Shabbat, January 15 - 16, 2010
Traveling to Israel with "first timers" is always fun and interesting and we "vatikim - old timers" are expected to help lead the way.
While there were a few glitches getting everyone checked in, we finally all boarded our flight in Buffalo for JFK where we waited for our flight. There were no glitches at JFK and El Al security was lighter than I expected.
Rev. Tom Yorty and I found similar ways of amusing ourselves while we waited for our El Al flight to Israel while others waited patiently or dozed.
Once on board, we settled in for the long flight. Most of us were seated near each other. A few were spread throughout the plane and got to know some of the other travelers (for better or worse).
It seems every trip I think I've lost someone only to find they are already on the bus. Last trip it was HS in Jaffa, this trip it was B and G who got their luggage, cleared customs and found our bus while the rest of us waited patiently inside the terminal for them. Finally the tour agent called the bus, found out they were there and off we went.
Our guide, Julie Baretz, was waiting for us, got the rest of us on the bus and we quickly left the airport for Tel Aviv. I could not believe my eyes. Because we landed so close to Shabbat, the roads were empty and we made it to our hotel in record time! We quickly checked in, dropped off our luggage, cleaned up and within 20 minutes were on our way to Beit Daniel, the Reform congregation in Tel Aviv for Kabblat Shabbat services.
The rabbi, Meir Azari, their cantor and the members could not have been more welcoming. We even found Buffalo connections! The president of the congregation and her husband had briefly lived in Buffalo and the daughter of one of our preschool teachers was at the service. She is part of a group of students studying here. She will finish this spring with a masters degree in management.
Following the service we went down to the oneg Shabbat where Rabbi Azari invited me to say a few words about TBZ and Buffalo and a few words it was. After 10 or sentences in Hebrew they said thank you and we went on with the blessings.
Back at the hotel, we gathered for Shabbat dinner. It was such a pleasure watching the "first-timers" marvel at the variety and deliciousness of the buffet. From vegans to carnivores we all found more than enough to eat and retired fully sated.
Breakfast was equally overwhelming. We gathered and shared stories of how early everyone had awakened. Who had walked the boardwalk at 4 AM and who went running at 6.
Julie and Yossi (our driver) met us promptly at 9:15 and we began the formal part of our tour. Heading south to Rehovot and the Ayalon Institute to see the underground ammunition factory at Kibbutz Hill where from 1947 - 48 a small group of young Israelis went 25 feet underground, everyday, to make bullets for the Israeli Army in the months leading up to the War for Independence. Their story is inspiring and heroic as they not only faced danger of discovery but also working in close quarters with tons of gun powder.
As we were leaving, A and W were picked up by some friends who used to live in Buffalo and went to their kibbutz to spend a wonderful Shabbat afternoon catching up, meeting their children and getting reacquainted. The rest of us boarded the bus and drove back north to Jaffa.
The wonderful part of this trip is that Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian are sharing it. I can't remember all the times I've been to Jaffa (although the first was the most memorable as it was there I kissed a girl for the first time) and how many times I passed the house of Simon the Tanner. Yet this time was the first time I first noticed it. Our guide Julie is an expert in leading both Jewish and Christian tours. When we reached the house, she had Rev. Tom Yorty read the passage from the Book of Acts that refers to Simon the Tanner and his home. She then explained the significance of the place and the importance of the story in the shaping of Christianity and its divergence from Judaism. As a non-Christian, I was moved by the moment. As a Jew, my soul swelled. Here we stood at a pivotal place in the divergence of Judaism and Christianity as two congregations, now secure enough in who we are to be together without fear or self-consciousness.
Neve Tzedek, the first neighborhood in Tel Aviv, it was back to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon. At 6:30, we all gathered in the lobby and walked to a place where we had the city behind us and the crashing waves of the Mediterranean in front of us as we did Havdalah, the ceremony in which we end Shabbat and reenter the "ordinary" days of the week. As Tel Aviv came back to life, we reflected that while we will not have a week of Shabbat, our week will be anything but ordinary!
Tomorrow, Sunday, we begin with church services and then north to Ceasaria, Haifa and then to Kibbutz Ginosar where we will be based for the next two days.
I pray that your Shabbat was as meaningful and fulfilling as ours was here in Israel.
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld