Afternoon, or night? I write these words with my body not really knowing exactly what time it is, having just returned yesterday from eight days in Israel participating in our Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Chai Mission. This was a wonderful—and whirlwind—trip around Israel, for more than 70 travelers, a group that bonded together nicely. About half of the group had never been to Israel before, and another large portion of the group had not been there in many years. In just over a week, we were all able to powerfully and memorably experience Israel and strengthen our understanding of, and connection to, both the land and the State of Israel. We visited Independence Hall in Tel Aviv and there we heard the recording of David Ben-Gurion declaring the formation of the State of Israel, followed by the playing of the Hatikvah. We viewed the beautiful grottoes of Rosh HaNikra by lantern light, just south of the Lebanese border. We wandered through the busy alleys of Machane Yehudah market on Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, along with the rest of the pre-Shabbat shoppers getting what they needed to bring in Shabbat. We davened a beautiful and melodious Kabbalat Shabbat at the Davidson Center in the Old City, singing and dancing with the a cappella group Bakapella, followed by a visit to the Kotel and then a delicious Shabbat dinner—with more singing and dancing—at Beit Shmuel. Shabbat featured some much needed menucha, rest time, along with visits to several area synagogues, a post-lunch conversation with Anat Hoffman from the Women of the Wall, afternoon study led by the mission rabbis (Rabbi Robbins, Rabbi Weinberg, and me) and a spirited Havdalah ceremony to conclude Shabbat before a free evening in Jerusalem.

Sunday we were on the move again, with some members of the group visiting various sites in and around Jerusalem, and others taking a trip to the Dead Sea and Masada (made longer by road closures because of heavy rain!) before we all reunited for a dinner in Abraham’s tent in the Judean desert, complete with a fire-juggler (please don’t try that at home) and a high-energy drum circle (Prayer Rhythms style). Monday we toured Yad Vashem and the Knesset and met with Israeli MK Dr. Michael Oren, who spoke passionately about fighting for the importance of Jewish pluralism in Israel. Tuesday AM we listened to the beautiful voices of the Amigour choir, then were honored to hear from Natan Sharansky, former Soviet refusenik and Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and later from Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, who urged us to think deeply about re-invigorating and strengthening the evolving Israel/North American Jewish relationship.

These are just a few of the highlights from our travels, which also included a number of equally powerful site visits to agencies and organizations that our Jewish Federation helps fund or partners with, especially in our partnership region, the Western Galilee. It was truly impressive to see how much our assistance and financial support makes a difference in communities in Israel!

I was delighted to be a part of this amazing mission, to get to experience Israel with our Federation and many other members of our Shearith community (25 in total—the largest delegation on the trip!) and the Dallas Jewish community at large. We’ll be looking into another opportunity to bring Shearith members to Israel sometime soon, quite possibly as soon as a trip in the summer of 2019. Stay tuned for more details! In the meantime, this Shabbat AM during services I will share some additional reflections on this trip during my sermon—come join us in shul if you’d like to hear more!