Israel Matters! – July/August 2023

Reflections On A “First” Visit to Israel

I consider May’s TBS tour of Israel led by Rabbi Scolnic to be my first time in Israel. In actuality it was my second as I did spend two nights in Tel Aviv attending my nephew’s wedding back in 2012. That visit consisted of a quick afternoon visit to Jaffa, a couple of wonderful meals alongside the Mediterranean Sea, and the aforementioned wedding ceremony and celebration.

When I arrived home – exhausted – I was determined to return one day soon for a proper visit.

For the past four plus years I’d been hoping our Rabbi would organize a Synagogue trip and so the moment it was announced last fall I signed up! I’ve been back home now for over one month and Israel remains present in my thoughts unlike other trips I’ve taken. This trip was not a vacation. It was an experience!

Before this trip Israel mattered to me intellectually. I
recognized Israel as The Jewish State, but it was still
foreign to me. I saw Israel as an historical destination,
but I didn’t feel a deep emotional connection. I had a
somewhat basic knowledge of Israel’s birth, its struggles
for survival and Israelis’ many worldwide contributions.
But still – I thought of myself as an American Jew. My
forebears were from russia. I didn’t feel any more
connected to Israel than I did to Russia; and I most
certainly do not feel connected to Russia! And now?
Everything has changed.
I didn’t know what to expect or feel before our departure,
but as the date approached, I felt an increasing level of
excitement and anticipation. I believed that the ten days
in Israel would somehow touch a part of me I did not yet
know. I was not wrong! As our flight approached Ben
Gurion Airport this sense of coming home washed over
me. There was something comforting about seeing all of
the signs written in Hebrew, and hearing our language
spoken beyond the walls of our Sanctuary back home. It
was comforting.
Our first couple of days were spent in
the alleys of Old Jaffa and historic
“Little Tel Aviv,” including a tour of the
graffiti decorating the Florentine
This was in great contrast to the Tel
Aviv I had briefly visited a decade
earlier broadening my view of Tel Aviv
as more than just Israel’s first
modern city. I especially enjoyed
our visit to the Palmach Museum
in Ramat Aviv. I walked out of
the exhibits with much
admiration of the bravery and
heroics of the men and women of
this elite underground
organization – one which played such a key in the
founding of the State of Israel.
After departing Tel Aviv, I had wished that we’d had
more time to
explore a bit of the
nightlife and the
boardwalk along
the Mediterranean.
Yet once we arrived
in northern Israel, I
found myself
captivated by the
beauty of the ancient ruins of Tzippori and the area of
Tzfat. And to then find myself in Tiberias actually seeing
the Sea of Galilee for the first time – it was surreal. We
Reflections On A “First” Visit to Israel
A View of Tel Aviv
Graffiti artist
Sara Erenthal
Guest Columnist:
David Margolis
July August 2023 7
then moved on and traveled to the Golan Heights. That
name never meant much to me before. But once we
walked up the hill and reached Coffee Annan (great
coffee but Morning Minyan coffee
is still the best!) and then looked down into Syria I
understood its strategic military
importance over an invading Syrian
army and why Israel fights so hard
to hold onto the land and defend
itself from every side. Following the
Golan Heights, we visited a number
of memorable historic sites and many
other places of interest. A few, in
particular, touched me deeply.
We greeted the Sabbath at the
Western Wall and I found myself overwhelmed in its
presence – the approach
through the alley ways of
Arab shops, to the
nondescript signs directing
us towards the entrance
to the Wall and then finding
myself at the top of the steps
looking across to the great
expanse of the Wall, THE
WALL, in front of me.
And then to see the masses
of Jews rushing towards it in
such a hurry to greet the Sabbath. We walked past it
and made our way towards Robinson’s Arch – the one
place where both women and men could pray together
near the Wall. Our TBS contingent celebrated my first
Shabbat in Israel together in this historic ancient site
led by Shira Rosenblatt and Michelle Murphy!
I cannot find the words to
describe how it felt to be
welcoming and celebrating
Shabbat at that site with both
old and new friends and our
Rabbi I felt deep emotion, a
connection, a belonging. And I knew there was more to
I took hundreds of photos and as I
view them (as I have every day
since returning home) I am
reminded of every experience – the
beauty of the land, the warmth of
the people, the colors and flavors of
the food, the smells, the sounds, the history. We did not
have time to climb Masada, but we did ride the cable car
to the top and explored the site. I marveled at the under-
taking it took to build this fortress at such a great height,
especially in those days. We then
swam in the Dead Sea (I floated!)
and walked in the Ein Gedi
Nature Reserve. The remainder of
the trip included a tour of Yad
Vashem, Mt. Herzl Cemetery, The
Chagall Windows at Hadassah Hospital, Yad Lakashish
and the Knesset Menorah.
We experienced so much in a
short period of time and as I
reflect on what I saw I recognize
how my impressions of Israel
have changed. Before I thought
of Israel as a some what compact
expanse of dry land and
Jerusalem a city housing Jews
and Muslims and Christians in
close proximity to each other. I
now see Israel as a fertile land,
nurtured for generations. A
magical land, lush – an oasis.
And Jerusalem, a large city –
both ancient
and modern.
Coexisting. Safe, vibrant, walkable.
Religious and Secular. On the flight
back to the States I knew two things to
be true – that I would return to Israel
as often as possible and, if I no longer
felt safe as a Jew in America, I would
be welcomed and protected in Israel. Like Home.