The Mt. Zion 2012 trip to Israel began successfully mid-afternoon Friday, June 29, with all 16 of us arriving safely at Tel Aviv airport – and15 of us with our luggage…youngest Jordan Epstein was in siblings ‘hand me downs for a few days’ and handled the stress pretty well (from the outside). All made it through passport control and almost all of us got our first ATM of “shekalim”; those whose ATM cards didn’t work enjoyed the generosity of the group until finding an ATM that worked.
Doron Wilfand, our tour educator/guide, greeted us at the airport and Rabbi Spilker welcomed us at the hotel, looking relaxed and pleased to greet us with cold orange juice and keys to our rooms. We changed quickly and rode our tour bus to services at Kehillat Beit Daniel for a wonderful service in the local language… Hebrew!
What we couldn’t understand in words, we got in ruach of Shabbat joy and warmth. A walk back to the hotel, taking in sounds and sights of very warm Tel Aviv at sunset with the sea beckoning us to visit was lovely. A Shabbat meal for what would become our tour family welcomed us in our own dining room, and we tiredly, excitedly, and cautiously greeted everyone who we would travel with for many days.
Some of us staggered to sleep and others, encouraged by Doron, stayed up very late as a way to wear off the effects of trip fatigue. Shabbat morning brought us our first experience of Israeli hotel breakfast buffet, and please, after four kinds of herring, four kinds of salad, egg dishes, cream cheeses, dried fruits, breads and cereals… well, you get the idea.
Many of us met on the beach near our hotel and studied Parashat Hashavuah Chukak together, led by Rabbi Spilker, with amazing contributions from Doron, whose Hebrew combined with his academic studies made him a uniquely wonderful resource. The Parashat we studied was about Miriam’s death, the loss of water for the community as a sign of mourning, and we did this while our feet were curled in the sands of the Mediterranean and we heard the splashes of its waves. The voices of study from many MZ congregants and Rabbi Spilker’s unique and wonderful observations made it a magical time.
Afternoon brought us a guest visit from Rabbi Miri Gold, who told us her story of how she became the first reform Rabbi in Israel who earned a salary from the government. Her story is one of inspiration for Reform Jews in Israel, because it means that, for the first time, non-orthodox Rabbis will receive a salary from the Israeli government, indicating a growing acceptance of non-Orthodox religion as a valid expression in Israel. To our delight, we learned that Rabbi Gold was born in Detroit and had spent some time working with the St. Paul Federation. That was a surprising and welcoming connection.
Doron is an amazing tour guide and deserves a blog page of his own before the trip is over. This day he brought us on a walking tour along the Tel Aviv beaches, pointing out history and culture at many turns. We ended up in Rabin square, where he showed us the memorial to the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin and his own experience of being at the rally where Prime Minister Rabin was shot. Doron’s description of the setting and mood, and explanation of how the assassination happened, was one of just fifty extraordinary insights he has clothed us in in the past two days.
After this time, one of the group went with Doron to attend an end of Shabbat social protest of 10,000 people, and several others walked or cabbed with Rabbi Spilker to the Yemenite neighborhood for a delightful meal. Several others walked off on their own.
We then ended our first Shabbat in Israel with a Havdalah service on our Tel Aviv hotel patio. Simply ritual deeply satisfying moment.
Our first full 24 hours in the land of Israel was over.