Monday, April 27, 2015

Israel Experience 6: Back to Tel Aviv

I got a little behind on describing our Israel experience, so this final travel review covers the last couple of days of the trip. We begin up in the Galilee with a couple of stops on our way to Tel Aviv. Our first stop of the day brought us to a very moving presentation and a beautiful place that encapsulated so much of the juxtaposition of pain and hope that we had borne witness to during our travels. We were brought to 'Ben's Way' in a local Moshav - a garden, nature trail and community resource built by the parents of Ben Kornit, who died at the age of 24 in the 2nd Lebanon War.

Ben's mother told the story of her son; how he had completed his army service and then traveled, including a ride across Mongolia on a horse. Upon returning to Israel, he found himself called up again to serve when the 2nd Lebanon War began. She explained how he came to be one of several soldiers killed when a house they were taking cover in was blown up.  Ben's parents decided to memorialize him by building a community nature path and garden that would keep his story and his values alive. Nature and ecology were important to him. So was community connection. So the path took us to places for community cook-outs, a place for gatherings and concerts, and a trail into woods where they discovered a heart-shaped boulder hidden in its midst.
We learned about members of the community who had helped with the project, including the children from the school on the Moshav, and a local Israeli Arab who had felt a sense of connection with Ben's story and values and had built part of the cook-out area to contribute to the project.

While we had shifted in time to Yom Ha'atzmaut, this experience was very much tied to the experience of Yom HaZikaron, and we asked Ben's mother how she coped with the transition from one day to the next. She felt that it was important for the nation to have the two days side by side even though she, personally, could not shift into parties and celebrations immediately at the end of Yom HaZikaron.

From this powerful start to the day we shifted to something quite different as we arrived at Kibbutz Harduf.  This is a remarkable community, bringing together many projects in one, integrated location.  They house a school for at-risk children who need to be taken out of their homes, and they work with adults with mental illness (bi-polar, schizophrenia etc.), helping them live healthy lives with work on their organic form or in their workshops making pottery or jewelry for sale while living as part of an integrated community.  After a short presentation about the community we were whisked off to the farm. There, we picked lettuce and herbs straight from the fields and gathered eggs that could not be any fresher - we literally pulled them out from under the chickens who had laid them!

The next step was making lunch. After having been treated to freshly made, healthy food, produced on site by Nir and his crew as we had traveled throughout Israel, now it was our turn to become the chefs. It was all hands on deck as we chopped, sliced, cooked and mixed, and in no time at all we had an incredible feast ready to share. There is no more immediate experience of 'farm to table' than the one we had at Kibbutz Harduf!

From the Kibbutz we continued on our way to Tel Aviv. We had to bypass one item on our itinerary - a visit to an IDF base - because traffic in and out of the base had come to an almost standstill and we decided that it was better to use the time experiencing as much as we could fit in to the limited time we had remaining on our trip. One of the wonderful things that we experienced about Puzzle Israel was their ability to be nimble in this way and to adapt and change to meet the realities on the ground. The result of this change led to an incredible experience that we added to our trip - a visit to the Joseph Bau museum in Tel Aviv.

Some of you may recognize Joseph Bau's art work. His posters and the modern Israeli fonts that he developed are instantly recognizable and very famous.

Today, his daughters tell his story and present his work. If you've seen the movie, Schindler's List, Joseph Bau is the groom in the scene where a marriage takes place (although it didn't happen exactly as depicted in the movie, we were told!). He and his wife were saved by Schindler. In addition to his public work that became well-known in Israel and beyond, Bau also had a secret life, producing all the forged documentation that was needed for the Mossad. In fact, he produced the necessary identity documents for Eli Cohen, the spy that our guide, Noam, had told us about who had brought such valuable intelligence to Israel from Syria.  Today, the museum is at risk as the owner of the building wants to turn the rooms into new apartments. You can learn more about the museum here, and there is currently an exhibit in New York where you can see his work a little closer to home.

We had a free first evening in Tel Aviv - a chance to walk through the streets and see the bustling cafe life. At the end of Yom Ha'atzmaut everything was packed and we saw the city so full of life.  The following day we started at the Rabin Museum. This wonderful exhibition which only opened a few years ago combines a telling of the life of Yitzhak Rabin with a social history of Israel during his lifetime, and the evolution of the peace process leading to the Oslo Accords. From there we made a short stop at Rabin Square and saw the memorial for him there.

We then had time to wander the Tel Aviv markets. Carmel market is for food and cheap clothing. Nachalat Binyamin market is a local crafts market that is open just two days a week that has the most wonderful array of crafts for the home, jewelry, and the like. This was the most shopping we got to do in a day!

Before returning to the hotel, we had one of those moments that seem to happen all the time in Israel - bumping into someone you know! I knew that the Alper family from CBS were in Israel the same time as our trip (for a family bar mitzvah of a relative). In the midst of the crowded streets of Tel Aviv on a Friday afternoon, we saw each other! And, it turned out that they had bumped into the other family whose picture we posted earlier in the week - the Feldmans. They had not previously met each other in Westborough and yet managed to figure out the connection in moments.

In the evening we had a wonderful Shabbat with Kehilat haLev. This is a young, Reform congregation, in the heart of Tel Aviv that has only been in existence for 5 years. Led by a 4th year rabbinic student, Efrat Rotem, their services are characterized by wonderful music and a growing community of all ages.  I was invited to share a d'var torah, which I will post separately after this final travel review.  After the service they hosted us for a lovely vegetarian dinner as we got to meet some of their community. We finished the night with a few songs together. The photo below is with Efrat and her partner, Ofira, along with two friends of my family, Ralph and Miryam, who have known me since I was two years old. They made aliyah to Israel (he from Scotland, she from Morocco), met and married on a Kibbutz, and moved to Tel Aviv over 30 years ago.  They epitomize yet another of the many stories that can be found in Israel.
Our last day in Israel began with a tour of Jaffa. Noam entertained us once again by taking on the costume of an Ottoman Turk to tell us the history and evolution of Jaffa and Tel Aviv.
While there, we witnessed two Christian wedding parties - one from Eritrea (and we're not sure where the second was from) -a reminder of yet another side of Israel that we barely had a chance to learn about on this trip - the immigration of many others from around the world, looking for economic opportunities or escaping from war and genocide. Israel has found this immigration challenging due to its small size and the balance between needing to help those in need while placing limits on what it can manage and its need to maintain a Jewish majority in this democratic state.

We had a fabulous lunch at 'The Old Man and the Sea' at the new port development, where plate after plate of small tasters of salads of all kinds filled the table. And there was one more dinner to come - a final meal with Nir and Guy, owners of Puzzle Israel, before our return to the airport and the long flight home.
This trip far exceeded my expectations as an organized tour of Israel. Puzzle Israel brings so much that is unique and unlike any other tour I've experienced. I was thrilled to learn and experience so much that I've never seen before, and felt that they provided the broad and multi-faceted narratives of Israel that I wanted any group that I was bringing to Israel to experience.  It is hard to sum up a trip that was so packed full of amazing opportunities. In the coming  days I hope to be posting reflections from members of our group as they have the opportunity to reflect on what this trip to Israel meant to them.

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