Temple - Sherith Israel Trip to Israel

Along with Rabbi Saul Strosberg and congregants from Sherith Israel, Temple members and I have journeyed to Israel on an historic trip for our communities. I will be sharing parts of this fantastic trip throughout our time in Israel and invite you to follow along!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Looking back

Many of us have made our way back home now. Some are still traveling, and hopefully their journey back to Nashville will soon be complete. After climbing Masada and floating in the Dead Sea, our last several days in Israel were even more meaningful. Friday before Shabbat we went to Yad Vashem, the newly re-done Holocaust Museum. It is quite powerful and overwhelming. The architecture places the museum in a triangle shaped building, perhaps like an arrow shooting toward Jerusalem, perhaps like half a Star of David, incomplete as we will remain having lost so many. But the building opens up in bright light, overlooking the New Jerusalem, and we learn over and over, "Remember the Past, Live the Present, and Trust in the Future."
After remembering the past, we definitely tasted the present as we made our way to Mahane Yehuda (the Shuk, or market). Friday before Shabbat begins is a crazy time in Jerusalem, with people rushing to get what they need for Shabbat, for dinner with their families and friends. We, of course, bought some yummy rugelach at Marzipan, and enjoyed the sights smells and tastes of the Shuk. Many of these pictures tell that story!
Friday night, our two congregations came together as some of us went to Shira Chadasha, an egalitarian lay-led Orthodox shul for services. A woman led the Kabbalat Shabbat service, and a man led the evening prayers. We sat separately, but side-by-side, and hundreds of voices joined together beautifully in joyful song. I have no words to express how that elevated me, as I hope it did the others who came with us. It was a great way to complete the circle of our two communities coming together. We joined the rest of the group for Shabbat dinner and shared a meaningful memory we each had from the trip - many of us mentioned the visit to the ancient synagogue in Katzrin where Rabbi Saul and I led mincha (afternoon) prayers together. Another great symbol of how lucky we are to have the Nashville community we do!
Shabbat morning, some of us went to HUC-JIR, the Reform Rabbinic School, for services. There Rachel (Albert Mark's girlfriend) chanted Torah beautifully and our own Dr. Fred Goldner had an aliyah to the Torah. After lunch, we took a walking tour of Yemin Moshe, the first development outside the city walls in Jerusalem, and learned through the poetry of Israel's own Yehudah Amichai (z"l). Then we packed up and had our final dinner together. Just before we ate, Frank May shared with us some of the paintings he had made throughout the trip. He'd wake at 5 or so in the morning and find an inspiring spot to capture on canvas. It was wonderful to see our trip through his eyes and that medium. And then we said L'hitraot to Israel, and to our new friends Sharon and Moshe- not goodbye, but we will see you soon. That is for sure.

Friday, December 25, 2009


It is almost Shabbat once again in Jerusalem. Over the past several days we have spent time in the north, at Kfar Blum and in the Golan. As we returned to Jerusalem we had the unique opportunity to meet with Shlomo Molla, the first Ethiopian member of the Knesset. He spoke to us of his work on behalf of the immigrant population and the need for one
more transport if Ethiopians to Israel. He also spoke of the debate goIng on now in the Knesset regarding the trade of the Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit for 440 - 450 Palestinian prisoners offered. It is a heavy price to pay even knowing the Jewish command to redeem our captives. One condition they are talking about is that there should be no resettlement anywhere in Israel for the most violent prisoners that would be released - the ones who have blood on their hands. The Arabs have refused mediation, and still polls in Israel shows that the majority support the swap. Just to save one Israeli life.
We then went to climb Masada - many took the cable car (and Gene Heller climbed the whole thing!) We sang for him as he summited- it was amazing to see. Then we relaxed and floated in the Dead Sea and had our mud treatments! Pictures will follow soon!
Today we visited Yad Vashem and the shuk. We are preparing for Shabbat and I will write one last time after Shabbat. By the way, you'd never know it was Xmas here! Just Shabbat! Shabbat Shalom!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

a blog in pictures

For this blog, we chose photos taken by Frank May. They include time at the Kotel, our visit to Tekoa, a nature hike at the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, a visit to an ancient synagogue, and a jeep ride in the Golan.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Old City, Tekoa and Tzfat

Yesterday, we spent the day at the Old City of Jerusalem, enjoying views from the rooftops and down at the Kotel (the Wailing or Western Wall). I am always amazed and moved to be a part of someone's first visit to this most holy Jewish site. To see the Kotel through their eyes, through their tears, reminds me of the flood of emotions I had when I first stood here. Jews around the world pray facing Israel. Jews in Israel, pray facing Jerusalem, and those in Jerusalem face the Wall. Their prayers come where we are standing. It is quite moving. This time too, there were dozens upon dozens of soldiers training, learning the history of their land and their people, and saying their prayers too. No doubt, each of us, soldiers and civilians, tourists and natives said a prayer for peace.
This morning, we visited Tekoa, a village between Bethlehem and Moav (Jordan) where Valerie Brown Seidner, a Nashvillian who made aliyah several years ago, lives. Valerie is the daughter of members of our community, Jimmy and Bernita. Valerie and her children invited us into their home with an amazing amount of Southern and Israeli hospitality. Never mind we just ate breakfast, the food and treats were flowing! Valerie shared with us aspects of her community and the love and support they have experienced in their "Mayberry-like" lifestyle inside this Jewish village. Not everyone in this settlement is religious; in fact, they like the diversity of having secular and religious Jews, natives, those who made aliyah, and guests. We had a lovely visit with Valerie and her children, and her neighbors too.
One couple who live near Valerie shared with us the story of their family's tragedy, when their 13-year-old son was murdered by Palestinians when he and a friend were exploring the nearby countryside. Through their grief they found a new purpose. They have created a camp that runs three or four times a year, for Israeli children who are survivors of those who were lost by acts of terrorism. Children from all over Israel who lost fathers or mothers, brothers or sisters, gather together in a sleep-away camp-like experience and work through their struggle. It is an true example of resilience of the soul.
After Tekoa we traveled north to Tzfat (Safed), the city of mysticism where kabbalah was created and spread. This is not Madonna's Kabbalah for sure - it is a life-style based on Torah, its teachings and values, where things are not always what they seem. Our wonderful tour guide Sharon told us to cross our arms across our chest. Then we were told to cross them the other way (putting the opposite arm over the one tucked under). This is how we who do not practice Kabbalah are to understand the way it is understood in Tzfat - it is a different way of looking at the world, perhaps uncomfortable at first, but it is simply another way.
One teaching we learned was that the four letter name for God (Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay) can be understood and realized through giving tzedakah. The Yud, a small letter, like a small beginning, is represented by a simple coin. The Hay, with the numerical value of five, is like a fist with five fingers grasping that coin. The Vav, a straight letter, is represented by an outstretched arm, delivering the tzedakah, and the final Hay is the hand that receives the just donation. We can realize God through this act of giving tzedakah.
We are now in Kfar Blum, in the north of Israel, getting ready for a day of hiking and learning in a nature reserve and taking a jeep ride in the Golan. The pictures above are of Valerie and her children, us at the Kotel, soldiers praying, and of course, our mascot -Cole Yehudah - our best traveler!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom! Friday morning we spent some time in Tel Aviv, marveling at the rain still! It was great to be in Tel Aviv for the brief time we were. This year marks the city's centennial year. In 1909 Tel Aviv became the first modern city in this area. Land was given out as plots of sand, and in short order Tel Aviv became a booming city. It's name is taken from the translation of Herzl's book Old -NewLand, with Tel being an ancient archaeological hill , and Aviv meaning spring, mixing the old with the new.
We made our way to Independence Hall where Israel was born 1948.
Independence Hall represents the message of Israel- the declaration of independence of a Jewish state in the land of Israel is: You have an address - all the Jews around the world. All the displaced Jews from the war. You have a home. A place where Jews can defend Jews in freedom. You have an address. It was a moving place to begin our touring.

We then made our way to machon Ayalon in Rehovot. I have never been here before, so the place and the story was new to me. The now-preserved historical site was, in 1945 and prior, a kibbutz where new immigrants, halutzim or pioneers, would come in order to learn the basics of farming agriculture and the like. These people who made Aliyah, who escaped or survived the holocaust did not know the first thing about how to live on a kibbutz, so they came to learn. While there, from 1945-48, a small hanful of volunteers were asked to do a dangerous job- they made ammunition for the Jews who were defending the homes, lives, and property of pre-state Israelis. In a secret bunker, beneath the laundry and bakery, volunteers carefully cast, stretched &molded bullets to help the fighters protect and defend the soon-to-be state and it's people. In three years, in secret, these brave people made over two million bullets- any one if which could have caused an explosion and killed them all. Once independence was declared, the factory came out of hiding and the workers returned to kibbutz life, secure in the truth that their courage enabled Israel to survive.
Before shabbat we made our way into Jerusalem and the sun came out, allowing us to see the beauty of our city of gold. Some of us made our way to the reform synagogue, Kol Haneshama, and some went to the Western Wall for services. Those of us who went to Kol Haneshama enjoyed the serenity of the melodies sung, no instruments save the voices in the congregation. We ran into Rabbi Michael Klein-Katz, who recently came and spoke at the Temple as well.
After services in our respective places, we joined together as one family for Shabbat dinner. As we looked around the table, Martha Goldner, quoting a scholar she and Fred had learned with, asked us to refect on three things from that day: something that made surprised you, something that touched you, and something that inspired you. Some people shared their refections out loud and some are still marinating. Rabbi Saul mentioned that our trip to Machon Ayalon fit all three categories, and I could not agree more. How surprising, touching, and inspiring was that story of ordinary young people making such an extraordinary difference.
What a beautiful way to begin Shabbat and the last night of Chanukah, with good food, powerful memories, and exceptional company.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Shalom from Israel!

Shalom! After a long flight, we made it to Tel Aviv! Twenty one of us arrived and took our first steps in Israel and made our way to a Yemenite restaurant for a delicious spread of Israeli salads and kebabs. We began our meal together lighting the Chanukah candles for the 7th night of this holiday. When we arrived here, so did the rain! What may seem like a poor way to start a tour and travel expedition, the rain is actually quite welcome here. When we pray in our services for the wind to blow and the rain to fall, and boy, did it! Israel depends upon their winter's rain, so this is a welcome sign and a sign of good tidings!