Israel: A Journey

Reflections

“Your trip can be just another vacation, or it can be the journey of your life,” writes Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman in his book Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide.

I still remember my first trip to Israel. I was 18 years old, a senior in High School. It was a teen trip through my home syangogue.

I still remember the first time I stepped off the bus. That first breath of fresh air. I’d always heard stories of people kissing the ground upon landing in Israel. The Tel Aviv airport had recently been remodeled. But my friends and I still wanted to kiss the holy ground. So we walked off the bus, onto the Jerusalem stone, knelt down and kissed the holy land.

I still remember the first time I saw the Old City, in person. Our trip began at the most perfect look-out point. The Dome of the Rock shone brightly, the ancient walls of the Old City felt real and alive.

I remember the first time I walked through the Israeli market. The smells of the spices and the fresh baked goods. The hustle and bustle on that Thursday afternoon before Shabbat. Strangers wishing one another, wishing me, a Shabbat Shalom.

I remember that first Shabbat in Israel, at a Reform synagogue in Jerusalem. It felt so foreign, and yet so comfortable at the same time. The melodies were new, the prayers the same.

I still remember the first time I climbed Masada. How I waited at the top to watch the sun rise. I can still feel the tears down the side of my face, when I reached the top.

Of course, I still remember my first time floating in the Dead Sea. I remember the laughs and fun we had covering ourselves with mud and the magical feeling of floating in the water.

I remember the first night I stayed at my Israeli penpals house with her family. How we had only met hours before, and how it felt like we’d known each other for our whole lives. I remember how her parents treated me like I was their own child.

I still remember traveling to the Golan Heights. I remember our tour guide sharing her experiences from serving in the army as she pointed out borders of Israel, and how we could see how close we were to Syria. And I remember truly experiencing the complicated the narratives of Israel.

I remember the first time I visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. I remember what it was like to visit the Valley of Communities and seeing, “czestochowa” the name of the town in Poland from where my family came.

I remember so much about my first trip to Israel — staying up late bonding with my Israeli penpal, hearing stories of growing up in Israel from our tour guide, laughing in the back of the bus with my closest friends, eating falafel on Ben Yehuda. How a place that had felt so distant, as if it were a far off land, only days before, know felt like a home.

Perhaps what I remember most, was leaving Israel. I knew I would return. And I did, 3 years later and four more times after that. But the feeling I had that first time I left, and every time I’ve left since, is the feeling and the desire to share my love for Israel, to share these experiences of Israel, with others.

For me, traveling to Israel is not just another vacation. It’s part of the journey of my life.

I hope it will be yours, too.

And so, we are planning multiple trips to Israel in the coming year. One for families in December, and a separate trip for adults in February. We are hopeful that many people will be able to join us to share these meaningful experiences.

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