JHF Israel Mission in the News
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Blog Posts from Israel
Tue, 27 Oct 2015 11:43:01 -0400Day Nine
We woke up to mixed weather in Tel Aviv, hard rain and then bright sun. It reflected our moods today in many ways. We had another great day and were happy to be seeing new things but could not forget that our time together was drawing to a close.
This morning we went to Independence Hall and had a fabulous guide share the history of the declaration of Israel as a state. She shared the story with passion and flair and many were moved to wipe tears from their eyes. At the end, we listened to Ben Gurion’s words, to the shechiyanu prayer said by the rabbi that day and then we stood for Hatikvah. It was an extraordinary moment and we were thrilled to have it together.
From there, we headed to the Diaspora Museum and were all fully engaged in learning about the various places and cultures that reflect the Jewish people around the world. There were replicas of synagogues in many countries and we were all fascinated by the way they reflected their environment, like the pagoda-like synagogue from China.
Tonight we are having our farewell dinner and then heading to the airport. Home early tomorrow morning and while we will all be glad to be home, everyone has said they wished they could stay longer!
Our guide at Independence Hall said something that resonated with all of us today. She said that we don’t come to Israel to learn. We can learn about Israel from reading and listening. We come to Israel, she said, to feel, to feel this country and to understand it on an emotional level as well as an intellectual one. We all thought those words rang true and that gaining that feeling mattered a great deal to each and everyone of our travelers.
We have been very blessed and very privileged to have these ten days together. We’ve shared moments and made memories, we’ve experienced all kinds of emotion from laughter to tears and we have developed a relationship and bond that will endure long after our return.
Mon, 26 Oct 2015 12:37:54 -0400Day Eight
Leaving Jerusalem made us all a little bit sad as we can see the end of our trip in front of us. We didn’t leave without making a few more stops this morning. First we headed to Yad L'Kashish, which is “Lifeline for the Elderly.” It is an amazing place where elders, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union, are provided with work and benefits. Not just any work, but work creating many different forms of art. From bookbinding to jewelry making and hand painting fabric, the workshops are abuzz with all kinds of crafts. We learned about the center, toured the workshop and had great fun shopping in their beautiful gift shop!
From there we headed to the Israel Museum. We walked around the model of Jerusalem and gained an even greater perspective of where we have been and the history of this beautiful city. Lunch was in the Museum Cafe and then a docent toured us for about two hours through the highlights of the Judaica exhibit. We were all fascinated and wished we’d had more time to spend in this amazing museum.
On the way to Tel Aviv, we stopped at Latrun. Latrun was originally a headquarters for the British police and is now a tank museum and memorial to those who lost their lives in tank battles since Israel became a state. There were many tanks to see, explore, both Israeli and those that have been captured during various wars.
Tonight we are in Tel Aviv with a day of touring here tomorrow. After our farewell dinner tomorrow evening, we are heading to the airport! Where has the time gone?
Sun, 25 Oct 2015 18:47:15 -0400Day Seven
We had an extraordinary day today. If it sounds like we are having one extraordinary day after another, well, that is just the truth!
This morning we shared the moment that many of our travelers were waiting for: we went to the Kotel, the Western Wall. We had some group photos to begin and then we headed down to the wall. We all had many notes that we brought from our families, friends and, more importantly, from the residents at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living and the Gallen Medical Adult Day Center. We placed them with great care and love into the wall and each of us had some private moments to pray and reflect. There is no way to describe the power and spirituality of being at the Kotel, you just have to feel it. We all did, whether we were Jewish or not, and there were both tears and hugs as we shared this moment together. One of our residents, Harold, has been in a wheelchair throughout the trip, conserving his strength for up and down the bus stairs. At the Kotel he insisted on getting out of the chair and standing. He touched the wall and the he leaned forward and kissed it, a moment neither he nor those who witnessed it will forget.
We walked from the Western Wall to the Davidson Center and the Southern Wall and learned a bit more together. It’s important to note that “we walked” means we helped each other with wheelchairs on bumpy cobblestones and up and down steep slopes. We don’t have many pictures to share of the physical work that goes into a trip like this because it takes all of us to do it but this team does it beautifully.
Heading next to the Knesset and posed for a photo in front of the large and well known menorah that stands on its grounds. Inside we had lunch and then a wonderful private tour and particularly enjoyed the Chagall tapestries and mosaics.
It was raining by the time we left the Knesset but we were not put off by a few (or maybe more than a few!) drops of water. We went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, and spent two hours with a docent there. We had a remarkable tour made even more poignant by the fact that one of our staff, Nancy, is the daughter of a survivor. Her mother’s picture is in the “Auschwitz album” that was found after the war. As we stood at that exhibit, and photos from the album flashed by us, the photo of her mother and aunt appeared on the screen. It was an emotional moment for Nancy and the rest of us all felt both incredibly moved and privileged to share this with her.
Tomorrow, a bit more Jerusalem and then on to Tel Aviv!
Sun, 25 Oct 2015 01:52:32 -0400Day Six
We were a group divided today–for a reason! This morning we had some residents go to services, others relaxed with some of us on the terrace and enjoyed a gorgeous day, and one of our residents joined the staff on a special walking tour of the Christian Quarter.
Our Christian Quarter tour is really focused on our staff, giving them an opportunity to see this important part of Jerusalem. They had a wonderful tour and had much to share when they came back and joined us all for lunch.
After lunch we gathered for a short discussion group with our guide and then a couple of hours of rest before the Light and Sound show at David’s Citadel.
We have an incredibly full day tomorrow–at the Kotel, the Knesset and Yad Vashem!
All the best,
Fri, 23 Oct 2015 09:07:27 -0400Day Five
Today was an experience that none of us will soon forget. Our Centennial Mission travelers had agreed, months ago, that we wanted to do a “Mitzvah project” on our mission. Our wonderful guide suggested that we visit Bet Halochem, a rehabilitation center for wounded soldiers. Our travelers, and many other residents, took part in making cards and beaded lanyards and we put them all in imprinted JHF Centennial Mission bags.
We all had a idea of what Bet Halochem would be like but it turned out to be much different and much more than we imagined. We were greeted on our arrival by Roei Ben-Tolila, the captain of the Bet Halochem Jerusalem wheelchair basketball team. Roei and the chief physical therapist of the center oriented us to wheelchair basketball, which is quite different in many respects yet still the game we all know. Then it was our turn to take part and both staff and some residents gained first hand knowledge of what it feels like to play basketball from a wheelchair. The physical therapist told us that, for her, having rehab patients participate in sports mean that she has done her job successfully, that they are embracing life beyond recovery. That was a powerful message and resonated with many of us.
After our hour of sport, we went into another room and Roei showed us a video and then told us his personal story. Roei was a young commander in an elite unit of the IDF. His unit’s job was to find and arrest terrorists and he shared with us the many ways in which they did just that. One night, on a mission, his unit was in an area receiving gunfire. They moved on with their mission nonetheless but, unfortunately, a member of one of the support troops called in on the mission, panicked and shot Roei. He took 34 bullets, one of which rendered him a paraplegic.
Roei told us that they did not expect him to survive and that, if he did, they did not think he would be cognitively intact. Yet, after being unconscious for a week, he did awake and his mind was intact although his body was not. Roei told us about the depression he faced and his feeling that he would never have the life he intended. He told us about his struggles with his emotions. And he told us about how difficult, and how important, it was for him to forgive the soldier who shot him.
When Roei first saw wheelchair basketball, he says he saw that the disabled athletes had “light in their eyes,” that they worked and had “real lives.” He saw their children in the stands, cheering for them and he realized that he could go on, he could work, have a family and a full life. Today Roei is involved with Bet Halochem’s wheelchair basketball team, with the Israeli wheelchair basketball team, has his own business focused on leadership and he and his wife have four gorgeous childen.
We were all inspired and moved by our visit at Bet Halochem and our chance to hear Roei’s story. We were a quiet group getting back on the bus, there really were no words for all of the emotions we were feeling. Ron said “This was the most extraordinary experience. I have never seen anything like this and never will again. This was incredibly powerful and meaningful.”
From there, we dove back into history, learning about the 1967 War during a visit to Ammunition Hill. We had lots to talk about and lots to think about. After that, another great meal and then a few hours to rest before we meet for candle lighting and Kabbalat Shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem!
Thu, 22 Oct 2015 13:49:42 -0400Day Four
What a full day we had today! We loaded the bus early and headed to En Gedi. It’s a beautiful spot and we enjoyed not only the waterfalls but also the chance to see some ibix (somewhat like a deer) along the way. A number of us clambered down the rocky staircase to put our feet or hands in the water!
From there we headed along the Dead Sea until we reached Masada. After watching a short film that helped us understand the history, we took the cable car up but it is still a steep walk from there to the top. Our brigade of wheelchairs, with lots of great teamwork from our staff, made it to the top. We spent time learning about the final battle fought there and marveled at all of the excavation and the remnants of lives in the distant past. We spent some time in the remains of the synagogue and we saw both the cisterns and the area that was once used for food storage. Everyone was fascinated, lots of questions for our guide and lots of enthusiasm for having made the trek up the mountain!
Following our Masada adventure, we drove to a lovely resort on the Dead Sea. We had a great lunch and then those who wanted to experience the Dead Sea had a chance to do just that. Some of our folks sat on the beach and watched the action and that was as much fun as heading into the water! One of our staff headed into the water slowly. We coached her to just sit down and, as she did, her legs rose and she was floating. She was so overcome with joy that she was calling out her thanks and even began to sing! It made all of us, and many around us, smile!
As we left the beach, we asked one of our residents what he thought of floating in the Dead Sea. "Did you have fun?“ we asked. "I don’t know if it was fun,” he said, “but it was a great experience!”
Another busy day in Jerusalem tomorrow–
All the best,
Thu, 22 Oct 2015 13:48:54 -0400Day Three
We met for breakfast bright and early and headed right over to the museum that houses the 2000 year old boat that was excavated from the Galilee. We were fascinated by the film that chronicled not only the discovery but the process used to wrap and lift the boat safely to the museum site.
From there, a quick walk down the ramp and onto a beautiful boat. The crew hoisted the American flag and then began to play lively music. We did a hora together and had fun dancing and swaying, singing and laughing.
We then headed to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu where we had a fascinating tour and learned their organic farming, some of the first anywhere. We were intrigued by the use of insects rather than pesticides and the Bio-Bee program they have developed. We shared a delicious lunch of organic vegetables and cheese, followed by some amazing desserts. The residents loved the experience and Joel told us “how fascinating” he found this tour.
From there, our bus headed to Bet Alfa where we saw a beautiful preserved mosaic synagogue floor and watched a great film about it. Again, we heard lots of “wow” comments. Phyllis told us that she thought this trip was going to be amazing but that “it is even more amazing” than she could have imagined.
We then headed to Jerusalem and our home for the next five nights, We gathered for an emotional shecheyanu, a little wine and some challah. On the balcony we saw the sights of the Old City and there were more than a few teary eyes and emotional reactions.
Tomorrow–we conquer Masada!
All the best,
Tue, 20 Oct 2015 13:29:35 -0400Day Two
Day two of our Centennial Mission was a great one!
Everyone got a much needed night’s sleep and we began our day with a delicious Israeli breakfast. We boarded the bus right after breakfast and headed to Agamon Hula bird sanctuary. We clambered onto a large tractor drawn wagon and had an incredible ride through the fields, looking at the thousands of cranes who make their winter home there. We learned that the cranes are a menace for farmers so the bird sanctuary actually has a strategy to help them. They fill a field with bird food, actually tons of it over the course of the winter, to keep the cranes there and not bothering the farmers!
From there we drove further north along the Golan Heights and stopped for a fabulous lunch in a Druze village. We learned much about the Druze religion, which is quite unique and fascinating. Everyone enjoyed lunch and a chance to see a place so different.
Back on the bus to Kibbutz El Rom where we stopped and saw a documentary about the Yom Kippur War and the decisive tank battle that was fought at the Valley of Tears. The film was very moving and we all learned a great deal.
From there, back on the bus and a trip to the Golan Heights Winery in Katzrin.
We toured the winery and then tasted some wines! We all raised our glasses to our wonderful adventure.
All the best,
Mon, 19 Oct 2015 14:36:26 -0400Day 1
Traveling internationally is always a challenge but doing it with seven folks in wheelchairs is quite something! Nonetheless, we boarded our flight on time and we landed on time. We collected ourselves and all our luggage and were on our tour bus in short order.
Our first stop was Neot Kedumim Biblical Nature Biblical Nature Preserve. We had breakfast (our second breakfast because we had breakfast on the plane!) and then we planted oak trees in the JNF National Forest. We all gathered and said a prayer and it was an emotional moment. When we talked about these trees and the way they would grow and be a permanent reminder of our visit, many of our folks had tears in their eyes.
From there we headed north towards the Galil. We stopped at Caesarea and toured the Roman ruins. When we walked into the theatre, there was a group singing an Italian standard and we all were amazed by the incredible acoustics. From there we headed into the crusader town and enjoyed a great lunch.
From there we continued north to Nof Ginossar, the beautiful guest house where we will stay for the next two nights. We had a great dinner and many of our folks opted for an early night, trying to catch up after a fairly sleepless night on the airplane.
Comments so far–Miriam said that “all the planning is definitely paying off.” Phyllis could not stop talking about the smell of the eucalyptus trees at the National Forest. And everyone has had a busy and wonderful first day in Israel!
All the best,
Find photos here: https://jewishhome.smugmug.com/IsraelMission
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