This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with our Centennial Trip to Israel leadership team (Priscilla and Tony Kostiner, Kathy Davis-Weiner and Michael Weiner, and Caron Blau Rothstein) for our final “inspection trip” prior to our departure in March with over 400 people. We met with our tour guides and youth counselors, visited venues, sampled menus, and worked on finalizing details with our tour operator. We are so proud of the experience we have created. The trip will be AMAZING!
Some quick observations about being in Israel: The mood in Israel feels so positive. Despite the challenges in the region, threats from Hamas and Iran, violence in Syria, things feel very calm and lively. Tourism is booming. Restaurants are packed. The economy is zooming. Shopping areas are filled. Construction cranes are everywhere. People walking all around (and dodging those electric scooters like we do in Portland). A sense of optimism truly permeates the air.
When talking to Israelis, the first question was always who will lead the next government. Israelis certainly have their personal opinion about the candidates, but most just shrug their shoulders and say – we will wait to see what happens. And so will we.
Now, I have been to Israel many many times. What astonishes me each visit is that there is always something new to see, including this trip. Some quick highlights:
● In Northern Israel, we visited the Hula Valley in the Galilee region. There we went to the Agamon Hula Nature Reserve Park. This area is a major stopover for some 500 million birds as they migrate along the Syrian-African Rift between Africa, Europe, and Asia. While there we saw nature in action. Over 50,000 cranes were present, with a large number of other types of birds. We even saw three large wild boars roaming.
For bird watching enthusiasts, this place is a dream come true. And for some far less familiar, it was fascinating to see all these animals as they stop along their twice a year voyage.
One of the birds we saw was a snipe. Snipes are small birds (at summer camp as a kid I was always told they were vicious animals that ate campers while on overnights in the woods) that “zig and zag” as they fly. The verb "to snipe" originated in the 1770s among soldiers in British India in reference to shooting snipes, which was considered an extremely challenging game bird for hunters to shoot. Thus, the term “sniper” came about later to describe someone as a "sharpshooter." (That is your first etymology lesson of this email.)
● We also visited the location where the term “Good Samaritan” came from. Outside of Jerusalem is a beautiful park site with mosaics representing various religious traditions in Israel. It is also believed to be the site where the parable of the Good Samaritan took place. The parable, as told by Jesus, shares that a Jewish traveler was beaten and left for dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Jew walk by and both avoided the wounded man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler and helps the injured man, despite the rift between Samaritans and Jews at the time. Thus, we have the Good Samaritan ( etymology lesson number two ).
● We went to the Gush Etzion area to meet with an organization called Roots , whose focus is on understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among Israelis and Palestinians. They focus on dialogue about both peoples’ historic belonging to the entire Land.
Our host was originally from Seattle and moved to Israel 20+ years ago. He was fascinating to listen to as he shared many stories about the dialogues that take place. For every claim to the land or situation there is a counter claim. Fear exists on both sides. Deep understanding and trust are the prerequisites for lasting justice, freedom and peace on the tiny sliver of land both call home.
To learn more about Roots and their important work, please join our community on Saturday, November 23 at 7:00 p.m. at Congregation Neveh Shalom to hear representatives, Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Shadi Abu Awwad.
● We also had the opportunity to visit Kibbutz Gevulot in southern Israel. Talk about the pioneering spirit of those who came before the State of Israel was established!
The “village” was established on land owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in May 1943 by 12 male immigrants from Romania and Turkey. They were members of the Kibbutz Eretz Israel Gimel group and their role was to help build the first of three “lookouts” in the area. In fact, it was the second modern Jewish settlement in the Negev and the first in the Gaza area. The purpose of the settlement was to guard the JNF land and to research the soil and climate of the region to assess their suitability for agriculture. All I can say is in those 76 years they made the most of the land by growing nine different fruits and vegetables, have hundreds of cows for a dairy, and have a large solar field on their 40,000+ acres.
The most fun part of our visit was seeing the original kibbutz buildings (today, some 300 people live in modern accommodations on the kibbutz). They have created a learning center from the original kibbutz and its “caretaker” is a man named Joe. He was right out of “Central Casting” -- basically the Israeli version of Crocodile Dundee. Those on the south track of our Israel trip will have the pleasure of meeting him.
I am so proud of our planning team and Kenes Tours, our tour operator in Israel, for putting together an incredible itinerary. It will truly be the “Trip of the Century.”