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TCS Bulletin - How do you sum up a 10 day trip to Israel?

It is almost impossible to do justice to the trip in words, because so much of it is about the feelings that this place can inspire in people. Instead I want to share three experiences.

On our first Friday we set out to explore the city of Tel Aviv. As part of this tour we made our way to Levinsky Street, in south Tel Aviv, an area that tourists rarely visit. But for me, this area is my Israel. In our New York context, you can think of this neighborhood like the Lower East Side, the original area where Jews built up the city. And on a Friday morning it is a place filled with locals trying to get all of their shopping done in time for Shabbat, when virtually everything will be closed.

But for me, in taking our group to this neighborhood, I was able to share my Tel Aviv. It was in this neighborhood that my great-grandparents settled, after arriving in Palestine (as it was then called) from Romania and Austria respectively. These are the streets where they had their shops and these are the streets that I still walk with my Saba סבא (grandfather) stopping in virtually every shop for him to say hello to all of his friends.

In the middle of our trip we made our way to the south and faced the challenge of climbing Masada, the desert fortress constructed by King Herod, and the place where zealots made their last stand against the Romans. As we arrived in our bus we saw what seemed like hundreds of young Israeli soldiers making their way to climb the path up to the fortress. They had completed their basic training and where at the end of a 50 kilometer, through the night, hike to Masada. Some of them were limping, many of them looked exhausted, but to us they were an inspiring sight.

When we stood at the top of the mountain, as Uri (our tour guide) told Masada’s story, he was repeatedly interrupted by their cheers for one another, by the soldiers’ chanting, and then ultimately by their singing of Hatikva. And then following this with our own morning service, in which three recent Bnei Mitzvah were called to the Torah added a new layer of meaning to this site as a place of rebirth, not simply a place of loss and sacrifice.

And the final experience didn’t happen in one place, it happened over the final days of the trip. Sitting in a pizza restaurant I suddenly noticed that three of the boys on the trip were there too, and that as they sat at the bar, eating pizza, all of them were still wearing their kippot from our earlier visits to the Western Wall and the Old City. Another one of our younger participants also started wearing his kippah for the final days of our trip. I’m not sure if any of them had ever worn a kippah outside of the synagogue before, but Israel inspires people and it was wonderful to see them claiming this symbol of Jewish identity as their own.

And through these three experiences perhaps I can sum up the Israel trip.

Israel is a place with which I have a personal connection, and for me sharing it with our group, in places like Levinsky, allowing them to form their own individual connections and memories was so special. It is a place where we see the Jewish people not just surviving, but thriving, as we did atop of Masada, the youth of our trip and of Israel offer us reasons to be very optimistic for our future. And Israel is a place where Judaism is everywhere, and as such when you visit the country, Judaism enters your soul in new and powerful ways, allowing for a deeper pride and stronger connections to our tradition, people, and heritage.

During this month at our Sedarim סדרים we will say “Next Year in Jerusalem”, and I hope that in due time every member of our community will have the opportunity to turn them into reality. There is nowhere in the world quite like Israel, and joining with our community on a trip around the country was definitely one of the highlights of my rabbinate.

About Rabbi Danny

Rabbi Danny
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