JERUSALEM—On Thursday morning members of Tifereth Israel Synagogue of San Diego celebrated the B'nai Mitzvah of three of our travelers at the "Conservative Kotel" where egalitarian services are permitted. The three young adults were Jordan Jacobson, son of our members Ruth and David Jacobson, and Arielle and Danna Creager, daughters of our long time personal friends, Cherie and Todd Creager. The service was especially meaningful for me as I had married both sets of parents and named all of the kids.
Although the service warranted an especially early "wake up call," we were amply rewarded with celebrating together at this special place. Before us was not only the continuation of the western wall of the Temple Mount, but the blocks the Romans had thrown to the ground when they destroyed the Temple itself in 70 C.E. The Romans are long gone but we have returned to our holy land and once again celebrate at our holy sites.
After the B'nai Mitzvah service we toured the underground "Rabbis' Tunnel" that follows the continuation of the western wall of the Temple Mount, prayed and left notes at the Kotel, and visited the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
Previously, on Monday, we left Haifa to visit the Crusader Fortress at Akko, walked through the shuk (open air market), and along the the sea walls of Akko's small harbor.
One of our travelers, Jacob Bercovitz, grew up in Akko and it seems as if every other person he ran into recognized him from childhood! Jacob also showed us the home he had grown up in, just a couple of blocks from the beach, and shared his memories with us.
Afterwards we continued up to the natural grottos of Rosh Hanikra before making our way to Kibbutz Hagoshrim for a delicious dinner and well deserved rest after a long day.
On Tuesday we traveled to the sacred city of Tzfat, visited its ancient Kabbalistic synagogues and toured its shops and artist colony. Everyone especially loved stopping at the famed Tzfat Candle Factory, whose brightly colored Havdallah and Chanukah candles most of us recognize.
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From Tzfat we went to the Golan Heights and after an inspiring visit at the Golan Heights Winery we made our way up onto the Heights themselves. From one of Israel's active bunkers we saw the borders of Israel with Lebanon and Syria. It was surprising to some to recognize how truly small this country is and the dangers it is constantly exposed to from its hostile neighbors.
We ended the day with rafting down the Jordan, which many are surprised to learn is more a stream than a mighty river. It was a leisurely float instead of white water rapids, but a good time was had by all. Unfortunately, no one had a waterproof camera so we have no embarrassing pictures to share.
Wednesday we saw a synagogue from the Byzantine period that surprised not only us, but also archeologists and scholars when it was uncovered. It included not only Jewish symbols, such as a Shofar, but a zodiac and pagan images as well. These images raise many questions about Jews co-opting symbols from other cultures and how they understood them in relationship to our own.
We also planted trees to help rebuild the land. Some of our travelers tried to mark the spot in hopes of finding them when they return!
We traveled down the country visiting ancient Roman city of Scyhtopolis at modern day Beit Shean before ascending to Jerusalem. We raised our glasses for a l'chaim and shehechiyanu as we took our first look at the magnificent view of old and new Jerusalem from the Haas Promenade.
Today (Friday), we begin the day early in the morning again as we leave for Masada and a leisurely float in the Dead Sea. It will be a inspirational, fun-filled, and exhausting day. In the past everyone has fallen asleep on the ride back to Jerusalem and we expect the same today.
Tonight we visit the Kotel to welcome Shabbat and see the thousands who gather there to do the same, followed by a Shabbat dinner and a well deserved day of rest before the last day of our tour.
The next time I write this column will be from San Diego. I look forward to seeing the rest of my congregaton when we return. In the meantime, please keep Israel in your hearts, thoughts, actions, and prayers.