By Brian Serle
Tuesday, June 27
Today 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.
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!