407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

Once again, I am in Israel.  As of Monday, I have begun my 18th (my CHAI—life) visit to our homeland.  I love Israel.  I love the concept.  I love the country.  I love the people.  And I love the feeling I get being here.  I am on this trip with MOMENTUM, a group of 85 men (including 10 from Orlando!) who are exploring spirituality, brotherhood, and Judaism together in Israel.

The power of an immersive Israel experience is unparalleled.  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people bond and connect.  This trip has been no different.  From the time we met in pre-trip meetings to when we met at the airport, we were all already connecting.  We hung out at the Delta Club at JFK and on the flight to Tel Aviv.  By the time we landed, a bond had been created.

Day 1 began with multiple COVID tests to get out of isolation quickly—and then, we were off to our hotel in the Galilee!  Kibbutz Lavi is absolutely beautiful.  After a delicious lunch, we sat in the grass, drinking coffee and resting.  I took a nice walk around the kibbutz, enjoying the views and sitting in the beautiful garden, making some calls, and letting Israel overtake me.

Our program inspired us from the very beginning.  All 85 of us sat outside with birds chirping around us, the cool weather setting the tone, as Charlie Harary challenged us to embrace “AWESOME.”  Using the biblical story of Gideon, Charlie reminded us that the few people who are truly dedicated can do wonders and by coming to Israel at this time, for this trip, we had proven we were truly dedicated.  It was hard to get here (and required more COVID tests than you can imagine!), but we persevered to get to our homeland.  Things that matter—the truly important things—take work, and this was another reminder of why we are here.

Photo of Kibbutz Lavi (taken by Keith).

Our evening was highlighted by a security briefing from a high-ranking officer in the IDF, who spoke to us about the geopolitical realities of what is currently unfolding around us.  Syria, Iran, the Abraham Accords, and more were discussed.  It was interesting to get a view from the inside.

Photo of Kibbutz Lavi (taken by Keith).

Israel and Judaism have an incredible focus on food.  Dinner was an incredible BBQ with steaks, chicken, and more food than you can imagine!  We sat outside, once again enjoying the beauty of Israel, and ate, drank, and built relationships.  It’s hard to believe it’s only been one day.

You will hear me say this and write this often: if you haven’t been to Israel, come!  It won’t disappoint.  If you have been to Israel, come back!!  There is something special here that you can’t explain until you experience it—and once you experience it, nobody will have to explain.

Tuesday is Tzfat, one of my favorite cities in Israel.  I can’t wait to see the beauty of the mystical city, take a dip in the ancient mikvah, explore the candle factory once again, and have lunch with my friend Shmuel.

More to come…