I made it to Israel!


Photo and blog post by Sue Lund

I made it to Israel! I’m still in disbelief- but here I am with 20 other amazing souls. We have really bonded on this trip whether it was joining the ICC- the Iced Coffee Club– soon to be renamed the ICCC club after some of us brave souls hop on a camel on the way to the Dead Sea tomorrow… or perhaps we really bonded when we all started dancing together on the streets- I mean- on the Sea of Galilee! Seriously! We did! Danced the night away… or maybe it was the Shak-Shuka which I still do not know how to spell – let alone pronounce. Nancy Crotti wants to try to make this at home– it’s just THAT good! Such good food in Israel!

So many reflections- so little time.

So let me leave you with one personal story from the trip.

Kinnert Cemetery/Cemetery of the Pioneers

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

It is our first stop of the day. Unplanned. Even before our beloved Iced Coffee. And this day we are primed for the best. Our tour guide Tziv says Cafe Aroma is the real deal. Best Iced Coffee in Israel.

All of a sudden- it seemed like mere moments after we had checked out of the Sea of Gailalee- on our way to Jerusalem!!– we are at Tziv’s favorite place in all of Israel- the Kinnert Cemetery otherwise known as the Cemetery of the Pioneers.

Debbie, my seat mate, roommate and BFF says to me- a cemetery. You love cemeteries!

Indeed- one of my dreams is to travel to world and take pictures of cemeteries. They tell us so much about the people in each region and their culture.

I had heard earlier on the bus about Maimonides and his grave. I asked our awesome Rabbi Spilker – is THIS where he was buried? Rabbi Spilker replies: no, but I promise you there will be a WOW moment.


Tzvi gives us an overview of the cemetery and then brings us to one special grave.

The first thing I see is one word on the upper right hand corner of the grave: Raquel in Hebrew. I immediately snap a photo. I am drawn to the one word. A name. Not like any other graves with that one name.

Tzvi tells us the story of this great woman — who died tragically young- but was an amazing poet and many of her writings were set to music- which he played for us.

Then Rabbi Spilker speaks. I happen, by chance, to be standing right beside him as he told us this story. Es is beshert. Meant to be.

This was my WOW moment, although I did not know it at the time.

Adam begins with a visual image of his own family– Rachel sitting at this bench right beside the gravesite when they had spent time together as a family many moons ago. Rachel and their 3 children- with our beloved Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker sitting there singing Raquel’s (Raquel the women in the grave) songs to her own children, Eiden, Mirit and Liam.

You see- there was also this box right next to the bench– all beside the gravesite– with books of Raquel’s poetry set to music.

What an incredible image of our Rachel singing Raquel’s poetry.

But if that wasn’t enough– which is what this trip is all about– SO MANY Wow! AHA moments packed into each day– Adam tells us that this box filled with Raquel’s books was the inspiration for our display at Mount Zion Temple of Ruth Firestone Brin, of blessed memory, display of her books- just like Raquel.

Tears poured from my eyes at this moment. You see- Ruth Brin- was my frontier lady and most important to me, my good friend.

I first met Ruth on 2004 when I asked her for an out of print copy of her book “Rag of Love.” I’ll never forget her reply: come to my apartment and I’ll give you a copy.

We become fast friends and enjoyed a monthly study group together with Susan Vass and Jonathan Eisenthal — along with many walks and talks.

Ruth was a prolific writer and used to say I was her biggest fan. I would come to many of her book readings. Ruth Brin’s prayers are an integral part of our liturgy today. Ruth, like Raquel was a Pioneer Woman.

Ruth was also a Zionist and would tell me and show me often her pictures of her trips to Israel with the love of her life, Howard Brin, of blessed memory. She loved Israel.

I know Ruth was smiling as you mentioned her name, Rabbi Spilker, and have provided a small sanctuary for us to read her writings, back at home (Our Mount Zion) as there is for Raquel- 2 pioneer women.

Ruth would be so pleased I made it to Israel! And so am I!! I am eternally grateful for this time. For this opportunity. For these amazing experiences. Here I Am! In Israel!

Thank you Rabbi Spilker for this once in a life time opportunity. And thank you for my trip mates for being SO AWEsome!!!! WhatsApp!!!!!

Have a great day!

So much to take in on our way up to Jerusalem

By Brian Serle

Tuesday, June 27
IMG_3659Today we reluctantly departed gorgeous Nof Ginosar on the shores of Lake Kineret, the Sea of Galilee. The food was incredible and plentiful at Hotel Nof Ginosar. I had a chance to soak in the Kineret, warm and surrounded by Biblical mountains. Last night was a highlight of our trip – dinner at home with local Israelis. (But how can I identify just one “highlight”, when the whole trip has so many!). We were guests of the young couple who live on the kibbutz, with their two-year-old beautiful little daughter. Also joining us for dinner were their relatives, who live on the coast. We had a wonderful wide-ranging conversation about many issues, including American and Israeli politics, the Israeli Arab conflict, as well as the ridiculously high cost of apartments in Israel, well beyond the ability of young couples to afford.

Another peak experience of this awesome trip was yesterday’s kayak voyage on the Jordan River. Hundreds of Israeli Arabs were floating or soaking in the river, celebrating Eid al Fitr, the end of the monthlong Muslim holiday of Ramadan. They loved splashing us pale Minnesotans as we came paddling down the river.
And now..

We go to Jerusalem today!
Anachnu olim lirushalayim
Olim means to go up.
We are literally going up to Jerusalem because it’s up in the hills, and we are going up from the low point of Tiberias and the Kineret. It also means going up to our spiritual home, like the aliyah to the bimah, when we go up to the Torah in our sanctuary.
But first,some things to see before our Aliyah to Jerusalem.
We hugged the western coast of The Kineret, traveling south through Tiberias to the Tiberias cemetery, the cemetery of the pioneers.
Nestled along the southern shore of Kineret is the special cemetery. Songwriter Naomi Shemer is buried here, writer of Jerusalem of Gold, Yerushalayim shel Zahav.
Rachel Blaustein — Rachel the Poetess — is also buried here. Her most famous poem is perhaps Ve-ulai. Haunting and beautiful, best known for its climax, “Hoi, Kineret Sheli,” “Oh my Kineret.”

Our guide Zvi shared his feelings for this special cemetery and especially Rachel’s grave. Her poetry is actually kept in a box by her grave.

Rabbi Spilker shared with us the impact of visiting Rachel’s grave with his family a few years ago. It was the inspiration for the Mt. Zion’s Ruth Brin Memorial, named our own poetess.

Saying our goodbyes to Kineret for the last time, we headed east to Haifa.

The drive to Haifa included a long highway tunnel through the mountains. The bridges and infrastructure here are amazing.

We stopped for a view from Mount Carmel and a photo opportunity overlooking the Baha’I Gardens and the city and modern port of Haifa. Breathtaking!

Next stop: Yemin Orde youth village, started in 1953 for at-risk children throughout Israel.  Present group is 432 kids from the former Soviet Union, Brazil, Ethiopia, etc. It takes 100 kids per year from a state of pain and survival to a state of leadership, with 50 percent of its 5,000 graduates entering pre-army leadership training.

The staff includes 11 social workers and two psychologists to help the kids become part of society.

For many kids, the Beit Knesset (synagogue) is their first exposure to Jewish prayer and practice. They also provide Scholarships for college. Yemin Orde is 71% supported by government. The balance is from charity, especially from U.S. This is real Tikkun Olam.

We had a chance to meet some of the students and to hear their stories. Amazing work!

Batya, a staff member  told us her story about coming to Israel from Ethiopia and about getting involved in Yemin Orde. Amazing!

There are 400,000 high risk children in Israel.

Lunch: thick burgers and French fries, salads and anchance to interview a student from Sao Paolo, Brazil, who is a senior and interested in public relations.

Susan Weigel, the director,  spoke to us about the work of the community and its needs.

Zvi gave us a great overview of Israel history, using visual aids. The amphitheater was amazing. We sang Eili Eili at the sea, in the footsteps of Hannah Senesh and had a dramatic performance by Rick and Margie.
Hottest day of the trip so far! Whew! The ice cream at Caesarea was fabulous.

We finally climbed (by bus) the hills to Jerusalem. The excitement on the bus was palpable, as Tzvi led us in a medley of songs related to Jerusalem. We felt a sense of accomplishment as we arrived at the overlook at the Montefiore windmill, from where we could see Mount Zion and the Old City.

A great day of touring Israel!


Ancient and New

MZ Israel Blog 2017 Sunday June 25, 2017

By Rick Linsk

File_000In an excerpt from Israel—A Spiritual Travel Guide (Jewish Lights Pub., 2d ed.) that we read in preparation for this trip, Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman speaks of a distinction between the tourist who visits Israel and the pilgrim who does the same. A tourist, he says, aims to “get away from it all.” But Jews visiting Israel are not seeking to get away—we are pilgrims returning home. With each passing day of our trip, the significance of Rabbi Hoffman’s observation sinks in. That felt increasingly true today.

We started Sunday by hearing an assessment from Professor Paul Liptz—a former professor of our Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker—of the successes and difficulties of Israeli society. Israel ranks high among nations surveyed for their residents’ happiness, and it maintains an impressively high standard of living for most people given the volatility of the “neighborhood.” But poverty-stricken segments of society pose challenges.

Following the talk, it was time to say goodbye to Tel Aviv. While we enjoyed the three-day glimpse of the coastal city’s vibrant beach scene, night life, and go-go economy, it was refreshing to get out into the country. Our first stop was Neot Kedumim, a 620-acre nonprofit nature preserve halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that aims to restore and preserve plants and trees as they were in the times of the Bible. Our host taught and reminded us of key biblical passages and—in a special treat—set us up to each plant an oak seedling. The ancient cistern and olive press were also exciting to see and hear about. Neot Kedumim makes the Bible come alive.

Further northbound in our bus on the Trans-Israel Highway, we observed and learned about Israel’s security barrier along the seam zone between Israel and the Palestinian territories. We had a quick lunch at an Israeli mall and then traveled further for a deeply moving afternoon in Tsfat, one of Israel’s historic sacred cities and a center of Jewish mysticism for several centuries. We sang “L’Cha Dodi” in the city where it was written, and squeezed in some shopping. We had good times on the bus Sunday too, including learning fun facts about several people in our group, and some of them were even true.

We ended the day at our hotel near Lake Kineret—the “Sea of Galilee”—capped with dinner, some reflections on our time so far, and even a few moves on the dance floor. Photos of the latter may emerge: Watch this space!



And the answer is…

imageBy Varda Nauen

Greetings from 21 members of the Congregational Trip to Israel:

We just are wrapping up Day 3 – another incredible, action-packed adventure. A democratic decision was made to share the blogging fun among all of us. So hi (Shalom!) – this is Varda Nauen – today’s official blogger and reporting live from the Grand Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv, a very short walk to the Mediterranean Sea. I decided to conduct a short poll with almost everyone in our group, about our experiences thus far in Israel, and want to share some results and fun facts and colorful commentary with you:

What about Israel surprised you or was unexpected? This question had many comments about Tel Aviv; including: how completely safe it feels here and no guns are seen anywhere; motorcycles driving on the sidewalk; easy to find sophisticated craft cocktails; how different Tel Aviv is from 10 years ago – in a good way; its vivaciousness, so relaxed and cosmopolitan. Other unexpected surprises included not realizing that Israel has been fighting non–stop; how moving it was to meet a member of the Palmach; not expecting Jaffa to be so hip and trendy; the opposition to support the Reform Movement; lack of mosquitos; and, the terrible airplane flight.

How many times have you been to Israel? It’s the first visit for the overwhelming majority of us – 60%. Others have been here 2, 3, even 5 times, but Rabbi Spilker definitely wins with 10+ visits.
What has been your favorite food so far? Many of us REALLY like the iced coffee, which was the most popular choice. Other deliciousness enjoyed includes treats like baba ganousch, Moroccan chicken, lemon chicken, hummus, roasted eggplant, falafel, Israeli salad, Halvah, fresh fruit and vegetables, chocolate babka, and sambusak.
What has been the highlight of your trip thus far? (Note: Last night we attended Shabbat services at a local Reform congregation, and then we were all invited to Shabbat dinner with families at various homes.) It was a very special, fun, and meaningful experience for every one of us, and almost everyone mentioned this as their top highlight so far of the trip. Others mentioned visiting Jaffa, with its mix of ancient and modern styles and architecture; visiting the Palmach Museum (the elite resistance companies of the Haganah); seeing the beautiful views of the Mediterranean, and one person (who shall remain nameless) most especially enjoyed the handsome male joggers.
Next, do you know the names of everyone in our group? Surprisingly, quite a few of us are still figuring that out, but the majority (71%) know the names of the other 20 in the group.
What about Israel surprised you or was unexpected? This question had many comments about Tel Aviv; including: how completely safe it feels here and no guns are seen anywhere; motorcycles driving on the sidewalk; easy to find sophisticated craft cocktails; how different Tel Aviv is from 10 years ago – in a good way; its vivaciousness, so relaxed and cosmopolitan. Other unexpected surprises included not realizing that Israel has been fighting non–stop; how moving it would be to meet a member of the Palmach; not expecting Jaffa to be so hip and trendy; the opposition to support the Reform Movement; lack of mosquitos; and, the terrible airplane flight.
Finally, inquiring minds wanted to know what we learned about Israeli life from our host families at Shabbat Dinner last night. We had a lot to say on this topic, including: There are ordinary heroes here fighting for progressive Judaism without much glory. It is challenging to be a Reform Jew in Israel. Israel is very family-oriented, people who hosted us are not different from us – it was easy to bond. Residents feel extremely safe. Parenting is similar. It is densely populated and crowded. It is expensive. It was interesting how open the families were in meeting with us. Learned the perspective of moms with their kids coming out of the army (IDF), and how important it was for them in terms of camaraderie, life experience and travel.. Impressed by how well-informed the young people were about politics in both Israel and the US.
Every day we are gathering many new experiences. we enjoyed pausing and reflecting a moment, so early in our trip.

We have arrived!

We have arrived! Welcome to the 2017 Mt.Zion Israel trip blog! We landed at Newark airport just in time to board the huge 777 plane for our overnight flight to Tel Aviv. After a few minutes to freshen up at our hotel, just blocks from the Mediterranean, the bus whisked us off to a Yemenite restaurant, where we were plied with course after course of fabulous  Middle Eastern food.  After a good night’s sleep and a wonderful Israeli breakfast at the hotel, we went to see the the museum of the Palmach, Israel’s pre-state elite fighting force.  Zvi, a member of the Palmach, showed us the photo albums of his fellow members. The museum was inspiring and a good grounding for the rest of our  visit.

This afternoon, we visited Israel’s Independence Hall, where Israel was declared an independent state, followed by a walk to the Innovation Center of Taglit (Birthright), where we saw examples of several  Israeli startup companies. This evening, we’re headed to Shabbat services at a Reform congregation, followed by dinner at the homes of congregants. Shabbat shalom!