Day 7 – Today is about life in Israel through the eyes of people like me. In celebration of Yom Haatzmaut, our hosts invite us to join them for their holiday celebrations. The first party is at a beautiful home and are immediately greeted by its owner, an American and her Israeli husband. They are so happy to have American guests and their friends are equally kind and welcoming.
As I begin to meet the other guests (which are a mix of transplanted Americans and Israelis) I find connections through work and friendship. I am shocked by how easy it is to find connections. Jewish Geography is so fun when you are so far from home. Our host welcomes all of us and we take a moment to think of those in Boston. A delicious home cooked BBQ is served and for a moment it feels as though I am at home.
The next party is pure Israeli. Imagine your best outdoor party with about 50 men, women, children, all ages, and in someway you are related to them. This is the experience I had this afternoon. This family tradition started about 40 years ago with a few families coming together to celebrate this brand new country. The children of these families have all grown up and have families of their own. In one area, some men and kids are playing soccer. In another area, women create 4 different talking circles. While we are there, they serve incredible homemade fancy desserts. While there is a bit of a challenge at this party due to my lack of Hebrew, the host makes a special effort to make us feel welcome and to say (in English) the party is extra special because we are there. I think my heart actually skipped a beat with this show of kindness. Our 12 year old host translates an entire presentation that is given and she did it naturally without me asking. No one wants us to feel left out.
By the time we left, we have spent six hours with our hosts and I have enjoyed every moment. My mother and I comment later that we are so happy to have shared this holiday with our Israeli friends. When July 4th comes around this year I will take a more serious view of what we are actually celebrating and hope to infuse some new meaning into our BBQ and fireworks.
Day 8 – For me, Independence Hall is one of the most moving sites in Israel. As an American and a Jew, I am deeply moved by the story birth of a nation story. Imagining David Ben Gurion and others packed in the hall knowing that it would take more than the signing of the Declaration of Independence. War was coming and they knew it. We have the luxury of looking back to see the story in its entirety and are proud as we see what has been created. It meant a lot to me to be with my mother and daughter on this day. Sharing one of my favorites landmarks with them made it an even more meaningful experience.
Following Independence Hall, we walked over to the Conservative Synagogue in Never Tzedek. It is a beautiful building and we learned of its exciting new growth in the community. In a city and country where most people are either orthodox or secular, this new conservative synagogue brings a new perspective to Israel’s story and is welcoming Israelis who have never been to synagogue. As our Pressman kids pray, I am amazed by their comfort in this place so far from their home.
We visit Tel Aviv’s 1st train station which is now a destination for food and shopping. We all did a little shopping and enjoy the most delicious ice cream. This cultural exchange program has been an incredible experience for my daughter and her friends. Thank you to all the Pressman and Magen educators for designing an educational, social and fun experience for the kids and to The Jewish Federation for funding and partnership of our program. For so many, this is a life changing experience – it has been for me. My mother and I are so happy to have been a part and are grateful for the beautiful family experience.
Day 9 – Pictures may have to express what I am not sure I can put into words. Our last day in Israel is spent at Masada. Twelve of us (six adults and six kids) travel by bus to tour this extraordinary site. Earlier in the trip we had seen the King Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum and now we are going to walk in his footsteps. The weather is gorgeous and the view is absolutely spectacular. As we begin to walk around Masada, I am overwhelmed with the fact that three generations of my family are standing at the top of this important piece in Jewish history. The three of us have had an incredible time on this trip, but this is a joyous moment for me. My mother walks with us for as long as she can and then waits for us to finish the tour. She chooses just the right moment because immediately following is a trek down into a cistern.
Later on the tour we see what had been a synagogue. As everyone leaves, I step back inside to say a prayer for a friend’s father. There is something about being in a place that is old and sacred that gives me some hope and faith.
We then take the kids to the Dead Sea. Watching 12-year-olds try this new experience is comical. We watch as our kids play, find humor in just about everything and laugh until we cry. As we travel back to modern day, we enter Jerusalem at sunset and witness the most beautiful red sun I have ever seen. The picture is blurry, but it is incredible and we all know that this day is special. We wonder if we should say a prayer, but instead we are all silently aware of the gratitude we feel for being together.
It was the perfect ending to a perfect vacation!