Tuesday, January 26, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 8

Tuesday January 26, 2010

If I was not jet lagged and thus writing this at 4:00 AM, it would be hard to believe we are home. Our last day in Jerusalem (was it really 2 days ago on Sunday?) was so full we had to actually skip some things so people could do their final shopping!

We began our day by attending the Scottish Church service at St. Andrews in Jerusalem. St. Andrews was established in 1927 and dedicated by General Allenby who had liberated Jerusalem from the Axis Powers in WWI. We chose St. Andrews as the Presbyterian Church in the United States was born out of it in colonial times. It was a nice service. The minister's sermon spoke of Martin Luther King Jr., his faith and his spirit.

We left the church and headed to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest to plant olive trees (a theme I will come back to later.) The last time I planted trees with a group in Israel was with my second group from Anchorage. We went to a greenhouse, purchased fruit trees and planted them on our guide's army base as a symbol of peace as the Torah teaches (Deut. 20:19-20) that one cannot cut down fruit trees in time of war. This time was equally as meaningful as we were planting these olive trees (also a symbol of peace) just a few days before Tu B'shvat, the Jewish New Year of Trees (sort of a Jewish Arbor Day.) We knew Tu B'shvat was near not only from the calendar but because the almond trees were in bloom. Historically, the almond tree is the first tree to blossom in the Land of Israel. Today, it has competition from a plant we in Western New York are particularly familiar with, the forsythia which according to the Wikipedia article is a relative of the olive tree.

After a brief stop at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel for lunch we proceeded back to the Old City to see the Upper Room, a possible site of the Last Supper. A group was already in the Upper Room when we arrived and holding a service to reenact the Last Supper. Even without the echo in the room, their harmonies were inspiring.

Just outside the Upper Room is the supposed site of King David's Tomb. While this is possibly the least likely site of King David's burial place, I couldn't resist taking a picture of David next to the statue of King David. I don't know about you but I see an uncanny resemblance!

The last touring stop of the day was at the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a lovely site with a beautiful church. It is still an olive grove containing a 1750 year old olive tree. While the Garden of Gethsemane is an important Christian site not a part of my Jewish tradition and in fact, because of the Gospel's account of Judas's betrayal of Jesus, it is a site I associate with historic Christian anti-Judaism, it seemed to me to be the perfect last stop for our tour. There we stood, Jews and Christians, among ancient olive trees, a universal symbol for peace and wholeness at least since the Biblical story of Noah. We started our journey as separate individuals from multiple traditions and ended our journey as a united group. While at times it may have felt like we were together for 1750 years, in reality it was only 10 days. But in those 10 days each of us was enriched and transformed.

We let everyone go do their last shopping and relaxing in the ancient holy city and regathered at the hotel to walk across the street for our goodbye dinner at the most appropriately named restaurant, Olive and Fish. We had already said goodbye to M and A as they had left earlier in the day for an add on trip to Egypt and G. R. who caught an earlier flight to D.C.. The rest of us gathered with our superb guide Julie Baretz and our incredible driver, Yossi for a wonderful meal. We shared some reflections and memories, noted how long it will really take us to process everything from our trip and enjoyed some more laughs before heading to the airport and our long flight home.

At that final dinner I said some thank-you's, five of which I would like to echo here.

First to our guide Julie Baretz. I do this hesitantly because I'm afraid if I say too much everyone will want to have her guide them and she won't be available for us next time. I requested Julie to be our guide for this trip for two reasons. One, she guided our last trip and was incredible. Two, she specializes in guiding Christian groups as well as Jewish groups. We were her first real interfaith group and as wonderful as she was on our last trip, she truly outdid herself! Her sensitivity to both faiths and her ability to integrate and combine information, sites and us exceeded my already high expectations.

Second, Rev. Tom and Carol Yorty. We have known each other and worked together since my arrival in Buffalo in 2000. I knew them as wise, kind, caring and sensitive people. But you never really know how you will relate to someone on this kind of whirlwind trip until it happens. Again, my high expectations were exceeded. There are really no words to express just how much they added not only to the group experience but to my personal experience as well. From colleagues and acquaintances before the trip, I now feel them as partners, friends and counsels. They don't come any better than Tom and Carol.

Third, Rabbi Shira Joseph. When Jeff from Ayelet Tours told me that there was a rabbi who was going to Israel for part of her sabbatical and wanted to experience our interfaith trip, as I later told her, I thought she was crazy. A day or two perhaps but the whole trip? I glad beyond words that Shira joined us. Her gentle way kept inspiring me to do better. She was there as extra help when asked and while she came to learn from us, she was a great teacher to me. I gained a new colleague and friend.

Fourth a huge thank-you to Michele. I work hard on these trips and am not as available as I should be. Thank-you for your patience, understanding and keeping me steady.

Finally the group itself. Without you this trip would not have been possible. But more, each of you individually and as a group made the trip the incredible experience it became. We all had our quirks but each of those quirks added to the whole experience and made it unique. In Hebrew the word for "holy" is Kadosh which implies unique and special. That is what you became, Kadosh, a holy congregation of Jews and Christians. What more could anyone ask?

שלום וברכה - Shalom uv'racha - Peace and blessings upon you all, Jerusalem, Israel and our world,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 7

January 23, 2010

Shabbat in Jerusalem - what else can one say?

Shavuah Tov!

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 6

January 22, 2010

We left Jerusalem very early this morning for our day trip to the Dead Sea. Upon reaching the Dead Sea, we could see evidence of flash floods that had crossed the road days before. This is normal for winter in Israel. When the rains come the ground is often hard and dry and cannot absorb much water so it gathers in the normally dry river beds and heads to the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River, the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea.

Masada has changed for me over the years as it has for many Israelis. The message of the brave soldiers choosing death and suicide for themselves and their wives and children rather than slavery as the ultimate courage has been replaced by a more reflective understanding of "Never Again Will Masada Fall".  The goal no longer is a choice between death or freedom, rather it is ensuring life and freedom and that is a powerful message.

Nonetheless, it is always a thrill to be on Masada, especially with those who have not been there before. The granaries, the cisterns, the breach in the wall, the discussion about Josephus and his agenda, never lose their power for me.

The rest of Friday was spent in "preparation for Shabbat" and welcoming Shabbat. Our guide Julie and I have been harsh taskmasters giving little time for shopping and hurrying people out of stores to keep us running on time. Our schedule has been full and timing has been important. So by the time we reached the Ahava Factory Outlet store and gift shop at Qumran, and we gave them a whole hour for eating and shopping, need I say more?

Then it was down the road to the Dead Sea beach at Qumran. Below are several photos of people covered in mud and floating in the sea. I am under threat of death to post certain shots here but perhaps they can be a fundraiser for Westminster and TBZ. Of course all the money would go to support Mitzvah Day and other similar projects....

Arriving back in Jerusalem we changed and dressed for Shabbat, boarded the bus and drove to Kol Haneshama for Shabbat evening services. Every Jewish worship service in every congregation is unique unto itself. After a brief introduction to the service and Reform Judaism in Israel the singing began and our souls were lifted. Shabbat should be about peace and joy. The service was that and more. At the service were two of our former Institute of Liberal Jewish Studies teachers, Rabbis Elyse Goldstein and Michael Klein-Katz and of course the rabbi of Kol Haneshama, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman was our Halpern Speaker several years ago. It was a blessing to see them, hug them and wish them Shabbat Shalom.

Our Shabbat dinner at the hotel overwhelmed us with food and new, deep friendships. May the extra soul we gained this Shabbat carry us through to next Shabbat and beyond.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Thursday, January 21, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 5

January 21, 2010

Today was a somber day, but this evening was filled with joy.

We began the morning at Hadassah Hospital to see the magnificent Chagall Windows and learn a bit about the incredible work and research at the hospital.

We then proceeded to Har Herzl, Mount Herzl, Israel's main military cemetery which also contains the graves of some of it's most important leaders. I am always moved by our visits here and each time see something new. This visit was no different. As we approached Theodore Herzl's grave there were a number of new Israeli soldiers surrounding it as they learned about Herzl and the early Zionist movement.

We left the grave and went to a place in the cemetery where we could visit the graves of those who fell during the first Lebanon war. Buried among those dead was the grave of Yigal Yadin, most known for being the head archeologist at Masada but who was also a military leader and hero. When he died, he asked to be buried among his troops.

We left Har Herzl and went to Yad VaShem, Israel's Holocaust memorial and museum. As always, the range of emotions was broad. There were those who had to get out of the museum as soon as possible as they could not deal with the horror and those who read every word in every exhibit in order to try and comprehend the horror. We comforted each other, held each other up and supported one another.

We left the museum, had a Yizkor service in the Hall of Remembrance, honored the memory of the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the Holocaust at the Children's Memorial and finished at the path which honors the Righteous Gentiles who at great risk to themselves and their families helped save Jews. I have never been to Yad VaShem with an interfaith group. But standing their with our partners from Westminster, who are now more than partners - they are friends, gave new meaning to this garden path. If God forbid we ever needed their help, I do not believe, but I KNOW they will be there for us, standing with us against those who would seek to destroy us.

This evening we had a joyous, raucous time. Just over half of us went to my favorite restaurant, Samy on Agrippa Street (yes this is a shameless plug for them!) Together we ate, we laughed, we bonded, we ate some more. It was the perfect end to our day.

Tomorrow we go to the Dead Sea and then come back to Jerusalem to welcome Shabbat!

Shalom from Israel,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 4

Wednesday January 20, 2010

I'm sure many of you would not be surprised that for most of my life I have asked my literature teachers: "How do you know...?" I had that feeling much of today as we walked in the walled city of Jerusalem.

We actually started our day outside the walls in East Jerusalem at the Garden Tomb. In the mid-1800's Protestant Christians decided that this was the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus while most Christian groups decided 1400 years earlier that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the site. For me the question remains: "How does anyone know?" These decisions were made long before archeology was even in its infancy! The same is true for Biblical sites. Even some of the places that have Biblical names but not much archeological evidence could have been identified 1800+ years ago as a particular location, may in actuality be in a different place altogether.

Jerusalem (in Hebrew Yerushalayim), however contains a tremendous amount of archeological proof confirming the reality the identification and today we spent a good deal of time looking at that evidence.

Leaving the Garden Tomb we toured the excavations outside the southern retaining wall of the Temple Mount. Here we saw evidence of the existence of Herod's Temple, its destruction and the building of new walls to replace older ones. We then returned to the Western Wall to meditate and pray. I was engaged by the intensity with which some of our group prayed. Some of the most jaded among us was moved to tears. I fulfilled the mitzvah of delivering a note for M. S.'s parents and saying Yizkor and Kaddish for him.

We then continued into the underground passage way which allowed us to see almost the entire length of the western wall of the Temple Mount. As we walked through the tunnels I was again overwhelmed by the amount of work it took to build the walls so perfectly and how it has become an object of veneration by so many. As always there was a group of women praying in the tunnel at the spot nearest to where many estimate the Holy of Holies would have stood before it was destroyed in 70 C.E.. Simply put, the Western Wall Tunnel is awesome.

Following a good, warm lunch we went to Hezikiah's "Broad Wall" he built to defend Jerusalem from the Assyrian invaders in the late 700's C.E. and the Cardo, the old Roman marketplace, now filled with modern Judaica shops. Leaving the Cardo and gong through the Shuk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and finally to David's Tower and a tour of its exhibits. It was a long day of walking but more than worth it.

A couple of observations:

It is definitely different being at these Christian sites with members of a Christian congregation taht we know so well. The trust and openness is not only refreshing, it is inspiring!

Second, While today was about the "Old" City I think we all found a closer connection to our present and hopefully a commitment to the future.

Peace and Blessings from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 3

Tuesday January 19, 2010

Today was a long but wonderful day!

We began by visiting the museum at Kibbutz Ginosar where we viewed the conserved remains of a 2000+ year old boat that was found in the Sea of Galilee (Kineret) just off the shore of the kibbutz. I remember reading about the efforts to excavate and conserve it. It was a thrill for me but even more of a thrill for our resident archeologists, M and G!

We went from viewing the 2000 year old boat to boarding a decades old boat for a quick ride on the Kinneret. While the wind was blowing and it was a bit choppy it was an incredible ride. Tom read the New Testament passages about Jesus calming the sea and walking on water and followed with a brief discussion of the passage. I couldn't help but compare and contrast it to the story of Jonah.

While on the boat I saw this sign. Normally when we see the word חגורת - belt in the Bible, it refers to a belt with which one "girds one's loins". It fascinated me that here it was used as part of the term for a life preserver. Perhaps if there is a need for a life preserver, one does need to find the courage to actually use it.

Soon we were back on shore and boarding the bus to head to Kfar Nahum, known more commonly in English as Capernum.

Capernum has always fascinated me. In the 3rd - 4th centuries it was a truly integrated city housing healthy Jewish and Christian communities. It had an ancient church and an ancient synagogue. And yes, the synagogue has "donation plaques"! The names of some of the donors are chiseled into the pillars of the synagogue. Even more amazing is that some of the names are non-Jews which shows just how close the communities must have been.

From Capernum we headed south to Tiberias and a quick visit to the grave of the Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides. This coming Pesach will mark his 875th birthday and I felt we had to go to see his grave.

After lunch in Tiberias we went to an overlook of Nazareth and Mount Tabor. Most people are familiar with Nazareth but not Mount Tabor. In the Book of Judges, Mount Tabor is the place where Deborah and Barak defeated the armies of Jabin and his general Sissera. If you have never read Judges chapters 4 and 5. It is a powerful story indeed.

Mount Megido - Har Megido - Armageddon stands at the intersection of the three major trade routes of the ancient fertile crescent. 27 times was the city built and 27 times it was destroyed as armies vied for control of the trade routes for nearly 2 millennia. The site has been named a World Heritage Site and it is a designation that is richly deserved. With its history, is it any wonder that Armageddon had become synonymous with the great battle at the end of time?

Exhausted after a long day, we began the 2 hour ride to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is where I feel most at home and most connected in Israel. Most groups like to enter the city and head up to Mt. Scopus or the Mount of Olives to mark the occasion of entering the city. I prefer to go to the Haas Promenade to the south of Jerusalem. It would have been from that direction that Abraham would have first seen Mount Moriah with Isaac as they headed toward the climax of Abraham's test - would he or would he not sacrifice his son. The story is an affirmation of Mount Moriah and Jerusalem as a place of positive change and peace. What better place from which to enter the holy city? I can think of none.

Tomorrow we will tour East Jerusalem and the Old City inside the ancient walls. We will finish our tour at the Kotel, the Western Wall. Custom is to place prayers in the wall. I am on a special mission to do that tomorrow on behalf of a special family. I cannot even begin to imagine what it will feel like to put a prayer in the wall in memory of M. S., z''l (of blessed memory).

Shalom from Jerusalem!

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Monday, January 18, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 2

Sunday January 17, 2010

This morning we began by going to Immanuel Lutheran Church. It’s pastor, Christian, welcomed us warmly. The service was interesting on several levels. First, the service was conducted in English, which was not the pastor’s native tongue. Second, the difference in participation in the Jews and Christians in our group. Third, Christian knew we were two congregations, one Presbyterian but thought TBZ was a “messianic” synagogue so both his homily and his remarks to us after the service were very Jesus centered. During his talk to us, one of the Westminster members gently moved him on to other topics. When we explained that no, we were not “messianic” he was taken aback as he had never heard of “regular” Jews attending church services.

After some cake and coffee, we boarded the bus and began our journey north to Ceaasaria. We stopped for a quick bite to eat at a mall with a food court. Not surprisingly, the group split, 1/3 heading to the falafel bar, 1/3 to the coffee shop and 1/3 to McDonalds! We reboarded the bus and quickly arrived at Herod’s great city by the sea.

Here, our guide Julie Baretz, outdid herself with her ability to weave both Jewish and Christian history into her commentary and her sensitivity to both groups. I listened with wonder while we were in the amphitheater and she talked of how Christians faced the lions there while the Talmudic rabbis insisted that Jews attend to show support for a “thumbs up” for the Christian and a chance to live.

From Ceasaria we continued north to Haifa and a panoramic view of the city looking down at the magnificent Bahai Gardens. My high school friend Hedy met us there for a too brief reunion and catch up session. I don’t care what anyone says, in person is so much better than on line!

We left Haifa as the sun set over the bay and we began our trek to the Galilee. Safely ensconced at Kibbutz Ginosar (the place where Yigal Alon founded the Palmach) guest house, we had a wonderful meal and retired to our rooms for much needed rest before our 6:30 wake up call as we begin our exploration of the Galilee and Golan.

Monday January 18, 2010,

This morning began a very moving day for everyone. We headed north from Ginosar to our first stop at the Church of the Beatitudes located on the site that Jesus is said to have given the Sermon on the Mount. Tom Yorty began by reading for us the Beatitudes from the Book of Matthew. I couldn't help but notice the similarity between the Beatitudes and sections of Pirke Avot. It was truly a moving moment for all of us.

From there we drove north to the head waters of the Jordan stopping at both Banyas
and Tel Dan. The rain was pouring, which after 5 years of below average rainfall was truly a blessing for Israel. It was a fulfillment of the blessing we say in the Avot - May God cause the rain to fall and the winds to blow! Needless to say, the hike through Tel Dan was VERY wet.

Undismayed we continued on to Kiriyat Shmona for lunch. There we saw these Israeli soldiers eating at Burger King. The boarder with Lebanon is calm these days and Kiriyat Shmona seems to be thriving. But, one cannot get away from the knowledge that the top of the ridge over looking the town is the Lebanese border. It is a sobering reminder of the possibility of falling rockets and the blessing of hope of a town thriving during peace.

We continued on to some much needed shopping time at the Naot Shoe Factory and their outlet store where some serious purchasing occurred. G earned the title of best shopper with 5 pairs of shoes at an incredible price.

Finally it was off to Tzefat (Safed) where we went to a mystical synagogue and learned about Kabbalah as well as synagogue architecture. I went to see my friends at their shop, Canaan Gallery but missed them by just a few minutes.

On the way back to Ginosar, we talked about the experiences we have had with prayer and worship so far. There were lots of questions which led me to realize that we need to do a better job of educating our fellow travelers on each other's faith and worship traditions before Shabbat.

Finally back at the Kibbutz, I found a special treat. My first trip to Isarel was in 1971 on the Eisendrath International Exchange program (EIE). For six months 25+ teenagers came to Israel as exchange students. Through the magic of Facebook I found one of them lived not far from Ginosar so he and his wife met us at the Kibbutz. The hour and a half we spent together was too short especially since we hadn't seen each other since we left Israel 38 years ago this past December. While we are both gray, older and perhaps wiser, it was like we had always been in touch. Some of you may remember my story of going to a Moshav with a friend and meeting with the Rebbe of the Moshav. During our meeting a man burst in with a question of Kashrut and the Rebbe answered him. I tell the story often. Tonight I reunited with the friend with whom I went to the Moshav. What a treat and a pleasure.

Tomorrow we visit Kfar Nahum (Capernicum), the grave of Maimonides in Tiberias, the Church of the Ascension in Nazareth and then FINALLY we come to Jerusalem where we will enter the city by the route Abraham must have used on his way to Mount Moriah.

Shalom from Israel,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Shalom from Ginosar!

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld