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Back from Israel

Tzfat, Israel

Tzfat, Israel

My wife and I just returned from two weeks in Israel with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) mission, “Follow Me To Israel.”  The 10-day mission was to interview youth groups visiting Israel to find out their motivations for coming and learn about their experience there, and also to explore first hand the range of opportunities that Israel offers to young people.   Now that we are back it will be our job to promote trips to Israel for teenagers at our synagogue.

It was a very action-packed trip, as each day we interviewed a youth group or two and had a lecture or presentation or brainstorming session, and also toured an historic site.  We spent a few nights in Jerusalem, a couple nights in Haifa, and then a few more nights in Jerusalem.  We returned to our hotel happily exhausted every night.  We return to Boston energized and equipped with the information and experiences we need to promote Israel travel.

At the end of the Israel phase of the mission we left the group and went off on our own to spend three relatively leisurely days in the city of Tzfat in northern Israel.  Tzfat (often shown on the map as Safed) is said to be the birthplace of Kabbalah and remains a center for Jewish spirituality today, as it has been for thousands of years.  There we were able to make  personal connections with several remarkable people.  Although we were universally welcomed throughout Israel, especially since we did not cancel our trip due to current circumstances there, in Tzfat I think we found some of the friendliest people I have ever met.

Concerning the Conflict:

As our Israel journey was approaching, hostilities escalated between Israel and Gaza.   Our CJP sponsors satisfied our safety concerns and so we did not change our plans, but went as scheduled on July 15, 2014.  As we traveled through Israel under the watchful eyes of “The Situation Room”, an Israeli office run by the Israeli police, the IDF and the Israeli environmental agency that advises all groups visiting Israel about where it may be safe or unsafe to go, and our excellent guides, logistics people and leaders, we neither saw nor heard any direct evidence of the conflict.

Although our itinerary was changed daily, we never knew it because they never told us where we were going until they were sure themselves.   The itineraries of the groups we were to interview were being changed daily as well, so our itinerary was a dynamically unfolding phenomenon.

We heard no sirens and saw no rockets but were advised what to do should we hear an air raid alert. As our journey unfolded we saw more IDF soldiers.  On our way north we saw many heavy equipment trailers loaded with Israeli tanks on the southbound side.  Israeli fighter jets flew at high altitude over Tzvat and Tel Aviv.

Yet wherever we went people were welcoming and friendly.  They were happy to see us, glad that we did not cancel our trip in time of trouble.  “It’s very bad this time,” I heard several Israelis say on several different occasions.  Israel is a very small country, so the degrees of separation tend to be less than one might find in larger nations.

Inevitably as conversation progressed with the Israelis we met, it would emerge that someone they know had been called to active duty, was engaged in combat or combat support, or was sadly wounded or killed in the line of duty.   The daughter of Asher, our guide, a champion swimmer, had been called to active duty before we arrived.  Rabbi Binny Freedman’s son, who shared Shabbat dinner with us reported to breakfast on Sunday in his IDF uniform and left from there to join the other fighters in the south.   I do not think that it is a stretch to say that almost every Israeli knows someone close to them who is, was, or will be directly involved in the conflict.

I pray that peace will come soon.

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