Torah Thoughts and Reflections on the Jewish World
SHA 8th Grade Israel Trip – May 2011
Erev Shabbat Bamidbar
I do have a few minutes before our next (and last) tour back here in the Old City: This morning we, as a class – and me personally – had an overwhelming experience at Yad Vashem. This is the first time I’ve been at the new Yad Vashem, a completely transformed museum from the one that predated it…
Now, the story was not new, of course, but the level of detail and nuance, the brilliant design and use of art, videos, Nazi posters and newspapers, street lamps from the Warsaw Ghetto – generated a real atmosphere of being back in Europe during those years. Two aspects of the tour, though, stand out in my mind as exceptional:
a) As we saw in the Begin and Rabin Centers, sophisticated headsets are now handed out to visitors, providing translations, movie commentary when you walk in front of a film etc. At Yad Vashem, the tour guide wears a mike and the headsets are mainly designed to keep the visitor focused on the guide’s explanation of the different aspects of the exhibit. This was most valuable for our students, whose concentration was greatly enhanced by having a “live” audio feed into the ears, no matter where they were with the group. It allowed kids to wander off a few feet to look at some other aspect of the museum, but to always be connected to the main group. Acoustics were not a problem and other guides taking their clients through the museum did not interfere with our tour. The place was packed!
b) Secondly, our tour guide, Jonathan, a Welsh Jew who came on Aliyah, was a tremendous educator! He was animated, excited, knowledgeable – changed his tone and pace depending on what he was describing. Since he knows five languages, he could generate a very realistic atmosphere by reading some of the Nazi newspapers, textbooks and posters with an authentic German accent and inflection! We thanked him afterwards for such a professional presentation. Kids loved the structure and meaning he gave to the events and participated enthusiastically in the discussions throughout Yad Vashem.
Tonight, after dinner, I will be speaking with the students about the conclusions we have to draw from the Holocaust regarding our Jewish commitment. What does it mean to be a continuation of our people?
Thursday, May 26th, 11:30 pm, Old City of Jerusalem
For those of you who have been following this blog, tonight will be my last blog entry, as tomorrow – until Shabbat – will be a packed day, and Motza’ey Shabbat we will be cleaning up, packing and going to bed for a 5:30 am wake-up ……….preparing to wing our way back to Seattle!
I just came back with the group from “the MidRechov” in Jerusalem, where we frankly…..hung out! I haven’t done this for years — 30, to be exact, but it took me down memory lane. SHA treated all the students to a sweet treat at “Katzefet” – known for its ice cream and frozen yogurt. Because we had chicken for dinner, we sought out a pareve treat, and ended up choosing an Israeli form of Slurpee. Within a couple of minutes, we were all experiencing different degrees of S.B.F. (“Simultaneous Brain Freeze”) since this drink was REALLY cold!
Several students were able to purchase gifts for their friends and family, there was an unsuccessful haggle, but no damage done…
We drove through the Galil earlier today, from the Kinar to Tel Aviv, where we spent two hours at Park HaYarkon – otherwise known as “Ganei Yehoshua”. After a little “monkey bars” activity, we all headed out to the paddleboats on the Yarkon River. We had a great time, did a lot of “bumping” between our boats and got some tremendous exercise for our legs and feet!
It was probably a miscalculation, but we agreed to have the shwarma-in-pita lunch dropped off at our next location: Independence Hall http://www.eretzmuseum.org.il/main/site/index.php3?page=75 in downtown Tel Aviv. Aside from being hungry until we arrived at the Hall, we couldn’t eat the lunch right away because the museum staff said it was against the rules to eat inside….so I ran to a nearby Kiosk and purchase a small chocolate bar for everyone to tide them over….None of the students were particularly impressed with the presentation of the Israeli woman who was trying to give us a sense of what it was like to be sitting in that same room on Erev Shabbat, May 14, 1948, at 4 pm, as Ben Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel. But the experience of being in that room – left with the same furniture it had on that day, and with the famous adornment of two long flags of Israel draped on the wall, on either side of portrait of Theodore Herzl — was impressive.
Little plastic cups were handed out for Netilat Yadayim, and the students then dined on those shwarma sandwiches on the boulevard in front of Independence Hall. Our driver, Chaim, fetched us at about 3:30 and delivered us to our next stop: the new Rabin Center. This wonderful educational facility uses a technology similar to that of the Begin Museum, but is on a much larger scale, with additional clever technologies for covering the life of Rabin. Alongside the main path through the museum, which chronicles Rabin’s career as a military man and then politician, runs a series of complex short films, displays, etc that chronicles what was happening in the world, and in Israel in particular, during that juncture of Rabin’s life. We only spent an hour or so in the Center, but I would like to personally go back and spend more like 2-3 hours. Surprisingly, the Center was able to remain apolitical as well as not “obsessing” with the tragic murder of Rabin in November 1995.
Chaim came to whisk us back to Jerusalem to our “Old Stomping Ground”, the Sefardic Center in the Old City, where we ate dinner, davened mincha, and left for Ben Yehuda.
a two hour visit to Yad Vashem
visiting Mt. Herzl Military Cemtery next door and discussing the lives of some key people buried there
Shabbat prep, showers, etc, mincha, Kabbalat Shabbat at Bet Knesset Ohel Leah
Dinner at the Sefardic Center along with Hillel and Moshe and their golden tonsils. My daughter, her husband, and their two sons may also join us for dinner
Shabbat Day and beyond
Tefillah, Kiddush at the Sefardic Center
Trek to Rechavia for Lunch with the Ginsburgs once again!
Short trek to another stop in Rechavia for Seudah Shlishit with my daughter and her family
Walk back to the Old City, Ma’ariv, Havdalah, get changed for Malcha Mall
Dinner at Yotavata Dairy Restaurant in the Mall at about 9 pm
Return for early bedtime
Sunday morning wake-up at 5:30; load up the bus for return to Lod Airport
El Al – home to Seattle
Wednesday, May 25th, 6 pm, Kinar Hotel, last night in the Golan…
Up at 7 am today, most of us arrived at minyan within a couple of minutes of the official 7:15 starting time (!). We dined on sundry dairy delicacies for breakfast until 8:15 or so, and managed to get everyone on the bus by 8:45. Off we went to the ancient Holy Galilee city of Tzfat(also known as Safed). Our walking tour took us through the artist’s quarter where I was tempted to purchase a new backgammon set, but held off until we return to the Old City on Friday, where I think I can purchase it for a much lower price…or at least haggle a bit… Many students saw this as a perfect opportunity to buy gifts for their friends and family back home. The candle store in Tzfat which supplied our 8th graders with their Chanukah and Havdalah candles was our next stop. So many creative candles to choose from, but…. most of us ended up admiring some creative candles, like the David slaying Goliath candle scene (see picture below)- six months in the making – or Noah’s Ark, featuring some familiar animal characters, like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.
We spent a short time in each of three famous synagogues – The Ari Synagogue, Rav Yosef Caro’s Synagoguge, and the Mari Abuhav Synagogue. At this time of year, there are many “Birthright” groups touring the country, so quarters were somewhat cramped. What characterized each one of these shuls was the ornate design and the prominent Bimah in the center of the synagogue.
Past a new Braslov yeshiva and shul, we wound our way down to the historic Tzfat cemetery, where we visited the grave of Rav Yosef Karo. The plaque there lists Rav Karo’s accomplishments: although he is most noted for his “Shulchan Aruch” (Code of Jewish Law), his magnum opus was the Beit Yosef, a commentary on Rav Ya’akov Ben Asher’s Arba’a Turim. In the Beit Yosef, Rav Karo cites all of the “sugyot”/sections of the Gemara that serve as the basis for ruling of the Arba’a Turim, and then explains the various interpretations of the Rishonim (medieval commentators) on those sections of Talmud. His aim: to explain the basis of each ruling of Rav Ya’akov Ben Asher. The Shulchan Aruch, then, is really the condensed version of his conclusions in the Beit Yosef. From the grave of the Beit Yosef, we were also able to see the grave of R. Shlomo Alkabetz. I had students snap a photo of R. Alkabetz’s kever to show SHA 7th grade student Raphael Alcabes; I had told Raphael that his name comes from the name of a famous Sephardic rabbi. We also passed by the grave of Rav Moshe Cordovero (author of Tomer Devora) and saw, from a distance, the burial place of Rav Moshe Alshich.
At the bottom of the cemetery, I noticed a huge plaque, and I called the kids around so I could read them what it said. The monument was dedicated to the Tzfat high school students who were murdered by terrorists in 1974 in the famous terror attack in the Galil town of Ma’alot. After returning to the hotel, I just discovered (through an internet search) that a new documentary was screened two weeks ago, called “Their Eyes Were Dry” that chronicles the event – see this link: http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/05/05/3087296/new-documentary-about-maalot-school-massacre-premieres-may-9
At day’s end, we glided along the Kinneret coastline of Tiveria (Tiberias) and wound our way down to the burial site of the Rambam, Rav Moshe Ben Maimon, and his father, Rav Maimon. Along with a couple of students, I recited the special Tefillah that one should recite at the grave of the Rambam, author of the monumental work, Mishne Torah, Sefer Hamitzvot and Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed). There is a strong tradition to pray at the gravesites of Tzaddikim – not that we are G-d forbid – praying to them, but B’zchutam – in their merit – we are praying to Hashem to answer our Tefillot. This area is somewhat commercialized, with kiosks selling memorabilia, etc. Several of the students became enamored with a black kitten that had nestled next to one of the stores. Ruth asked if we could take it home. I had to answer in the negative..
Our second main destination of the day was Kfar Kedem, also in the Galil. This is a mini-village where visitors become totally engulfed in the way life must have been back in Tannaitic times. We had a terrific, colorful, warm, funny guide name Amir Cohen. He spoke a beautiful English and had the kids’ attention and cooperation the whole time. After a brief introduction to the purpose of Kfar Kedem, he encouraged us to dress up in the garb of the time: long flowing linen or cotton robes and a light, airy head wrap/turban similar to Arab garb and what our ancestors wore in the Middle Eastern climate. Amir was careful to explain that there were no tzizit affixed to the four cornered garment for two reasons:
a) you are only obligated in tzizit on a garment that you own – and the garments were owned by the owner of Kfar Kedem, Menachem
b) they had rounded the front two corners of the garment, so that even if we were to acquire it, it would be exempt from tzizit
As a group, we proceeded to the donkey rides. Each person had a partner: one of us was to ride half way, one to lead the donkey. Half way through, we could switch roles. Amir explained to us how to mount the donkey, how to get it to start walking and how to get it to stop. To get it to start walking, we were to say (with a guttural Jewish “ch” sound) : “Che Che Che” and to get it to stop, we were to say (softly) “Esh, Esh”. It was fun, I first led Noam’s donkey, then he led mine. Half way through the trail, we stopped and Amir showed us the house in Tzippori of Rebbe Yehuda Hanasi (editor of the Mishna). Next up we gathered under a large area shaded with bamboo, and Amir took us through each of the steps leading to the kneading and baking of pita bread. We had seen aspects of this process earlier in the trip, but Amir’s description was filled with much detail, humor, and most importantly – halacha.
Specifically, he mentioned two mitzvot:
לא תחרוש בשור וחמור יחדיו
Don’t plow with an ox and donkey together
He explained that since ox is a much stronger beast, a farmer who tries to get more “horsepower” on his plowing is forbidden from doing so due to the pain or even likely death of a donkey thrown into this situation.
Secondly, Amir brought out a muzzle and noted how the Torah says
לא תחסום שור בדישו
Don’t muzzle an ox while threshing
After all, you are getting his free labor – let him eat while he’s working!
Behind the covered demonstration area was a hot (what seemed like an) upside-down pot and some fresh dough balls. Amir described the mitzvah of separating “Challah” from a certain amount of dough prior to baking the bread, and then gave us each a dough ball, which like pizza chefs, we were encouraged to stretch out into the shape of a large pancake. A young man in charge of the cooking showed us where to place each of our raw pitas, and flipped them over when each side was done. Each pita took about 15-20 seconds per side to cook! Netilat Yadayim facilities were available on location. Everyone washed, recited Hamotzi, then gently dripped an olive oil/zatar dressing on the top of his or her pita. Then came lunch: We followed Amir to another covered area with tiny tables, each surrounded by four stools. It was now time for our Tannaitic-era lunch! “It all goes in the pita!” Amir cried. Well, I understood what that meant when it came to the Humus, Tehina and Israeli salad…..but Amir meant for us to also put the next course in our pitas: generous helpings of beef kabobs, rice, and barbequed chicken fingers ! Cold pitchers of water with a slice of lemon was our beverage.
None of us left there hungry, and kavana for Birkat Hamazon was at an all-time high!
As we removed our ancient robes and headdress, Amir offered us fresh dates and a pot of herbal tea. What a perfect desert! Being the rabbi on staff, I told students that we had to check the dates for bugs, as occasionally, they become infested. To set the tone, I opened up my date. Parents, I found no less than 20 dead ants inside! The picture will hopefully appear on the Oranim blog within the day. Though it wasn’t planned, this turned into an opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of fruit and vegetables that often contain bugs, like dates and figs, Romaine lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and the like.
You can see a short film about Kfar Kedem by clicking on http://www.k-k.co.il/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9&Itemid=15&lang=us The relevant section starts 1:30 into the film… An early return to the Kinar Hotel (around 4 pm) is giving us a time to recreate, shower, rest – and make it to Mincha by 6:30..followed by dinner and Ma’ariv. Tomorrow, we bid farewell to the Golan and head to Tel Aviv, with Thursday night back in Jerusalem’s OldCity!
Tuesday, May 24th 8:06 pm, Kinar Hotel, Golan Heights
Following our “in-house” Shacharit today at the hotel, we set off to Har Bental (Mt. Bental) in the northern Golan. See the location on the map by clicking http://www.eyeonisrael.com/mount-bental.html From the top of the lookout, we could clearly see Syria; this position clearly gives one a perspective on what it would mean to “return the Golan Heights” to Syria and helps one internalize the security threat involved. Since Israel conquered, then defended, the Golan in ’67 and ’73, the Golan Heights Winery http://www.golanwines.co.il/default_eng.asp has cultivated the land below Mt. Bental, a few short kilometers from the border with Syria. It’s really an aesthetically beautiful stretch of land!
While on Har Bental, Ari took the opportunity to tell us the story of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, which can be found also on a website that his brother, Maurice developed: http://www.elicohen.org/ — and how Eli Cohen’s intelligence information was instrumental in Israel’s 6 Day War victory. We had a chance to walk through the Syrian-built bunkers atop Har Bental.
Back on the bus, we traveled to עמק הבכא – the Valley of Crying/Tears, where one of the key battles of the 1973 Yom Kippur War took place. It is a memorial park; on location are not only plaques in memory of those dozens of soldiers who lost their lives there, but several of the destroyed Israeli tanks stranded there. I found a video clip on YouTube that gives a mini-tour of the Valley of Tears memorial, as well as giving a clear picture of the proximity of where were standing today – to Syria. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAnOF7Wjdbc After hearing some details of this dramatic story, we traveled across the way to Kibbutz El Rom and saw a wonderful 25-minute film documentary on the battle, featuring Commander Avigdor Kahalani. A key aspect of the story is that the Israeli tank corps was ill-equipped to fight at night, while the Syrian tanks had advanced infra-red systems that facilitated night fighting. In addition, we were far outnumbered. By the final stages of the battle, Israel, led by Kahalani, had only 4 tanks, against over 100 Syrian tanks. Somehow, the Israelis’ tenacity – and, as our bus driver Chaim explained, a lot of “Mazal” triggered the Syrian retreat. In the intense final fire, Kahalani and his soldiers wiped out about 70 Syrian tanks….On the bus to Katzrin, I reminded the students of the “Al Hanisim” we recite on Chanukah, of how G-d gave over רבים ביד מעטים – many into the hands of the few. Here is a modern day story of the same! What Chaim called “mazal”, I call miraculous: The Syrians, startled by Israel’s apparent failure to put up much of a fight, were convinced that behind Kahalani’s 4 remaining tanks, were another several tank columns. This belief itself – that Israel had something up its sleeve – combined with the determination of our soldiers, brought about the Syrian retreat, and “bought time” for Israel, 24 hrs to be exact, to call up its reservists!
From there, we traveled to an olive-product factory a few miles away http://www.golanoliveoil.com/Default.asp and some of us purchased an olive scrub that apparently obliterates acne and is in general great for the skin….
Then it was Pizza time at “Pizza Pitzutz” – along with Caesar Salad, spaghetti and cold drinks!
Showers, Mincha, dinner back at the Kinar and Ma’ariv ended the day. I had made an error yesterday, saying that today we would be in Tsfat and Tiberias – that is Wednesday’s plan!
Monday, May 23rd 9:39 pm Kinar Hotel, Golan Heights
If yesterday’s theme was “hands-on”, Monday expanded to a “bodies-on” adventure. We started the day with a 6 am wake-up from Midreshet b’Yachad in Yerucham – and without having breakfast (some of us had a Turkish coffee, I admit!) we boarded the bus for Massada. We arrived there about 7:15 am and trekked up the short path (thank goodness) to the top, where we freshened up and invested ourselves in Tefillat Shacharit, along with Monday’s Kriat haTorah, Parshat Bamidbar. Thanks to our tour guide, Ari Singer, a Sefer Torah was set aside for us for our minyan. The trip uphill and the Tefillah (in the hot morning sun) was physically taxing, and the kids passed with flying colors. Ari then took us to various key points on the top of this magnificent desert fortress, including Herod’s desert palace – we stood on the third level; his public bathhouse….