We made it to the top. Forty five minutes of climbing, in the summer heat, straight up the holy mountain. The water in our water bottlers was boiling hot, sweat pouring down our faces, two kilometers of windy Snake Path behind us. This alone was a memorable accomplishment. But what waited at the top was even better. You see, as a parent, watching your child chant Torah is pretty great. But watching your child chant Torah on top of Masada is a privilege few parents get to ever experience.
What I learned from my recent trip to Israel is that Israel can be a history lesson, a family vacation, a re-affirmation of faith, a boost to your Zionism, a demonstration of your Federation donation dollars at work, and an opportunity to challenge oneself physically in new ways (even better, overcoming those challenges together as a family).
My experience on Masada really touched on all those things, but that was just one of the many stories from my week of tagging along on the Minneapolis Jewish Federation L’Dor V’Dor Grandparents Mission. Here are a few more…
In the area that is now Beit Guvrin was the ancient city of Maresha. Maccabees (you remember them as the stars of the Hanukkah story) lived in this area, and apparently they had a lot of clay pots, birds, and caves. Thousands of these caves have been discovered and have slowly been excavated, with normal people like you and me being able to use archeological tools to dig for artifacts. Together my children and I dug, and we found pieces of clay pots and bones. We were real archeologist, digging at times until we found the original floor of the cave. We were literally the first people to stand on that floor in more than 2,200 years. History. Family. Faith.
There’s a tunnel going under Jerusalem that was built around 4,000 years ago. King David used this tunnel to capture the city for the Jews. Someone, a few years ago, decided tourist would pay money to relive King David’s experience, by walking through that same pitch black tunnel with its water up to the shins, at times only 5 feet high, barely more than shoulder width wide. I guess they were right, because there we were, with our flashlights, walking through that 500+ yard tunnel. And I’m glad we did it. History. Family. Challenge.
The Golan Heights. Part of the beautiful north. A mostly bare side of a mountain that has played such a prominent role in Israel’s 65+ year history. Just miles from Syria and Lebanon, we drove ATVs up into the Golan Heights, stopping at an old Syrian bunker that looks right down over Kibbutz Kfar Szold. The driving was fun, the views amazing, and the history fascinating. History. Family. Zionism.
I remember, when growing up, hearing of the plight of the Ethiopian Jews. I recall seeing photos of the emancipated and faintly remember the efforts to bring them to Israel. I used to just hear about it. In Israel I saw it. For more than 15 years the Minneapolis Jewish Federation has been a large supporter of programs in the city of Hadera, including programs that help Ethiopian Jews. In Hadera, we met a woman who was airlifted out of Ethiopia at seven years old. She is now married, has three children, and a college degree. We visited a kindergarten class filled with Israeli and Ethiopian children. They sang for us and danced, and we saw them learn. History. Zionism. Federation.
The Western Wall on a Friday night is difficult to put into words. We touched the Wall. We put our notes/wishes onto paper and into a crack in the wall. We watched groups and individuals pray to the Wall. We watched people sing and dance. It’s the Western Wall on Shabbat, there is truly nothing like it anywhere. Faith.
From the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv to the mountains and valleys of the north to the wonders of the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel was an experience my children and I will never forget. We’ll never forget the physical challenges we faced and overcame together. We’ll never forget the soldiers and melting pot of people we met. We’ll never forget the amazing stories we heard. And at least I’ll never forget how immensely proud I am of the Israeli people. Because of the work they do not only to create, maintain, and defend this homeland for our people, but the way they lead the world in scientific and technological innovation and are the first to come to the aid of the rest of the world (even our enemies) when disaster strikes.
“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.”