December 2013 – January 2014

There’s an old story about a pair of travelers who climbed one ofthe hills outside of the old city in Jerusalem to glimpse its beauty. When they reached the top, one of the travelers began to cry.

“Why are you crying? You’ve been here a hundred times,” said the one, to which the other traveler said, “Yes, I have been here a hundred times. But this is the most special. This is your first time and I am seeing the city, the stones of the western wall, the magnificent contours of the buildings and the synagogues, the towers and the glittering gold of the dome as if for the first time, because I am seeing the city through your eyes. They are not tears of sadness but tears of great joy. “

Seeing the land that I love through the eyes of others is what inspires me to keep bringing groups to Israel. I want others to feel the passion for that holy place that I have felt through my six trips to Israel, including living in Jerusalem for a year. This past October thirteen of us from our community traveled together. For all but me and one other traveler, It was a first-time trip. And what an amazing trip it was.

Every time I go to Israel I say “This was the trip of a lifetime!” How can each trip be “the trip of a lifetime?” Well, if you ever visit Israel, you will understand. Each time is a totally different experience and one that is enriching and emotional with every step along the way. We journeyed through a whirlwind of activities that provoked thoughtful conversations about inspiring and challenging developments in Israel today. Every day began with an incredible Israeli breakfast and continued with an exhaustive tour throughout the entire country. As we arrived at the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, we recited a “shehechiyanu” as we felt the tremendous emotion knowing that we were fulfilling the verse that we recite every Passover: “next year in Jerusalem…”; and there we were!

As always with Israel — a mixture of sheer amazement, exhilaration, warmth, love and yes, some measure of frustration. So much achieved, and yet still so much to do. But that’s what ‘being engaged with Israel is all about.

As usual, I returned a few pounds heavier for the food there is incredible! Once again, I felt a deep sense of amazement at what a wonderful country Israel has become. Yes, the country faces many problems and how to achieve peace with its neighbors is certainly at the top of the list. In spite of what one reads in the newspapers or sees on television, Israel remains a vibrant democracy, the only true democracy in that part of the world, and stands as a beacon of hope for the future of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Jeffrey Bennett new-message24