Reflections from Anne Frank’s friend, a visit to Yad Vashem, and the fight for egalitarianism at the Western Wall


Gary Pang, Varda Nauen and Rabbi Spilker protesting for for an egalitarian section of the Western Wall outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s house.

Friday, June 30, 2017

By Ilona Rouda

A day in Jerusalem:  A delicious buffet breakfast followed by a delicious swim in a rooftop pool.  Words describing stories of Anne 

Frank were shared by her childhood friend, Chana Pik. Much was hard to hear but she also shared humor and insights.  As we drove to Yad Vashem, hollyhocks were visible in street plantings.  I have always thought of these flowers as part of childhood in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Yet they were flourishing here in Israel.  Connections!

 As we waited to enter Yad Vashem (where no photography is allowed),  we were surrounded by others from around the world. We were here 29 years ago and I remembered a room of small lights and darkness and silence with names of children who died in the Holocaust. 

As we did a prologue under a tree honoring the Righteous of the Nations, Bob realized this particular tree was honoring Andre and Magda Trocme of France, parents of Nellie Hewitt, a friend from St. Paul and a French teacher colleague at Blake School.  

There is a new museum with extensive photo and video essays.  I found myself averting my eyes.  It was so painful.  The chambers we moved through were overwhelmed by people all studying their history. The walk-through ends with a panorama of modern Israel.  Separate is the Children’s Museum. It still is a place that will remain with me. 

A restful afternoon prepared us for a very interesting service at a Reform Synagogue (Kehillat Kol Haneshema). There were many present.  Different melodies mixed with words.  It was a soothing and joyous service.  As the president of Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, was present, there was anticipation for his words.  He felt that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brought a variety of Jewish groups together in protest against Netanyahu’s decision to suspend the plan for to provide a better space at the Western Wall for non-Orthodox men and women to worship together.  Tonight, Saturday, at 9:30 pm, is the protest at his home. 

A continuation of flowers found here: geranium, vinca,snap dragons, zinnias, tomato.   


Lessons learned

Monday, June 26, 2017

By Sheyna, Tony, Yoni and Danny Galyan

The bell rang early, six-fifteen in the morning, and we stumbled around blearily, getting ready for the day. Swimsuits, towels, water shoes all had to be added to our usual array of supplies. Breakfast was in the dining hall, a welcome luxury after too many gobbled bowls of cereal before catching the bus.

First period was biology, though we’re doing some interdisciplinary studies, so it was combined with archeology, Bible, the land of Israel, and Israeli history. We took a field trip to Tel Dan Nature Reserve and the biblical city of Dan. Gan Eden was on the map,  but we did not visit, as paradise was part of the doctoral program. There were numerous trees, shrubs, and a river that is the largest tributary of the Jordan River.

Despite a rocky start, we walked through the gate to the ancient city of Dan and an archaeological dig, which was deep in more ways than one. A stone marked the place where archaeologists found a decorative floor piece with Hebrew writing that described the ancient city of Dan. It was the first extra-biblical piece of evidence found showing that Jews were in this land in ancient times, thus proving that rock lives forever.

We spent some time in the remains of an old court, where citizens would bring legal issues before the king and the elders of the city to be decided. This city also features in the Book of Ruth, when Boaz brought 10 men to the city.

After legal studies, we visited Abraham’s Gate, which Abraham passed through while pursuing those who kidnapped his cousin Lot. It just goes to show, Israel has a lot of gates.

From there, we proceeded to History,  Geography,  and Current Events at a former Syrian position in the Golan Heights, overlooking Israel. We could see how important it was to Israel’s security that Israel control this land.

Lunch — everyone’s favorite subject — was next, and we ate at a café on the top of Mount Bental, which also served אייס קפה — ice coffee. Just outside the café was an impressive overlook into Syria. To our amazement, we heard mortar fire and heavy machine gun fire, and saw smoke from brush fires that started as a result of the shelling. It is important to note that this was the only sign of violence anywhere in or near Israel during our trip.

Electives were next, where some went to wine tasting and others went to chocolate tasting. All education should involve wine and chocolate tasting.

The last subject of the day was Physical Education, in which we rafted (or kayaked) down the Jordan River. As it happened, it was also the end of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr), so the river was full of people celebrating, having picnics on the banks of the river, and creating whitewater conditions for all. It was a welcome splash of fun, and I say that dripping with sincerity.

The river rafting proved to be an opportunity to overcome challenges for some of us, myself included, as getting in and out of an inflatable raft is not always the easiest feat. And in an effort to get to know my youngest son and endear themselves to him, Zvi and Rabbi Spilker rowed up next to the raft he was in, hauled him into their kayak, rowed away, and later dumped him in the three-foot-deep river, demonstrating the Talmud’s mandate to teach a child to swim (Kiddushin 29a). Said son later reported that this was his most memorable (and fun) moment.

Before we were excused for the day, we were randomly assigned to oral exams over the course of the evening from our dinner hosts, where we had the chance to prove our mastery of the subjects covered during the day, as well as conduct research interviews regarding current events at the Kotel.

I am pleased to report that all passed with flying colors.

All day, I am reminded of two Hebrew songs:
Eretz Eretz Eretz by Ilanit (

and especially

Hashamayim k’chulim, anan hu lavan
Vehaboker bahir, ubelayla ashan
Ve’achlom le’atzmi, eizeh achla olam

The sky is blue and clouds of white,
The morning is clear, at night smokey,
And I dream to myself, what a wonderful world*From Eizeh Achla Olam (What a Wonderful World) by Gidi Gov



The Galyan Family
Thursday, June 29, 2017
By Gail Gendler
The group was up early to go to Masada before the crowds and heat of the day kicked in. We stopped along the way to ride a camel, yes a camel, which was actually more like a photo opportunity but it was very fun. Then on to Masada, which many of us were very much looking forward to experiencing.
Whether the more traditional Masada story is accurate or not, you cannot help but be impressed that these Jewish zealots survived in those conditions as long as they did. It was 98 degrees at 9 am as we walked amongst the reconstructed rooms, looked at the areas where the Roman camps were still visible and imagined what life was like for the people living there.
The highlight for many was when our small community gathered at the southern edge of the site and yelled in unison into the hills that we Jews have survived and the Romans are gone, and our Hebrew chant echoed back for all to hear.
After lunch, we stopped in an area of the desert overlooking the Dead Sea and hiked for a short distance, where we had a truly transformational experience. We spread ourselves out so we each had our own space. Then we spent five minutes in total silence, gazing into the beautiful horizon of the Dead Sea or the magnificent and rugged Judaean hills and valleys, alone in our thoughts while the heated breeze from above listened into our thoughts and prayers.

The Dead Sea was our next stop, which proved to be very fun as we floated around the beach area, some of us applying the mud masks that are supposed to be good for our skin. Washing the mud off was almost as healing as floating in the water. Many of us went to an excellent dairy/vegetarian restaurant for dinner and enjoyed seeing the shops of Jerusalem in the evening. Another fabulous day and evening shared amongst friends!