Congregation B'nai Israel

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Israel Trip 2019

March 13-26, 2019 – The Israel Trip 2019
Rabbi Prosnit leads congregational trip to Israel.  60 congregants and members of our community join Rabbi Prosnit and Wendy Bloch on this, his last congregational trip to Israel.  You can follow along with daily messages and photos below!

Day 1 Message from Caren Schwartz:  Shalom from Tel Aviv. We are enjoying a beautiful spring day for our first full day in Israel. After a wonderful buffet breakfast with an abundance of choices we boarded the buses and had a fascinating tour the street art of an area of Tel Aviv. The variety and styles were varied and we learned about some of the artists. We then followed the independence trail from 1906 to 1948 – the founding of Tel Aviv to the independence of Israel. After that it was a visit to the Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall that has a bi-weekly crafts fair and the Carmel Open Market. After walking through the Carmel market I will never complain about crowds on NYC streets. We get time to rest or perhaps enjoy the beach (across from our hotel). Then tonight we head to Modi’in for Kabbalat Shabbat services and Shabbat dinner. 

Day 1 Message from Mindy Siegel:  Today was our 1st full day in Israel. We took a graffiti tour of South Tel Aviv this morning & walked along the promenade this afternoon enjoying a beautiful day beside the Mediterranean Sea. Please let everyone know that we are fine & told to seek shelter when 2 missiles were fired toward Tel Aviv last night.

Message from David Slepian – Northern Group
An early start yields a fantastic full day of learning and sightseeing.
We started with a visit to the Arab village of Tayibe where we had a lesson in Islam and heard wishes for peace from our Arab guide while sitting in a beautiful mosque. A first for many of us. Next door to the Mosque We then climbed the ramparts of an old Mamluk tower to inspect vistas near the Green line. After a lunch of falafel we drove through verdant hills and valleys through the lower and upper Galilee with gorgeous views of the Sea of Galilee amid dramatic thunderclouds. Next stop – a meeting with Rabbi Or in Tsfat for singing L’cha dodi (written in Tsfat) and a brief lesson on the mystical Zohar and a look into two old synagogues. Blue is the preferred color in Tsfat.
A brief stop In Rosh Pina and on to stay at the Pastoral Guest house in Kfar Blum which is much more like a resort than we expected.

Day 5 – Southern Itinerary from Steven Unger:  We embarked on our journey south from Tel Aviv. Our first stop was a visit to the Shafdan wastewater treatment plant, one of the largest and most advanced facilities of its kind in the world. It treats 100,000,000 gallons of water per day, 70% of which is used for agriculture. Our next stop was Kiryat Gat to visit Beta Israel, a community developed to help Ethiopian Israelis preserve — and the broader Israeli population learn about — proud Ethiopian culture, social customs and agriculture. We were introduced to a traditional coffee ceremony, given a first lesson in the Amharic alphabet and offered a typical lunch. Our third stop was Sde Boker, where the gravesite of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and his wife, overlook a spectacular desert panorama. A special highlight was our visit to the nearby high school, where students were busily preparing elaborate floats for their local Purim carnival. Finally, we continued to Mitzpe Ramon and the magnificent Beresheet Hotel, our home for the next two nights.

Southern Itinerary from Ted Pulton:  We were blown away by Jaffa. I mean, literally blown away: intermittent pulsing squalls propelled by 30+ MPH winds and gusts over 50 MPH! (My inner meteorologist compelled me to check the marine forecast for reporting accuracy). We ventured out to Jaffa Port on foot anyway, but no more than 1000 feet into the trek, after Laura was clipped by a missile comprised of the remains of a shredded, twisted and inverted umbrella, we decided a taxi would be much safer. Yes, Mother Nature ruled this day. Once at the port we were greeted by an angry Mediterranean sea with waves breaching the seawall and flooding the promenade. Yeah, I managed to get a face full of spray while shooting video. You’ll see we captured a few interesting pictures of the vessels in the marina. One of particular note, decorated in all manner of detritus art, which included mannequins, bicycles, surfboards and signal flags. We managed to snap a number of images of the old Port town, it’s spouting whale fountain and charming architecture, porticos, facades and even an M.C. Escher-esque set of stairways. We caught a few panoramas of the promenade, coastline and high-rise hotels, before taxiing back to the David hotel. One shot taken from the comfort our room overlooking the Mediterranean Sea finds the afternoon sun breaking through,  perhaps the harbinger of a more settled evening. The evening, still blustery but without further rain, found us celebrating David Ross’s 60th birthday at a wonderful restaurant, Claro, at Sarona Market. The food, as promised by many previous visitors to Israel, excelled and Claro was no exception…fresh seafood, roasted vegetables, fresh-baked breads, lamb and scrumptiously indulgent desserts, replete with Birthday candles. A lot to digest from a full day as we prepared to head off the following morning to Tayibe and upper Galilee.

Southern Tour with Sylvia Neigher in Old Jaffa and picking up some Israeli bread making skills.

News from the Southern Tour with Stew Barcham:  On Monday, the 18th of March, the Southern contingent woke up in our fabulous hotel, ate a sumptuous Israeli breakfast and boarded “Jeep-type” vehicles for a trip to explore the geological wonders of the Ramon Crater. The scenery was remarkable. Next we experienced Pita making from a pair of Bedouin Pita professionals and finally we learned the secrets of bread making from Hadas Meir, founder of the Lasha (knead) Bakery in Mitzpe Ramon. Our bakery lesson included lunch accompanied by our own hand made bread creations.

Monday, March 18 – News from Sherry Fogel with the Northern Group from B’nai Israel:  Greetings from the Golan! We had a wonderful day packed with learning, natural beauty, and inspiration. We headed north from our hotel at Kibbutz K’far Blum to Metulah, the highest point in Israel, where we were met by Lieutenant Colonel Guy Malal. Guy is a former intelligence officer in the IDF and an expert in the politics and history of the region. We viewed a settlement adjacent to Lebanon as flocks of cranes flew overhead. Our next stops overlooked Syria, where we learned the background and new information about the current conflict through Guy’s expert analysis. Remnants from the 1967 war were often visible, giving us perspective on just how close Israel borders  Syria and Lebanon. I was personally most moved by Guy’s concluding remarks, stressing that he views it as an honor to continue serving in the reserves even though, at age 50, he would be exempt. We learned about the Druze community in the Golan and worldwide. Many of us were unfamiliar with details of their customs and beliefs. A stop in a Druze village provided the opportunity to “refuel” at their marketplace. A hike along the Banias waterfall was a highlight of our day! Israel has had an unusually rainy year (all of those prayers for rain have been fulfilled), making the landscape green and lush. Unfortunately, it also caused a landslide along the trail but were were still able to see the gorgeous falls. The hike was well worth the wear and tear to our knees! Our last stop was the Gadot lookout, where a jarring war memorial honoring reservists from a nearby kibbutz killed in the ‘67 war juxtaposed with the rural landscape of the Hula valley below. We returned to K’far Blum for a little R&R before our nightly feast. Our evening concluded with a talk by a second generation kibbutz member, who explained the evolution of kibbutz ideology in the 21st century reality. They’re not just picking oranges anymore!

News from Bob Chessin with the Northern travellers. Started out on a beautiful day at Kfar Blum in the northern Galilee.  Drove to Copernum on the sea of Galilee to the site and ruins of a first century synagogue literally a stone’s throw from the alleged house of St. Peter.  Then drove to Beit She’an National Park where we explored ruins including hiking up a tel (archaeological mound) from the biblical period, Roman/Byzantine.  Then we had a quick lunch and then visited an Orthodox traditional farming kibbutz, Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, founded in 1939.  They are famous for their development of organic farming methods that includes the use of natural fertilizers and insects to grow food naturally and sustainably.  Then we arrived at Mt. Scopus where we had our first sight of the golden city of Jerusalem.  We welcomed our arrival with a brief service including song, prayer and a Shehechianu blessing.  We then arrived at our hotel, the Inbal for a good night rest.

News from Ruth Gross – Tuesday March 19th – Southern Battalion –We all ate breakfast overlooking the indescribable beauty of the Negev. Sadly we had to say goodbye to the magnificent mahktesh and Mitzpe Ramon. Our parting gift was a visit from an ibex, an endangered species, that doesn’t discriminate when hungry.  We drove to the northern Negev and stopped at the Likiya Weaving Project of the Association for the Improvement of Women’s Status. What an empowered group of women who have made tremendous progress for Bedouin women’s rights in Israel! Our next stop was Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah located on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip where we overlooked Gaza and had a extensive presentation, in a bomb shelter, concerning border security and day to day life. We ended our drive ascending to Jerusalem where we recited the shehechiyanu and took in the beauty of Jerusalem as the setting sun caste a glow upon the city.

New from the North with Don Hyman – Bagels, lox and much more were part of the breakfast buffet before we listened to Isabel Kershner of The New York Times Jerusalem Bureau (with Jack Kadden, retired New York Times Editor and currently our bulletin editor). She said polls showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had enough support to win re-election. “But soon it will be Purim. Anything can happen,” she said. After Spending the early morning talking about modern Israel we went back in time to King Herod’s mountain palace and fortress in the Judean Desert — Masada. We took a cable car up and many walked down. Sometimes referred to as “the Jewish Alamo,”  Masada was the site of the Jew’s last stand against  8,000 Roman legionnaires. They took their lives rather than surrender. The event became a symbol of modern Israel’s determination to exist as a Jewish state. If you’re at Masada, dropping in at the Dead Sea for a quick dip in the famous brine is a must. B’nai Israel members had no problems floating and playing in the mud, reputed to have “health benefits” that promote smooth skin, long life, good hair, happiness, etc., etc., etc.

More from Sylvie Neigher with the Southern Tour arriving in Jerusalem. Our day started with a very informative and interesting talk by NY Times correspondent Isabel Kershner about the  current political situation before Israel ‘s election in April. The “southern platoon” then got on the Lite Train, taking us to northern Jerusalem. We stopped at the office of Kids4Peace and learned about the organization working on a dialogue between Jewish, Christian and Muslim young people. At lunchtime we stopped at Machane Yehudah, the open doors market. It was bustling with people buying sweets, fruit etc for Purim. We ended the day watching a spectacular “light and sound” show at Davids Tower and a  wonderful multiple course meal. A spectacular and full day in beautiful Jerusalem.

From Susan Preminger with the Southern Tour in Jerusalem – Thursday March 21 in Jerusalem was a day that evoked a spectrum of emotions from participants in the CBI tour in Jerusalem. From a moving visit to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial to the parade of Jerusalem residents dressed for Purim everyone was touched by the contrasts of the day. It was a day to honor past and future with both a visit to Yad Vashem and the planting of trees in Jerusalem’s Gazelle Valley nature preserve.

News from Jack Kadden with our Northern Israel travellers  this past Shabbat. Many of us went to the Old City for a tour of Christian sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We also got a brief course on Christian beliefs, and the story of the final days of Jesus from our guide, Doron. Some of us are flying home tonight, while the others head off to Petra.

From Don Hyman in Northern Israel. This is the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac, where Jesus was crucified and resurrected and where Mohammed ascended on a stairway to heaven. Big events with big impacts. Our 10 day visit to Israel began, however, on a comparatively minor note, a graffiti tour of bustling Tel Aviv then  a meeting with leaders in the booming Israeli IT industry. After, we went north to snow capped Mt. Herman  and the Golan Heights (great wine making region) looking out on the Sea of Galilee near the kibbutz where Don spent the summer of 1966. It became  very clear why Israel’s security hinges on who controls the Golan. Next, a visit to Masada, an ancient fortress built by King Herod overlooking the Dead Sea. People today love floating in the slimy lake (1,000 plus feet below sea level) and rubbing mud rich with minerals all over their bodies. Strange but true. Then to Jerusalem, just in time for history lessons, long walks through winding tunnels, prayers at the western wall and the gala, noisy ancient holiday of Purim. So much history in a country that feels young, strong, successful and filled with chutzpah. Photos below. Home soon and looking forward to Spring in Connecticut. But first, a visit to Petra in Jordan, another ancient land. We fly there Sunday.

Sunday, March 24th – News from Karen Blau – Journey to Jordan – Alan, I and 32 fellow travelers left Jerusalem at 6:30 a.m. We boarded a bus and headed to a regional airport in Tel Aviv. A short flight to Eilat and then another bus to the border of Jordan. After going through several check points we all walked across the border dragging our luggage behind us. We boarded a 3rd bus and stopped for lunch in Wadi Rum. After a wonderful buffet lunch we took a “Jeep” tour the Wadi Rum (valley of sand) desert. Our Jeeps were pick-up trucks with wooden seats in the opened bed of the truck. The weather was not ideal but in spite of the rain, hail and wind everyone had a great time. It was quite a adventure.

From our Southern Israel travellers, Mindy and Jeff Siegel. The celebration of Purim is evident at every turn in the city of Jerusalem. And the jubilation intensifies as Shabbat approaches on our last Friday in Israel. The “Southern” group entered the old city for an in-depth history refresher on the geopolitical scene in ancient times. Being in this place certainly brings that history to life. We toured the tunnels adjacent to the Western wall, and came as close as possible for any Jew to the “Holy of Holies” – the site of the first and second temple, corresponding to the spot on which Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac. We spent some quality time at the Western Wall, some of us leaving written personal prayers in the nooks crannies there. The weight of history soon gave way to modern day life as we entered the Machane Jehuda market in the early afternoon. All manner of food was available to the crush of locals busily preparing for Shabbat. This was amplified by the Purim mood, making the narrow streets and passageways especially full. Shabbat arrived with many of our combined group attending Friday night services at Kol Haneshema synagogue, while others socialized or otherwise enjoyed the city. Shabbat dinner was shared with soldiers from the Lone Soldier program. These are young people in army service, who have no family to go home to on Shabbat. They seemed to enjoy the warm embrace of the B’nai Israel family, and we enjoyed their youthful insights into military life in Israel. Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, March 26 – All of our Israel travelers have now landed safely back on U.S. soil – Here are a few last photos from Mindy Siegel of the Market Place and Purim in Jerusalem.

Israel Traveler’s Blog Post:  Monday, March 25 – Sheryl & George Santiago – We started our adventure early this morning, stepping out of our hotel (Movenpick) and walking across the road to the entrance of the ancient city of Petra, one of the new “Seven Wonders of the World.” The wonder for us, as a fierce rain started and hail began its assault, was whether- in pre-Passover mode- the plagues were upon us! The two mile walk through the magnificent rock formations was challenging but mind-bogglingly beautiful and by the time we made it to the intricately carved treasury (tomb), the sky had cleared. There were endless photo-worthy moments on the 2 mile walk back to the hotel, though some members of our group opted for a horse-drawn carriage ride that might have been faster but definitely not smoother due to the sometimes stone, sometimes wet and often muddy terrain! After finding a variety of creative ways to dry off and change clothes, we checked out of our hotel and made our way back to the airport in Akaba, stopping for lunch where we watched a snowstorm that left the mountains in the distance perfectly powder-covered. We were admiring the scenery as we passed through a small town. The excitement of seeing tourists rolling by must have been too much for one young Jordanian, who threw a rock that ended up shattering a large window on our bus! It only broke the outer pane, but caused some commotion with the locals and forced us to go off our route and visit the local police station to file a report. Ron, our superb tour guide (and escort through Jordan,) kept us calm and reminded us of the importance of leaving “margins,” or extra time in schedules for the unexpected. The whole event gave new meaning, and a surprising level of laughter, to getting stoned in Jordan…  Many winding roads, gorgeous desert views and a border-crossing later, we were back in Israel. After enjoying dinner at the Port of Tel Aviv, it was on to Ben Gurion Airport for our 12:30 a.m. flight back home. We thought arriving there 3 hours before the flight seemed excessive, but the level of security there is HIGH. After countless bag x-rays and checks, questions and lines, we were able to spend our last shekels in the duty-free shop and say our silent goodbyes to this extraordinary country. Exhausted, and armed with a lifetime of moving memories, we boarded our flight to JFK and welcomed our well-earned sleep. In just a few weeks, as we enjoy our seders, we’ll all be able to exclaim: “THIS year in Jerusalem!”