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

Haifa is a beautiful city with the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Carmel Mountains on the east.  It’s a city that thrives on coexistence and in many ways is a model to be replicated.  Today started with a view of the Bahai Gardens from the top of the mountain.  I always love when I can walk into them and have had the opportunity to walk through them.  Unfortunately, today they were closed so we had to look through the gates.  Still magnificent.

We visited a school that educates both Arab and Jewish children together.  This is not incredibly common in Israel.  This school has 9 branches and we got to visit the one in Haifa.  While there, they told us there are only 2 other ones in the country.  As we think about building community and getting to know others, this highlights how important it is to reach beyond the Jewish community to get to know your neighbors who may be different from you.  It made me think of my friend Atif and the relationship we have built.  I am Jewish, he is Muslim, and we have great respect for each other and have developed a wonderful friendship.  We need more of this in the world and it starts with us in our local community.

The group in Haifa.

We left Haifa and drove to Tzippori in the lower Galilee.  I love the Galilee.  It is incredibly beautiful with the mountains and the valleys and the flourishing foliage.  A number of people on the trip commented how it looked like either Napa or Tuscany.  Tzippori was home to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish legal ruling body, after the destruction of the Second Temple following its time in Yavneh, until the 5th century.  While there, we had the opportunity to do some challenging work on debate of Jewish concepts and learn skills to bring back to Orlando to help challenge the way we think and push forward with better decision-making.  We also had the opportunity to see a synagogue that is over 1,800 years old.  The floor had an incredible mosaic that remains beautiful to this day.  Sitting there, looking at the beautiful mosaic on the floor, it was easy to imagine the Jewish community praying there 1,800 years ago.  Today I stood there.  The power of the Jewish people is that linking of generations—me today with the Jews in the year 200.  It was pretty amazing.

The ancient mosaic.

Lunch was at a winery in a village that houses people with special needs.  It was amazing to hear about the village, the work that the people with special needs do, the life that has been built for them in the village, and eat some delicious food.  For those that wanted to participate, there was a wine tasting of three different types of wine that comes from their vineyard.  It was a pretty wonderful afternoon as we had a chance to see an example of how Israel provides for people with special needs.  I found myself thinking of our own RAISE program and the way it changes lives.  I felt proud to know that there is a connection between Israel and Orlando through our work with job skills and training for those with special needs.

Off we went to Tel Aviv, the final city in our journey.  I spent time before this cohort began in Tel Aviv and it was great to be back.  We checked in, dropped our bags in the room, and headed to Shuk HaCarmel before it closed.  We had a great time walking through the shuk, laughing, talking, and being tourists for a brief time.  After buying too much stuff, we decided to walk back to the hotel.  It was a nice 45-minute walk through many different neighborhoods on a truly magnificent evening.  We left at dusk and walked in the dark.  

Israel is often portrayed as dangerous, however when you are here, you realize just how safe you really are.  We walked, talked, and enjoyed the differing neighborhoods.  We turned onto the road next to the beach and enjoyed the stunning evening along the Mediterranean.  After dropping off the things we bought in our rooms, we headed 2 blocks north to the old Port of Tel Aviv for dinner.  Eating at a seafood restaurant, we continued the conversations, enjoyed amazing food (and they gave us WAY too much once again), and relaxed.  Once again, we were struck by the way dinner went.  The timing is much slower, there is no rush to give you the check or to get you to open your table.  Dinner ends up being so much more than eating, as you have time to really talk and spend time with the people you are eating with.  It’s a little thing that I will miss greatly when I return home.

We in America have it wrong.  Going out to dinner isn’t about filling our bellies, it’s about using the time that we eat to build relationships, get to know people, learn, and experience friendship.  

Tomorrow night starts Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day.  Unlike our Memorial Day in American, this is not a long weekend with barbecues and vacations.  I have spent Yom HaZikaron here once before and it was incredibly moving.  I am looking forward to another powerful experience tomorrow.