By COLlive reporter
Photos by Bentzi Sasson & Mendy Hechtman
Delegations from more than fifty Chabad House communities returned last week from JLI’s Land and Spirit trip to Israel. Close to 500 participants from thirty U.S. states, as well as, Canada, England and Australia completed the eight-day inspiring visit.
From the moment they touched down at Ben Gurion Airport on Monday morning until they departed for home the following Monday night, participants were inspired and educated about our history and heritage.
They also got a glimpse at modern-day Israel, its important contributions to the world’s economy and security as well as the struggles and strengths of her citizens.
On several days of the trip, the participants split into groups. This system allowed both first-time visitors and more seasoned travelers to customize their experience.
Participants visited historic locations and archeological sites to learn of the great events that took place there. In Tel Israel, they learned about Gideon’s miraculous victory against the Midianites, and overlooking the Elah Valley, of the story of Dovid and Golias. They ascended Mt. Gilboa to learn of the famous battle that ended King Saul’s reign and in Megiddo, they learned about the era of Shlomo Hamelech.
They learned about the Maccabees in Modi’in and about Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, the Sanhedrin and the compilation of the Mishnah in Tzippori. Archeological finds in the Western Wall tunnels, the City of David, the Davidson Center, the Southern Wall Excavations and the Jewish Quarter provided a glimpse of life in Jerusalem with the Batei Mikdash standing. Visits to Caesarea, Akko, Masada and the caves at Beit Gavrun provided context to the story of the Roman occupation, the second Temple’s destruction and its aftermath.
Participants walked along ancient ports in Yaffo and Ashdod, through the holy alleys in the mystical city of Tsfas, on the modern promenades in Tel Aviv and in Yerushalayim’s Ben Yehuda square. They went to the towering bone-white rock cliffs and grottoes of Rosh HaNikra, dipped their feet in the mineral-rich waters of Yam HaMelach and sailed along Israel’s coast on the Mediterranean.
Unlike other vacations, they were given the opportunity to interact with our Israeli brothers and sisters, hear about their lives and challenges and participate in the communities. On the very first day of the trip, they toured the thriving Campus Ohr Simcha Orphanage in Kfar Chabad, and participated in a model Matzah Bakery with the children.
In Sderot and at Kibbutz Alumim near the border with Gaza, they learned of the residents’ formidable endurance coping with the reality of regular rocket attacks and had an opportunity to voice their sympathy and support.
A definite highlight, was the trip to Chevron, hosted by Rabbi Danny and Batsheva Cohen. Reflective prayers in the Meoras HaMachpela were followed by a lively concert and dancing on the steps outside. Participants then toured the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida. Everyone was touched by the bravery and dedication of the Chevron community.
Throughout the trip, prominent leaders and scholars addressed the group. They were inspired by local Shluchim, Rabbis Asi Spiegel, Danny Cohen, Menachem Kutner and Chananel Pizem, Maayonot teachers Rabbis Meir Levinger and Baruch Kaplan and Shluchos, Mrs. Esther Piekarski and Mrs. Batsheva Cohen.
The heard from prominent Israeli scholars including, Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Rabbis Yitzchok Breitowitz, Simcha Hochbaum and David Aaron.
Insight into the security challenges in Israel was heard directly from high-ranking IDF personnel, current and retired, including the former commander of the Navy, David Ben-Besht and Shlomo Pazzy, the current deputy mayor of Modiin.
They were addressed by political leaders such as Natan Sharansky and Knesset Members, Benny Begin, Yoel Hasson, Gila Gamliel, Miki Zohar and Elazar Stern.
Talks by Rochelle Fraenkel (mother of Naftali Fraenkel, HYD) and Sherri Mandel (mother of Koby Mandel, HYD) demonstrated faith and strength in the face of Terror.
To wrap up the entire experience, Monday afternoon, was spent with IDF soldiers at the Latrun Tank Museum where participants sang and danced, laid Tefillin and interacted with the brave, young defenders. In just eight days, participants collected a lifetime of educational and emotional souvenirs that will remain an inspiration for years to come