Traveling on an organized synagogue trip can be a wonderful experience! Congregants who participate not only become more connected with Jewish history, but also become more connected to their fellow congregants as well. When Israel is the destination, for many, it becomes more of a pilgrimage than a vacation. It provides the opportunity to not only increase their personal connection to the Jewish people and their heritage, but to increase their own personal spirituality as well as understand the geopolitical nature of what’s going on in the Middle East.
This past October, thirty people embarked on a unique trip to Israel organized by the Community Scholar Program, Congregation B’nai Israel of Tustin and Temple Beth El of South Orange County in co-sponsorship with Jewish Foundation & Family Services of Orange County. The trip was led by Arie Katz, Rabbi Elie Spitz and Rabbi Peter Levi.
The purpose is echoed in its name “Touching the Spirit and the Soul of Israel.” Its goal was to see Israel in a different way. It was not meant for first timers, but for those who had been to Israel and wanted to go to deeper. “We developed an itinerary not just to visit significant places,” said Arie Katz,” but to meet people who are the movers and shakers in cultural, political and religious arenas.”
“This was my ninth trip to Israel,” said Johanna Rose. “The programming on this trip allowed us to experience Israel in a way that we never had before. We met with leaders who are shaping the culture and visited sites that I never had before in all my previous visits.”
The ten-day trip was filled with visits, meetings, tours and tastings! From visiting new exciting congregations that are striving to bring a different approach to tradition to dinners in the dark and an exploration of the fascinating food markets.
Two highlights were a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) and a tour of the Yitchak Rabin Center. The Center is dedicated to the history of society and democracy in Israel. The group had a private conversation with Ms. Dalia Rabin, Chairwoman of the Rabin Center and daughter of the late Prime Minister on the topic: “The Challenge of Leadership in Israel.”
“Most memorable for me,” said Norman Witkin, “was the visit to the Western Wall where history was made when a young woman was able to complete her bat-mitzvah reading from a smuggled-in Torah.” This had been organized by The Women of the Wall, or Nashot Hakotel, a group of Jewish women from around the world who strive to achieve the right, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
At the Tel Aviv Museum, the group enjoyed a special program, “Israeli Art at the Cutting Edge” which included dialogues with artists and curators such as Adi Ness who re-creates Biblical scenes and stages snapshots from within Israeli society to create a biblical commentary.
“We did not view ourselves as tourists or visitors,” commented Janice and Harris Shultz. “Rather, this trip deepened our connection to the Jewish people of generations and centuries past and to our present-day Jewish identity. “
While for many a trip to Israel is what comes to mind when they think “synagogue trip” there are so many other places where Jews have lived and contributed to the culture of a country, that more and more, congregants are visiting other places around the world.
Shir Ma-A lot is not only planning a ten-day family trip to Israel in the summer of 2016, but an adults-only trip to Spain in February.
University Synagogue too will be traveling to Spain this summer. Over the years there have been many tours to Israel; but the congregation has also traveled to Eastern Europe and Ukraine, Jordan and Turkey, Spain and Morocco, Argentina and Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany and France.
“Our tour to Spain and Portugal is going to be a wonderful trip,” said Rabbi Arnold Rachlis. “A big part of this trip will be to visit ‘Juderias,’ to learn about crypto-Jews who stayed. We will meet their descendants and visit the earliest synagogues and yeshivot of Europe.”
The primary goal of all of these trips is to find common themes and challenges, and to examine them through the eyes of different generations and our own. “Most importantly” said Rachlis,”people discover just how much being Jewish matters to them and how much more there is to learn.”
Florence L. Dann, a fourth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.
As a result of the trip to Israel, the Community Scholar Program has arranged for three upcoming programs based on the Israel trip experience:
• Havdalah with Nava Tehila (beautiful praise)- is an emerging prayer and study group in Jerusalem that welcomes people of diverse backgrounds who wish to experience various expressions of spiritual life with a Jewish flavor.
• Night with the Ma’aleh Film School is one of the leading film schools in Israel. Three films will be shown, hosted by the director, writer and actor of one of the shorts.
• An evening discussion with Ali Abu Awaad and
Hanan Schlesinger of the Roots Project will discuss programs conducted between Israelis and Palestinians living in the area.