilled.
Our day began, bright and early, with a long float in the restorative waters of the Dead Sea. Everyone was very careful not to get the salty water in his or her eyes and certainly not to swallow it.
After leaving our Dead Sea hotel, we began our drive to our next activity – Camel Riding. As we drove, we reviewed the Biblical story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is along the way. We stopped at a large rock formation where according to local history, where Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. Once there, we took the opportunity to collect salt rocks to bring home.
Part of our national heritage is camel riding. Although, we have switched our camels for Hyundai’s, Toyotas and other car makes and models, there is much Jewish history built around these large animals. In fact, throughout the Torah we have episodes of camel riding. One story that comes to mind, is when Rivka was being brought by camel to her future husband Yitzchak. The moment she saw him for the first time, she fell off the camel she was riding. So, of course a Beth Zion trip will include camel riding. Boy, did these massive beasts ride! No one got hurt and it was an experience to remember. After riding the camels, we were treated to a kosher Bedouin lunch. Afterwards, we had coffee in a Bedouin tent while listening to one of their tribal leaders. He told us his story ‘life as a Bedouin.’
For those of you who have never been to Mitzpe Ramon, it is a sight not to be believed. Mitzpe Ramon is a crater that is 70 kilometers long and 9 kilometers wide. The view from the rim of the crater is breathtaking. The Grand Canyon has nothing over Israel. We hiked along the rim of the canyon until the sun set over the distant Mediterranean Sea.
Tomorrow, half the group is going jeeping in the crater. The other half is dirt biking along the perimeter (others may chicken out and sleep in). Then we are off to play wheelchair basketball with injured soldiers at Beit HaLochem. It will be a meaningful day.
Shabbos is called, “A Taste of the World to Come.” The reason for this is because Shabbos is so pleasurable (or should be) that we can taste a little of how wonderful Olam Haba will be.
Shabbos in Yerushalayim with the Beth Zion Bar and Bat Mitzva young adults was truly an example of how wonderful Shabbos can really be. We began Shabbat with Kiddush followed by all of the parents lovingly placing their hands on their children’s heads to give them the very special Shabbat Blessing. After this, we enjoyed the delicious Jerusalem Challa followed by a very enjoyable meal. Even when the hotel we were staying in had a complete black out, it did little to dim our spirits. We sung the bentching out loud (in the dark) and managed to find our way back to our rooms in the dark.
Shabbat morning began with our walking to the Kotel – the Western Wall. We joined a beautiful Minyan towards the front right hand corner of the plaza in front of the Kotel. This allowed the men in the group and the women to share in one service — even with the taller than usual Mechitza. Afterwards, we had a lovely walk back to the hotel, Shabbat lunch and then many from the group went on a walking tour of the Old City. I chose to pass-up on the tour and spend the afternoon visiting with my grandchildren who live a short walk from the hotel. That was my special Shabbat treat.
Shabbat ended with Havdala followed by the entire group singing “Eliyahu Hanavi.” As we smelled the fragrant spices of the Havdala, we were encouraged to take the sweet smells of Shabbos with us into the week and beyond.
Tomorrow we are off to Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea.
When you think of Jerusalem, the first thought that comes to mind is
The Kotel – The Western Wall. This is where we started our very busy day.
Looking at the Kotel, you can only see about 60 meters of wall. However, there is actually over 500 meters. Most of the wall is covered by centuries of building hide the actual length of the Western Wall. We began our day by touring the underground tunnels that follow the entire span of the wall. We spent a few moments offering personal prayers at what is called the “Kotel HaKatan,” the little Kotel. This is the hidden location that is the closest to the actual ancient Temple’s Kodesh HaKadoshim – the Holy of Holies.
After our underground tour, we had the opportunity to visit the actual Kotel, put on Tefillin, place notes in the wall and celebrate that since 1967, we have the Kotel in our possession once again.
Before going to the next site, we had a treat. Our guide, Lior, bought for the group “Beigala,” the special Jerusalem bagels (not to be compared with our beloved Montreal bagels) and we tasted them dipped in the Middle Eastern Zatar seasoning.
We then went to the City of David archaeological site. This is where King David, over three thousand years ago built his capital city. As part of the tour we followed the Gichon Stream through the underground man-made tunnel built by King Chizkiyahu. The water was freezing and we all appreciated cooling off. There are no lights and the entire 40-minute walk was conducted by flashlights our guide provided for all of the participants.
Between the City of David and our next stop, we had a driving tour of the some of the major sites of Jerusalem – The Knesset, Har Herzl, where Theodore Herzl, the Zionist visionary along with Israeli soldiers who gave their lives in service of our nation are buried. Finally, we ended up at Yad Vashem.
Before describing the visit, I need to talk about lunch at Yad Vashem. The cafeteria and how they serve food is truly unique. I ordered my lunch and it was served to me. I then took my tray to the cashier to pay. She looked at what I ordered and said, “go back and get more food, you also don’t have enough salad.” She then gave me, my family and the entire group a blessing for success, good health and to always be happy. Only in Jerusalem are you served at a restaurant the same way your Bubbie would have fed you.
Our day continued with a very meaningful visit to Yad Vashem – the National Holocaust Museum. Words cannot describe how moving Yad Vashem is. We started with a visit to the Garden of the Righteous Gentiles. This is the area that pays tribute to the non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews, during the Holocaust. We then toured the museum shedding tears with each and every step. Our guide made sure to remind everyone that the generation of survivors to tell the story of the holocaust is nearing its end. It is up to each of us to make sure that it is never forgotten.
Tonight, we begin our Shabbat in Jerusalem. We will celebrate Shabbat as a Beth Zion family. Tomorrow morning, we will walk as a group to the Kotel for services and then return to the hotel for the remainder of Shabbat. I am sure that the special Shabbat in Jerusalem will be inspirational for everyone.
Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem
Today was a water day. While Israel is challenged by a short rainy season, it is still a land blessed with lots of opportunities to get wet. This is something you certainly want to do when the thermostat is hovering close to 40 degrees.
Today was our final day in Northern Israel. We started off the day kayaking on the famous Jordan River. The river is not much more than a stream. However, we had ample time to have fun as we paddled the 4-kilometer river trip.
Afterwards, we traveled to a park called “Park HaMaarot,” (the “Park of Springs”). I had never been there before. I can truly say that G-d took a paintbrush to Israel’s landscape and personally created such a beautiful setting. We swam and walked through a stream, while enjoying the beautiful wildflowers that lined the shore. Not only did we cool off, but we appreciated the uniqueness of Eretz Yisroel.
Lunch today was at the famous Kibbutz Nir David. I emphasize where we had lunch because it highlights the changes taking place in Israel. Forty years ago, Kibbutz Nir David prided itself on serving Basar Lavan (white meat, i.e., pork) on Friday nights. Fast forward and today there is a Glatt Kosher Kitchen and a traditional Shabbat dinner is served weekly. This is a reminder that it is never too late to change. If a militant rejectionist Kibbutz can change, so can we.
Then it was off to Jerusalem – the City of Gold. After settling into our rooms, everyone had a free night. I led a group who went to explore Machane Yehuda – the Jewish Outdoor marketplace and had Falafel (what else) for dinner. Then we went to the final night of the Jerusalem Light Festival where the Old City walls and perimeter are decorated with festive lights and lit-up displays. Truly spectacular!
Tomorrow, we go to the Old City, the Temple Tunnels, the City of David and then Yad Vashem – all before Shabbat.
Laila Tov – Good Night from Jerusalem .
I have visited Israel many times. In fact, I lived here for 6 years. However I can honestly say that today I experienced Israel like I never have before.
Because the trip is geared to our Bar and Bat Mitzva young adults, the itinerary has been built around what they will enjoy and inspire them. As adults, we may want to visit lots of museums. For our kids, the visits might leave them bored. Today’s itinerary was not boring, to say the least.
We started out the day bright and early with a morning swim in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) at 6:30 am. I assumed I would be by myself at such an early hour, but 10 other participants joined me. The sun was rising over the mountains as we entered the warm water of the Kinneret. What a beautiful scene!
After a traditional Israeli breakfast (for those of you who love herring, it is worth coming here for that alone), we set out for our day.
Our first stop was Rosh HaNikra. Rosh HaNikra is the Northwestern corner of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea where it borders with Lebanon. We took the cable car down to the grottos where we were splashed by the sea waves and appreciated the beautiful coastline. Of course, we had to stop and take pictures with the sign that points out that Beirut is 120 Kilometers away and Jerusalem was 220.
Our next stop was the ancient and mystical city of Tzfat (Safed). After a casual lunch, we began touring the old city. We visited the synagogue of the Arizal – Rabbi Yitzchak Luria the famous Kabbalist. We sang “Lecha Dodi” there and learned about Jewish mysticism. We then continued our tour visiting other major sites and holy locations. Tzfat is truly a remarkable city.
To end off our day, we went on Jeep Tour in the mountains of the Galilee. This wasn’t a trip where you hired a guide and he drove. Not for Beth Zion! Anyone who had their drivers license on them got to drive a 4 wheel drive, open top jeep. This is how Beth Zion experiences Israel. As a caravan, we followed a rather challenging path through the mountains. All along, our guide would stop and point out historic scenes from Israel’s history – the Hula Valley, the Golan Heights and other strategic military and historic landmarks.
The day ended with refreshments at the hotel as we looked back over the day and planned for tomorrow. Needless to say, I am confident that everyone is sleeping after such a meaningful and exhausting day.
Tomorrow, we spend some more time here in the North and then off to Yerushalayim – the most special city in the world.
Laila Tov – Good Night.