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Keith in Israel: November 13, 2022

The trip ended on Sunday.  The entire day was focused on how to end and wrap up this experience while ensuring the journey continues.  And it was AWESOME.  There was a great session in which the funding for Momentum was explained and one of the men on the trip offered a $100,000 match if we combined to give that much.  We exceeded the match.  If you aren’t aware, your favorite nonprofits can only do the work they do, can only provide the services they provide, with philanthropic support.  So just like we supported Momentum because of the impact of the trip, I urge you to support the nonprofits whose work you value and appreciate.

Keith on the beach.

One of the highlights for me today was in the afternoon when most of our group went shopping on Ben Yehuda Street and then went for a late lunch to CRAVE in Machane Yehuda.  This Kosher burger place offers amazing food including bacon (from lamb) cheeseburgers (vegan cheese) and the most amazing brisket bites I have ever had.  We hung out, ate, laughed, and enjoyed being together in the shuk and in Israel.  It really shows how much we have bonded this week and how much we enjoy each other’s company.

The closing banquet had outstanding food (I was too full from lunch to eat) and a great program.  We ended with a rousing singing of Am Yisrael Chai. 

If you’ve never heard over 160 men screaming “Am Yisrael Chai’ at the top of their lungs, let me tell you, it’s amazing.  It’s inspiring.  And it’s exciting.  It’s also incredibly meaningful. 

We said our goodbyes, gave lots of hugs to people from Orlando that we’ll see soon and people from around the country and in Israel that we won’t, and boarded buses for either the airport or Tel Aviv.  I extended my trip by an additional day and headed to Ir Yamim with my friend Remo to stay at his parents house.  We got there and crashed, exhausted from the week.

In the morning, we sat on the balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, enjoying the beauty.  We went for coffee and breakfast at a local café and walked the beach.  We sat and had another coffee at a café on the beach.  And we continued walking the beach back to the condo.  It was an incredible start to the day.  We too his parents car to Netanya just up the road and walked around exploring, got Boba Tea, and headed off to our real plan for the day – horseback riding on the beach.

At the ranch.

We were heading to a ranch just north of Netanya.  It was off some serious back roads and when we got there, I was stunned at the beauty of the ranch and just how many horses were there.  They prepped us for our ride, got us our horses, and off we went with our guide.  For the next 90 minutes we rode all over the beach, back roads, and even got to have the horses run a little bit.  We talked to our guide, Shiloh, and learned that he was born in Jerusalem and was Haredi (very observant) growing up but left that life for the connection he felt with the horses.  It was exhilarating and fun.  I could have kept riding for another 90 minutes.  I have been to Israel 20 times and I have never gone horseback riding on the beach before.  I can promise you this won’t be the last time.

Enjoying the ride.

We left the ranch and headed to a restaurant on the beach where we had amazing hummus and eggplant.  The fish for dinner was excellent and the view of the sea was exquisite.  The cool weather, wind, and sunset filled my heart with joy and love for this country.  A perfect ending to the day and this visit.  Because Remo had a business call on the drive home, I got to drive.  While I have been here many times, I have never driven in Israel before so I got another new experience.  Luckily traffic was light and the other drivers weren’t too bad and we arrived safely in time to get a quick rest before heading to the airport and my 1 am flight home.

This has been a truly exceptional trip and I will share my overall thoughts in one last post but not here.  Momentum provides a great way to visit Israel and to explore yourself.  Israel is an amazing country that can nourish your soul.  I haven’t even left for the airport yet and I’m already exciting and thinking about my next trip in 2023.  I hope you come with me on that trip and we can explore Israel together.

Keith in Israel: November 11 and 12, 2022

Shabbat.  What a great concept that seems so difficult to take advantage of.  25 hours of complete disconnect, rest, and enjoyment.  For some reason, we struggle with it.  Yet in Israel, it becomes second nature.

We began Friday by walking to the Great Synagogue.  It’s a building I fell in love with the first time I saw it and last year I even went to services there to experience it.  We began with a great session led by Harry Rothenberg.  Harry is the best Jewish Educator I have ever experienced and it’s not even close.  He makes it accessible, relevant and interesting.  You could hear the buzz and the back and forth.  The hour flew by.  And the best part is that Harry’s day job is as an attorney!   He’s going to come back to Orlando and when he does, don’t miss the chance to experience him.

In the Great Synagogue.

After Harry finished, we had a break for coffee, tea and snacks.  One thing about Israel – you eat nonstop!   Ari Shabat then talked to us about Shabbat, the opportunity it is, and shared a bit about his family history.  It was a great hour session as well.  And then, around noon, we were free the rest of the day until it was time to head to the Old City for Shabbat.

We took off walking to Machane Yehuda, the shuk in Jerusalem.  On Fridays it is jammed packed as people get the rest of the things they need for Shabbat.  It was no different.  The aisles were packed, you had to push to get through, and the energy was incredible.  I made sure to get to Gluless for my Gluten Free Challahs (they are delicious), get some dates (they are amazing here) and a few other items.  Then it was time to head back to my hotel for a little nap before we left for the old city.

As I was getting ready to walk to the old city, dear friends who were here from Miami for the Alyn Children’s Hospital bike ride messaged me.  They were in the old city so we made arrangements to meet at the Jaffa Gate.  It was so great to see them and hang out for a little bit to catch up.  As I have said before, one of the best things about Israel is who I get to see because they happen to be here.

Meeting with friends.

Then it was off to Aish HaTorah for our Shabbat prep.  We had a chance for a nosh (it’s Israel so you eat before you eat) and be prepared for the experience by Charlie Harary.  We walked to the Kotel, gathered together, and began services.  Having 160 men plus staff there was incredible.  We made a huge circle around Charlie and we prayed, sang, and danced.  The energy level was unbelievable.  People around us began staring and videoing us.  A group of Israeli soldiers joined us with the singing and dancing.  A few Hassidic men joined us as well.  It was infectious.  I never felt like I was being observed before until I looked up at all the people videoing us!!  I saw one of the guys on our bus get a video so I asked him to send it to me.

After being exhausted from praying, singing and dancing, we went back to Aish for dinner.  It was a great festive dinner with too much food and lots of fun, culminating with dessert on the roof of Aish, one of the great views in the world.  It’s truly inspiring to be that high up – to see what would have been the Temple Mount and to imagine what it looked like 2000 years ago.   We walked home and I crashed hard.  I have the beginning of a little head cold and really felt it.

On Shabbat morning, the head cold had gotten worse so I stayed in bed instead of hearing the two speakers.  I’ve heard them before and they are both amazing but I had to get a little better.  I walked to Shabbat lunch and joined the group where we had a great time.  On the way back we stopped at First Station for coffee and the hang out and talk.  The weather was amazing, there was live music playing, and we had a great time.  I think one of my favorite things about this trip is the deep conversations we have naturally.

It was time to head back and get ready for Havdallah in the Old City at the home of Aba and Pamela Clayman.  It is a truly spectacular home overlooking both the Temple Mount and the plaza of the old city.  We had snacks while they talked to us about the work they do to help IDF soldiers and had a chance to hear from 4 different soldiers about what they do to keep us and the State of Israel safe.  Although I heard about this organization last year, I was inspired once again.  Then we headed to their roof for Havdallah.  Incredible views.  Lots of singing and dancing.  A true celebration.

The view from the Claymans.

But the day isn’t over!!  We headed to the Mamila Mall leaving through the Jaffa Gate.  Mamila is a rebuilt property that has the ancient feel of Jerusalem with modern stores.  We sat and had coffee and talked until it was time for dinner.  We went to a dairy restaurant in Mamila that was incredible.  Once again the conversation was outstanding and we had a great time.

We left dinner and headed back towards our hotel.  As we walked, what did we see?  A Hassid playing the guitar.  Instead of Israeli or Jewish music, he was playing Hotel California.  We got behind him in a semi-circle and began to sing with him.  It was a blast and we laughed, sang, and then tipped him nicely.  Only in Israel!!

On the way back we stopped at the windmill for some views of Jerusalem at night.  It was beautiful and a great chance to enjoy the weather and the company.

Shabbat was an incredible day filled with fun and meaning.  Tomorrow is the last day of the trip which is sad.  I am staying an extra day which will help a little bit with the depression that always comes when I leave Israel.

This country is filled with so much.  If you haven’t been or haven’t been in a while, I urge you to come or come back.  It will change your life.

Keith in Israel: November 9, 2022

Wow, what a day.  Jerusalem is an amazing place to be and today was long and full.  We began the day by going to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum.  Yad Vashem means ‘hand and name’.  It’s a place that is all about putting names to the victims of the Holocaust/Shoah and documenting how it happened.  Interestingly, I learned that my childhood Rabbi, the one who was at both my Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation, had a key role in the design.

For those who have been to the Holocaust Museum in DC, I like to say that it makes you think while Yad Vashem makes you feel.  That was very true today.  It’s typically very crowded and today was no exception.  It often feels rushed because there is so much to see and so much to take in.  I’ve probably been there at least 15 times (maybe more) and there are still things I see that I never did before or things I see totally different than before.  Today I found myself wondering if it being so crowded was a good thing or not.  It’s amazing that so many people want to experience it and learn yet I wondered how much more impactful it would be on each visitor if it wasn’t so crowded and they had more time.  I have no answer and it’s something I will ponder.

I was struck today by the power of the Nazi propaganda and how they dehumanized Jews.  Especially in light of Kanye West and Kyrie Irving’s recent antisemitism, I found myself comparing the Nazi propaganda to both what they said and even more to the comments on many posts about them.  The vile statements I read in the comments section of these posts on social media, the hatred for Jews by people who clearly knew nothing but hate Jews anyway was scary.

Today was also Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom, also known as the night of broken glass.  I’ve heard my Uncle Ralph talk about that night, as he lived through it.  As a group we talked about how that night was really a bellweather moment for Hitler and the Nazis.  The world knew about it and didn’t really do anything, giving Hitler the room he needed to continue his systemic dehumanization and eventual murder of 6 million Jews.  With the continued rise in antisemitism, we wondered what our Kristallnacht might be and how would the world answer it.

After Yad Vashem, we walked next door to Mount Herzl, the military cemetery.  It is a striking place, filled with beauty and sadness.  We had a chance to visit the grave of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Theodore Herzl, Golda Meier, Yitzhak Rabin, and other great leaders of Israel.  People who made a big difference.  As we walked through Mount Herzl, the graves are beautiful and built like beds.  It’s a massive cemetery which is breathtakingly beautiful and deeply sad.  I am always incredibly grateful and sad as I walk through.  It’s a place I wish I could spend more time because each one of these graves have a story and I want to learn each one.

At the grave of Golda Meier.

We left Mount Herzl for the old city of Jerusalem.  I love the old city.  It’s got a special vibe that you can’t really describe.  It’s spiritual and special.  It’s old and new.  It’s timeless and present.  We spent our time in the Jewish Quarter, eating lunch (falafel and schwarma) and then listening to Charlie Harary prepare us to visit the Kotel, the Western Wall.  Charlie is a captivating speaker and talked about how God isn’t in heaven, he’s inside each of us.  We each have a piece of the divine within us, it’s just being open to connect with it.  While I’d heard his talk before visiting the Kotel before, this year it hit much harder.  As Charlie talked about God being our father and always being there with a father’s love, I found myself really thinking about my dad and got incredibly emotional, tears flowing down my face in a room of 160 men and not caring.  I was openly weeping as I missed my dad and wanted to share this with him.  A friend of mine wrapped his arm around me, giving me a hug and just being there.  It was an incredibly powerful and meaningful experience.  Before we headed out to the Kotel, Ari Shabat gave us a special charge – walk in silence the Kotel, appreciate this incredible opportunity, put your hand on the wall and just say ‘Hi Dad’ and open yourself to whatever comes.

I’ve been the Kotel too many times to count and it has a special connection for me.  My ritual is always to lean my forehead against the wall and talk to God.  It’s incredibly meaningful.  This time, I followed Ari’s suggestion and just started with ‘Hi Dad’ and promptly began to cry.  I stood there with my forehead against this 2000+ year old wall, openly crying as I connected not just with God but with my own father.  When I finally was ready, I lifted my head, wiped my tears, and began to walk towards the inside area of the Kotel.  One of our trip members who saw me weeping thought it was because of the power of the Kotel and asked if it was my first time.  I was honest and just told him no, it was because my father just died two months ago.  I thanked him for asking.  In the inside area I joined a service that was going on (there is always a service going on at the Kotel!) and was able to say the mourners Kaddish for my dad at the Kotel.  It was incredibly moving.

At the Kotel.

As we walked back into the plaza, a group of IDF navy soldiers came into the Kotel plaza singing and dancing.  It was a jolt of electricity and we joined them. 

It’s hard to describe what that is like – it’s truly an incredible experience and one that has to be felt.  Words simply won’t do it justice.  It was joyful, powerful, exhilarating and everybody there felt a connection. 

As we wrapped up singing and dancing with the soldiers, my college friend and fraternity brother Al Cohen arrived.  I knew Al was in Israel for a wedding and planned to connect.  Israel is special that way – people from your life sometimes just show up.  It was great to see him and reconnect.   

We walked around the old city, getting a tour from our guide, and then sat down at a coffeeshop to talk as a group.  For 90 minutes, the 13 of us had a deep conversation, getting vulnerable with each other and sharing different thoughts.  It was truly the highlight of the trip.  We wrapped up our conversation and headed back to the Kotel to tour the tunnels beneath.  It’s amazing to go underneath the Kotel and see how King Herod actually built it.  There are original Herodian stones, more than 2,000 years old, in pristine condition.  We stood on original streets from more than 2,000 years ago.  There is a place underneath that is the closest we can get to where the ‘holy of holies’ was.  It’s a special spot reserved for women and it was very powerful to see one woman deep in prayer and later on, a group of high school girls come to pray there.  There was also a new synagogue built in the tunnel area that was simply awe inspiring.  The picture I took doesn’t do it justice.

After leaving the tunnels we headed to a late dinner at Chayen, an incredible Asian Fusion restaurant.  The food was delicious and the conversation even better.  We ate, laughed, talked, debated, and had a great time.  Before we knew it, it was 11:30 and we had to walk to the hotel.  The 20 minute walk felt great and was a great end to the day.

Today was a day filled with emotion.  Yad Vashem on Kristallnacht.  Mount Herzl.  The power of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Kotel.  Missing my dad and also connecting with him.  Good friends and great conversation.  Delicious Food.   It’s hard to believe this was all one day, yet this is the essence of Jerusalem.  A truly incredible city.

Keith in Israel: November 8, 2022

One of the key tenants of the Men’s Momentum trip is to ‘Choose Awesome’.  Everybody is happy to live a good life.  A great life is even better.  But imagine living a truly awesome life!  That’s our goal – to challenge ourselves and ask what would living a truly awesome life look like, and then, what are we willing to do in order to have to an awesome life?

Today we began with a talk from my friend, Ari Shabat.  Ari is incredibly inspiring and makes me think deeply about what I am doing and what I really want to be doing.  There were a few things he talked about today that really resonated with me.  The first is how everything we do is either mental (in our head), emotional (how we deal with our feelings) or physical (what we actually do).  If I look at my life through these lenses and understand how addressing each of these areas will impact me, I can work towards living that awesome life.  As an added bonus, this comes directly from Pirkei Avot, the Lessons of our Fathers.  The second thing he talked about was how practice is really controlled failure.  I have always believed in failure – it’s how we learn.  It’s critical that we learn from our failures and make new mistakes, not the same ones.  It made me question what I am learning from my failures and what new mistakes can I make instead of repeating the old ones.  I know this isn’t Israel related, but it is very much connected to this trip.

The Momentum group in Tzfat.

We left our talk with Ari and headed to Tzfat, the home of Kabbalah.  I love Tzfat.  Ever since my first exposure and visit to the city in 1989, I have felt a spiritual connection.  High in the mountains, built on cliffs so there are tons of steps and that you are constantly going up and down, it just feels special.  Today was a cloudy day to start and it was cold yet that feeling was still there.  Our guide told us how within Kabbalah, there is a belief that everything in the world is spiritually connected.  I felt that connection today.  We walked the streets and learned about the history of the city.  We visited the synagogue of “the Ari”, Rabbi Isaac Luria, who lived in the 16th century.  There is a chair in the synagogue that if you sit in, you are supposed to be blessed with a baby.  I tried to get one of my friends to sit in it and tempt fate, but he wouldn’t.  We got to visit the Mikvah of the Ari for the ritual dip in natural waters.  It was super cold but also refreshing.  The goal is a spiritual cleansing and it felt that way.  Some of us explored the excavation under Tzfat, seeing homes from the 1500s through the 1800s that had been hidden under the current ground level.   We shopped for candles at the famous Tzfat Candle Factory and I got to buy my niece Hailey her tallis for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah.  We even went to the Kabbalah Center, sat out on their deck with an incredible view of the mountains and had a chance to talk and process.  We even got to hear from both Ari Shabat and Adrienne Gold who talked to us for an hour about intimacy.

Exploring Tzfat (see the Shalom Orlando shirt?).

Perhaps the best and most unexpected part of the day was our stop at the Yemenite man’s restaurant.  I’ve gone there since my first trip in 1989 and his signature dish (he only makes one thing) is incredibly delicious.  Since I’ve had to be gluten free, I have given up the idea of eating it again, however today he told me he had a gluten free version!  I was so excited to get one and it was as good as I remembered.  His schug (the hot spice) was incredible.  It’s worth going to Tzfat just to eat there!!

We left Tzfat to head to Dubrovin Farms for dinner.  It’s a really cool outdoor area with amazing food and a great environment.  Because of the risk of rain, we ate inside (not as nice or fun as when we get to eat outside there) but the food didn’t disappoint.  The music was loud and the dancing was intense.  We were exhausted when it finally ended.

When it ended, it was time to board the bus and drive the 2 ½ hours to Jerusalem.  Just being in Jerusalem feels special. 

I’ve felt a connection here from my first visit and each time I come back, it’s stronger. 

There is something in the air that is comforting and relaxing.  Something that is spiritually validating.  As I relax and unwind from an incredibly full day, I find myself once again in love with the beauty of this country.  With the history that goes back 4,000 years.  And I find myself thinking about what Ari talked about this morning.  How can I gain a better understanding of my mental, emotional and physical status to truly have an awesome life.

Momentum Day 1, 2022

Once again, I am back in Israel.  This is my 20th trip and I am excited not just to be in Israel but also on the Momentum Men’s trip with 10 amazing men from Orlando and my two other City Leaders.  After our long flight from Miami to Tel Aviv, we jumped in cabs to spend the morning in Tel Aviv.  We relaxed while looking at the Mediterranean Sea and then began walking the beach and exploring the city.  We walked for nearly 2 hours, along the beach, over to the Carmel Market, and then wandered through neighborhoods until we returned to our meeting point and headed back to the airport to meet our Momentum group.

We headed north to Tiberius and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).   The Kinneret is beautiful and after checking into the hotel, I sat on the patio looking out at the water, the mountains, and the skyline.  As the sun began to set and the colors filled my eyes, I was filled with a sense of peace and joy.

We left the hotel and went to hear our Trip Leader, Ari Shabat, set the tone for the trip.  Ari is a friend and a truly inspirational person.  Over the past year, I have learned a great deal from him, and am excited to have him leading the trip again this year.  He inspired us to begin this journey together, and we then all headed up to the Golan Heights to a military base.  If you’ve never been to the Golan Heights, the strategic value is huge.  We got there after dark and spent time with a commander in the reserves of the tank unit.  He taught us about the tanks from the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the tanks of today.  We got to climb and explore both tanks and even got an exhibition of the new tanks and how they work.  It was truly incredible.  It was also freezing as the sun was down and we were high in the mountains.  Some of the soldiers from the tank unit showed us what they do and we had the chance to say Thank You to them.

After learning about the tank unit, we headed back to Tiberius to Decks restaurant (one of my favorites) right on the Kinneret.  They brought us way too much food and we ate, talked, laughed, and had fun.  It’s about to start the rainy season in Israel and during dinner, it began to rain.  We sat outside, got a little wet, and continued to have fun.

After two days with almost no sleep (the travel day to get here and then today as our first day), I’m excited to get some rest and begin fresh tomorrow.  We head to Tzfat, one of my favorite cities, in the morning and finish the day in Jerusalem.  I can’t wait to be filled with the mysticism of Tzfat and the specialness of Jerusalem.