At Central Synagogue

Family Trip to Israel, December 2017

Posted January 10, 2018

This past week, Rabbi Lorge and Rabbi Rosenthal returned from leading a congregational trip to Israel. The group, made up of Central families, explored both the historical and religious significance of the beautiful country. From the old stones of Jerusalem to the mystical city of Tsfat, they discovered all that Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, has to offer. Click here to see photos from the trip. Below you can find some reflections from the families and Rabbis who went on the trip.

Rabbis Lorge and Rosenthal:
There is a poem called Tourists by Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai which talks about travelers to Israel needing to take time to engage not just the historical sites and artifacts that make Israel special, but the people and moments that make Israel truly alive. When we travel to Israel with Central Synagogue, we travel not as tourists, who seek to see things, but as pilgrims, who seek to interact and understand and connect. It is in this spirit that we approached our time with 40 members of the Central community, from ages 3 to 80+ over the December break.

Traveling with Central is always a special experience. Not only do we get to explore Israel, we get to bond together as a community, with people we knew before and people we had not met. Over the course of the week, we celebrated three B’nai Mitzvah, learned about every aspect of Israel from the land, to the politics to the history and of course the food, and played thousands of games on the bus. It was a unique opportunity for us as clergy to spend uninterrupted time with families in this community while strengthening our connection to Israel and to get to know people outside of the walls of Central. From late night conversations over wine, to riding a camel near the Dead Sea, to bumping around the Golan Heights in a Jeep to trying lots of different falafel and ice cream options, our group became a community and a family of pilgrims.

And as pilgrims, more than sites and sights, we’re coming home carrying stories. The story of Racheli, whose family was brought to Israel on Operation Solomon; being rescued by the IDF and brought to Israel and making a home for herself in a place that had only been a myth to her as a young girl. The story of Yair who works in a botanical reserve seeking to return the desert Judean hills to their once lush origins and who wanted us to know these hills were our home too. The story of Yaniv, whose family goes back hundreds of years in the land and who was born and now lives in the northernmost Israeli city surrounded by a border with a hostile neighbor. The story of our guide Ron whose family survived the madness of the Holocaust in Europe and came to Israel after the way. The story of Nero, the hipster Tel Avivian who opened up some of the complexities of Israel through street art. So many other stories that make up the beautiful, complex, sometimes difficult, but always hopeful land.

Natalie Brenner, Age 10:
This trip I have experienced so much about Jewish history. We started with Masada, which was the best of all. I had so much fun learning and climbing It. It was so amazing to be standing where the Jews fought against the Romans 2000 years ago. This trip was so special and I’m so happy I got to spend it with my family and new friends.

Valerie Penn, Parent:
It was very important for me that my daughter, CeCe, travel to Israel and absorb her Jewish heritage and history.  Adding my mother Carol to our group made the journey even more meaningful. Joining Central Synagogue for this experience was ideal.  Traveling with three generations, the Central group provided social, intellectual, and educational attributes that suited all three of us.  We had so much fun with the other Central trip members and really came together as we shared our heritage and made new memories with new friends.  CeCe and two other group members were bnei mitzvah’d in Jerusalem.  The ceremony, led by Rabbis Ari Lorge and Rebecca Rosenthal, was incredibly moving, and it was very significant to be able to focus on the true meaning of this passage in the promised land on a journey enriching our Jewish identities.  CeCe, Carol, and I will cherish this experience that we shared with one another, as well as connecting to our Jewish history and culture in Israel with our New York community.

Sherry King, Grandparent:
Here’s the fantasy: a family trip to Israel in anticipation of my oldest grandson’s upcoming bar mitzvah that celebrates him and deepens our family’s connection to Israel.
Here’s the challenge: My own children and grandchildren span ages 5-45. Some of those are nostalgic about re-visiting the country, one has never been before, another worried about safety, and that’s just the adults. Although we all travel, we’re not used to being on organized tours. How will we ever meet so many diverse needs?
Here’s the upshot: The trip surpassed all expectations. Somehow the activities and extraordinary guide kept everyone of all ages and experiences totally engaged. The group was warm, welcoming, congenial – and game for every adventure. Our Rabbis struck just the right chord as our leaders and fellow “pilgrims.” The simple B’nai Mitzvah service alone was an experience that will long leave an afterglow.

Ross Lewis, Parent:
Ever since my daughters Anwen and Lilah were little, one of the family trips on my bucket list was to go to Israel. In great part, this was to provide them a more tangible relationship with the religion and culture in which they were raised. It is particularly hard for a kid going to Hebrew school once a week to connect to Abraham who lived thousands of miles and years ago in Israel. As they are now in their late teen years, I wanted to make sure that this was something we would all do together in light of everyone’s varied schedules and commitments.

Typically, we are not a family that signs on to group tours, having traveled to Europe and Asia on our own. So, understandably, I was a bit apprehensive at first. Recognizing the important role Central Synagogue has played in our lives from my daughter’s baby naming and Bat Mitzvahs and Pete and my Aufruf, it seemed like we might give it a chance.

Most families tend to go on this trip around the Bar or Bat Mitzvah age with other families of the same age. However, since that time had passed with one daughter in college and the other in eleventh grade, we were not familiar within any of the other kids, their parents or grandparents. Fortunately, the Jewish six degrees of separation theory applied and we soon found ourselves bonding with one another through shared experiences. There was a real sense of community on the trip that crossed all age boundaries. We adopted one another’s families from kids to grandmas. Everyone looked out for everyone else. There was a real hamish feeling. It was wonderful to see my daughters feeling so comfortable with a totally new group of friends.

The trip took us to some of the classic Israel trip whistle stops and then some. Most memorable for me were visits to Yemin Orde, an educational community that works with immigrant youth in Israel where we heard first-hand stories of an Ethiopian Jew, Racheli, now a staff person there, who arrived in Israel at age six.  While on a jeep tour in the Golan Heights, we heard the story of one of the residents Yoder who lives in the furthermost house in Israel, closest to the Lebanese border. He gave me a new sense of what it is to support one’s homeland.  On our last night, we attended services at the liberal Jewish synagogue Kehillat Yozma in Modi’in thirty minutes from Tel Aviv and dined at the home of one of the member family’s home. We were welcomed by our hosts Danny and Tali Jaffa and their twin seventeen-year old son and daughter, who had prepared a veritable feast. We all got along so well that one could barely hear above all the cross conversations going on at the dinner table. When we returned to the bus to go back to the hotel each family on our trip said that the family that invited them to their house.

A key aspect that made the trip so enjoyable was our tour guide Ron Singer. He regaled us with endless stories, historical facts and showered us with his boundless energy and enthusiasm. Everything we saw or did with him was Sababa or “awesome”. He brought to life archeological sites where King David and Abraham might have been which to the inexperienced visitor seemed to be just a pile of rocks or old arches. At Yad Vashem, Ron shared his own personal family history which brought real emotions to the surface for all of us and a deeper sense of connection to him.

Of course, our Rabbis Rebecca and Ari provided the spiritual umbrella for us from our first Shabbat dinner to the last. Rabbi Ari is most definitely overqualified for the Rabbi job as he not only has the requisite rabbinical knowledge and plays the guitar but most importantly on our trip could challenge any of the girls whatever their age to hand games. Go, Rabbi Ari! Rabbi Rebecca kept us engaged learning new Hebrew words every day. The easiest word to remember and most useful for me was Shocolad or Chocolate!

For me, the trip opened up all sorts of questions regarding my identity as a liberal American Jew. If I am an American and this is my country why do Jewish Americans invest so much energy in supporting Israel rather than putting more emphasis on the plight of Jews in this country? Is this truly the homeland for all of us in the event of world Anti-Semitism? Being a third generation American I don’t have the immediate Zionist sense of urgency to live in Israel. However, when one of our guides at a biblical nature reserve said to me “Welcome Home!” suddenly a rush of emotions washed over me. Why did it take over forty years to visit Israel again after having gone twice as a teenager and with happy memories?  If I have no answers yet I can only say my sense of connection to Israel was heightened. I worried as a liberal Jew I would be not considered the real deal. That is no longer the case. I am an amalgam of the experiences of my own journey and those in my family before me.

Only a week has gone by since we have been home and we have gotten together with some of our new “family” at synagogue and for lunch. It is amazing the sense of closeness that we all feel even though our time together was just ten days. In fact, I felt a bit guilty when I bypassed an old friend at synagogue to greet one of my new-found buddies from the trip.

This first Shabbat service back at Central I felt I had returned home invested with a new sense of connections to the history, beliefs, struggles, joys and questions which have played out in Jewish lives for centuries. I want to know more.