I realized today that I never blogged about my trip to Israel in October. Considering the fact that it was a total life changing trip for me, in retrospection it's sort of weird, but I think I needed this time to get through the holidays and process the whole experience in order to get my thoughts and feelings down "on paper'. For those that don't know, I was lucky blessed to be selected to be one of 40 women from Los Angeles to travel with the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project for 10 days to Israel. The local organization that hosted the trip was Jewish Women's Inititative who are led by the most lovely women, women who gently encourage our love for learning and Jewish life. So, this post took me a little over 3 hours to compile..you might want to grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit back...it's also very photo heavy...hope you enjoy!
I honestly can't begin to express how profoundly this trip affected me so I will share some photos of the more meaningful moments of the trip. First, let me say, that other than Mexico and Canada (Hawaii and Alaska excluded) I have never been out of the United States. I didn't even own a passport until 3 weeks before the trip because it wasn't ever required to travel to Mexico or Canada. I also have never gone anywhere "alone". Meaning, traveled someplace with literally no one that I have met or known for more than a few hours. (Funny how I have an ability to feel alone even within a group)..I had "met" most of the women at a couple of mixers, but how well can you know 40 women in the span of 3 hours? Right. I knew no one. There were a couple of women that I had met before but I hadn't been in touch with them in over 12 or 13 years. At first I might have let this stop me from going but I *really* wanted to go to Israel. So I put on my big girl pants and took the leap.
After 15 hours of a direct flight to Tel Aviv (all of which I was in the middle seat, NONE of which I slept) I was really ready to get off the plane. We arrived in Israel at about 12:30pm. We drove a couple more hours to the area known today as Tiberias which sits right on the Sea of Galilee. This was the view from our room. ( I know!)
We checked into our hotel and had an hour to unwind before dressing for dinner and going down to our first class which was on Gossip, Lies and Complaining. We also got to meet the other ladies on the trip, from 6 other cities (all East Coast and Canada), all told, about 180 of us. We were given orange bracelets to wear and were instructed to change the hand we were wearing it on if we Blamed, Complained or Gossiped. It was one of the first "aha" moments for me. No complaining! No gossiping! Okay. We got this. Onward to dinner. Dinner was at Decks restaurant which extends over the Sea and is open on three sides to the water..it is gorgeous! The moon that night was so full and and reflected on the water...
We were served family style, an unbelievable dinner of salmon, crispy onions, sweet potatoes as well as traditional hummus and pita etc...
We then danced. And Danced. And Danced some more.
Fun times! Exhausted and happy we went back to the hotel to sleep. I wasn't sure how I would do with jet lag but I slept pretty well and woke up to this...
Israeli breakfast was not my favorite thing...good thing I'm not really a breakfast person, lol. After another class, we checked out of the hotel and headed to the hills, to the area known today as Tsfat or Safed. It is the considered the most holy spot in all of Israel and you can definitely feel the spirituality while there. Our first stop was the Tsfat Mikveh. It was very interesting to learn about the mitzvah of Mikveh. From there, we had a walking tour of the synagouges and Shopping Artists District. I bought candles (they are famous for their hand dipped candles here!) and jewelry for the girls (and the best fresh squeezed pomogranite juice!) I was so tempted to buy other things but it was our first day and I didni't want to spend all my money on the first day! I still have longing over this one bracelet..I might have to track it down online for my birthday. ;) I loved this synagogue...so pretty!!
Stained glass in the oldest synagogue...so pretty.
We were then treated to a very nice lunch (and more dancing) and then boarded the busses to head to Jerusalem. We arrived in Jerusalem after dark and while some of the women went down to the Western Wall, I really didn't want to see it in the dark for the first time so several of us went in search of a drink. We found this fabulous bar that overlooks the Old City...
The two lovely ladies in the front were two of our city leaders, Emuna and Sharon...oh they are the BEST! The ladies in the back with me are some of the ladies that I will cherish as my friends forever. from the left: Julie, Stacey, Stacy and Mandy (my roommate). It was the perfect beginning to our time in Jerusalem! The next morning...THIS sunrise greeted me from our room. That is the Old City...I know!!!
I was literally quite speechless as we walked through the streets of Jerusalem to the Old City... this is the entrance known as the Jaffa Gate.
And deep in the Old City, we finally arrived at our destination, the Aish building.
the very beautiful glass sculpture in the entry of Aish..
We went to the roof for group photos...here are the lovely ladies of Los Angeles
We were by far the largest group. I think the next largest group only had about 20 including their city leaders and we were 45 in total. The blonde at the bottom right of the photo is Michelle, one of the founders of JWRP. She was so much fun and stayed with us most of the trip. After our photos we were invited by city to gather and then go visit the Western Wall. Again, I was speechless. All my life I've learned about this place..it was amazing to be here, right here.
Very. very. VERY cool moment. I had no idea what to expect..but I can say that being in a place where so many are praying is very powerful.
We had time for lunch and then we met back for Old City and Western Wall Tunnel tours. Fascinating is all I can say...that in modern day, children play on such ancient relics such as the Cardo, tombs, etc...
And under the city, in the tunnel tour...I was a little claustrophobic here...loved the history of it all, but was having a hard time being under and in such narrow spaces...
Yeah...by the time we came out I was in an almost full blown panic attack. I think the jet lag had caught up with me and the day was very emotional and tiring...I was very happy to finally meet up with Mandy and Julie for dinner. We ate outside at a cafe..had a really nice time and a glass of wine..ahhh.
The next day we had a class and then went to our Chesed project which was with One Family Fund. Here we cooked food with mothers of victims of terror..it was very meaningful...we mothers can all relate to how we might have trouble cooking our child's favorite meal after they needlessly died...One Family Fund works with these women to get them to a place of healing.
After this very moving morning and lunch, we went to Yad Vashem. No photos are allowed inside the museum. As if you'd want to take photos of such tragedy. I can't even put into words how profound this experience was. I have been to three other Holocaust memorial museums but NOTHING was like this museum. The hardest part for me to deal with was finding artifacts with my family names on them. That was so disturbing and rocked me to the core. I found myself crying over and over again, for my family, for the 6 million that I never knew but know so much about...and how this ever could have happened.
deep breath. there are no words.
Okay, so when we got back, we quickly changed clothes and went to Me'a She'arim, the Orthodox neighborhood, for some shopping. I found some fabulous deals and presents here...we had pizza in a little neighborhood pizza place...
Meaningful moment: a woman on the trip with me told me she was meeting up with a local friend of hers that had made aliya a little while ago...and lo and behold it was my old friend Erica. Years and years ago Erica chose to remove me from her life and I was very sad about it...I didn't know what I would do if I saw her...and I did...and she waved...and I ran across the street to hug her...and wow. I am so happy to have reconnected with her, even if we can only remain friends on Facebook, she was always so special to me. :)
Later, we walked back to the Old City to see the laser light show that is shown on the walls of King David's Tower..SO cool!!
A very long day indeed...
The next day was Friday...we had several classes about shabbat and the mitzvot of shabbat...we baked challah!
afterwards we took a quick and crazy train ride to the Shuk..which was total insanity as everyone prepares for shabbat!
After a whirlwind shopping trip and almost getting hit by a train (yeah..I seriously almost did!) we took a taxi back to the hotel to get ready for shabbat. All Shabbat Pretty and ready to go we headed back to the Old City to the Aish building to celebrate. We were treated to a fabulous concert by the very groovy Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser...cue more dancing...which we found was just the warm up...because we went down to the wall for more singing and dancing...now, I didn't take any of the pictures on shabbat because I gave up my phone and all electronics, but I have to say I am really grateful that some one else didn't because that was quite the defining moment, singing and dancing at the Kotel..just look at how many women were singing with us...hundreds and hundreds..SO COOL.
and the moment when our song leader grabbed a group of young Israeli soldiers and pulled them into the inner circle? Chills...
These girls could be our daughters and here they are, carrying rifles and protecting the country...crazy. I know it was a moment they will never forget either.
Shabbat was spent in classes as well, but I took no notes (no writing allowed) or photos until after sunset...we had dinner with some Israeli soldiers...and got to speak with them. I can't believe how young but old they are at the same time.
we did more shopping that night (shocking I know!) and tried to go to bed early since the next day we were headed to Masada, the Dead Sea and Abraham's tent.
My favorite photos from those places...
(it's actually hard to float in the dead sea! just because it's so FLOATY)
Yes, I rode a camel!!
Dinner in Abraham's tent was amazing. The chicken was cooked in Date Honey...I bought some to try to recreate it but failed. Oh well...I have the memory! LOL
Next morning, more classes...then a visit to the Israeli Army Base where we delivered care packages to the kids soldiers. Cammy's Hebrew School class wrote letters to the soldiers thanking them for their bravery and for protecting Israel so those were delivered as well.
Some photos of the last day...walking through the park our hotel overlooked just outside the Old City
shopping again! LOL
Back on the roof of Aish..
we visited Rachel's Tomb before our final dinner...
at the airport having a final toast in the Wine Bar...
And now I'm home, processing this whole experience....making bits and pieces of it my own and incorporating the parts that feel right and letting the others go, guilt free. I'm enjoying this new group of women who I have been so happy to see again and again and I have gained some friendships that I hope last a long long time! So if you've hung in here all the way to the end, thank you...would love to hear your thoughts...and I hope you enjoyed the photos!!