In the beautiful setting of Kibbutz Nof Ginosar we woke up to the sounds of birds, the sights of light shimmering on the Kinneret (Sea of Galillee) outside our rooms and the bright blue sky. The color of the sky would be a motif for the day. As we made our way up from below sea level to the heights of Safed, the sky blue would be painted on doors and window sills contrasting with the white limestone.
In Safed we framed it as a visit to one of the four holy cities: Hebron (where the patriarchs/matriarchs are buried), Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberias (where the oral law was codified into the Jerusalem Talmud). Safed became central in Jewish history in the 16th century when Jews escaping Spain (1492) were allowed by the Ottoman Empire to settle there not far from the grave in Meiron of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Three generations after the expulsion a new flowering of Judaism through mysticism emerged.
We sang L’cha Dodi overlooking the hills in the place where it was written, imagining our ancestors going to the fields to welcome Shabbat. We saw the Abuhav synagogue with 3 arks (!) and set in the Sephardic style with the ark in the middle of the sanctuary. Then after exploring the art and spirit of the market we headed out of town.
To the east. Heading down to the Kinneret and then up the Golan Heights we made it to a lookout called Bental. A former Israeli bunker, Bental gave us a view into Syria. With the news of the past couple days, we were not sure we would be able to go. From its height, we saw the UN station below on the border a mile and a half away and 40 miles to the east Damascus (which we couldn’t see).
We discussed the 1973 Yom Kippur war and how 7 Israeli tanks faced 500 Syrian ones. Catastrophe was averted by heroic daring by a few individuals and inexplicable slowness by Syrians who didn’t know how defenseless Israel was at that time.
Then we headed for something completely different. Some enjoyed wine tasting at the Golan Winery learning about the excellent state of Israeli kosher wines. Others “enjoyed” a promo movie in 4D (!) about the Golan Heights.
Another break was rafting down the mighty Jordan River! Actually the river was at its lowest since 1991. Oh well. We went up to a water channel that was made to help drain the swamps in the founding of the state. There we spent a leisurely hour on a slow raft under the open skies, interrupted only with a little splashing fun.
After changing, we drove into Tiberias to meet with our St. Paul Federation’s Israel partnership. We were welcomed by Doron Lev, a mango farmer from Moshav Almagor, who is chair of the Sovev Kinneret region (our partnership region along with Tulsa, Madison, and Milwaukee). We gave them a Mount Zion tzedekah box. One of the host families spoke passionately about the need for the world to know and care about the three teenage boys Naftali, Eyal, and Gilad who were kidnapped. He had spent the day in Hebron as part of the search for the IDF. Seven different hosts took members of our group to their homes for meaningful home hospitality. There were varied experiences. One had two professional chefs cook an amazing, several course meal. Others went to a religious kibbutz and ate in the communal dining hall. Others in a secular moshav. At the end of the day we met back at our kibbutz and talked late into the night under the stars about Israeli life, politics, stories from our dinners, and how the trip has been going. Achla/awesome!
Adam Stock Spilker, Rabbi