Prayer, Poetry, Art, and Music

Our Shabbat began at Birkat Shalom on Kibbutz Gezer, the congregation that Rabbi Miri Gold serves. She was the first non-Orthodox rabbi in Israel to have her salary paid by the government after petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court (a case that took 7 years to resolve).

Rabbis Miri Gold and Steve Burnstein lead services at Kehillat Birkat Shalom on Kibbutz Gezer

 

 

 

 

After a lively musical service, I had the honor of attending Shabbat dinner at Miri’s home with a number of other rabbis from my trip, as well as other guests. While helping wash dishes in the kitchen, Miri reminded me that I had taught her a number of years ago while on a healing center work trip (sponsored by UJA Federation of NY), in which we had brought some of our best pastoral practices to rabbis and social workers on the ground in Israel.

Miri’s husband David is a gourmet ice cream maker (I counted three ice cream makers in the kitchen, but I think there are others, and he spoke about 3 different freezers!). We had such fun tasting his many extraordinary flavors.

Miri’s husband David serving up his gourmet ice cream

On Shabbat morning, several of us attended services at Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem. There I was delighted to see my friend Yosef Abramowitz again, as well as my friend Rabbi Arik Ascherman, social justice activist extraordinaire. Arik currently runs a new interfaith human rights organization called Haqel —Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights.

The service was lovely with a siddur all its own (Kehillat Birkat Shalom also had its own siddur with lovely readings). One of the changes that made me chuckle was the use of the word “chalutzim” (pioneers) rather than “chasidim” (pious ones) in the Shochen Ad prayer, since Chasidim hold such negative connotations for the Reform movement in Israel.

The round wheel stone on the left would have been rolled in front of this crypt, believed to be that of King Herod’s family

After services, we met the rest of the group plus our superlative guide Uri and his wife Meryl for a literary walking tour, during which we read some of Yehuda Amichai’s poetry at opportune spots. Meryl apparently was an old camp friend of one of the rabbis in our group (as I said previously, all roads lead to Jerusalem!)

Yemin Moshe neighborhood with view towards Old City. Yemin Moshe was the first Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City.

“Yizkor” Memorial for soldiers who died in ‘67

For instance, at this memorial we read and reflected upon the following poem:

The Little Park Planted
By Yehuda Amichai

The little park planted in memory of a boy
Who fell in the war begins
To resemble him as he was twenty-nine years ago.
Year by year they look more alike.
His old parents come almost daily
To sit on a bench
and look at him.
And every night the memory in the garden
Hums like a little motor:
During the day you can’t hear it.

At the remodeled Tachana (old train station)

Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the Israel Museum (these are not photos — he made these images of himself with LEGOs!)

After lunch, some of us went to visit the Israel Museum. (If interested in more of the museum and its permanent holdings, you can read my post from January 2013 entitled “A Day in the Museum.”) This time I was very interested in viewing the temporary exhibit of Chinese dissident artist/political activist Ai Weiwei. You may recall a 2015 news story when LEGO refused to sell him their product because they didn’t want to be associated with politic artwork. As a result of this news coverage, Weiwei received donations of LEGO bricks from supporters all over the world! I found the exhibit as a whole to be exciting and breathtaking — he uses a plethora of media and to make his important political statements.

I also saw a humorous temporary exhibit by Russian immigrant artist Zoya Cherkassky in which she satirizes her community. (Note the bread and the pork, with the title “Passover in Bat Yam.”)

“Passover in Bat Yam” by Zoya Cherkassky

Farewell dinner, our last group photo

Over our farewell dinner (where one of our waiters was Sivan, a typical Jewish Israeli name, and one was Ahmed, an Arab name, indicating yet again how diverse the mosaic of Israel is) before half our group departed for the airport, we reflected on this rich experience we shared in Israel and how to bring it home. (And offered our gratitude to Uri who was a magnificent guide.) This trip so intensified my love for Israel and its complexities. As Uri reminded all of us (none of whom are right-wing extremists by any stretch), we all have skin in the game and we are all on the front lines — whether we serve in the Golani Brigade or are supporters of the Israel Religious Action Center. Loving Israel, being a Zionist, does not mean having to treat Israel as a sacred cow that does no wrong. Israel is a vibrant democracy with a diversity of opinions — we all need to get in there and hold its feet to the fire, just as we do in our own imperfect country.

The following piece by Amos Oz seems opportune:

Loving the Land
By Amos Oz

The Land of Israel is not a museum of God.
No place is a museum of God.
No person and no inanimate object is a thing of worship.
It is permissible to both touch and change these things
on the condition that you yourself are prepared
to be touched and be changed.
The condition is love.
I know: it is impossible to “educate to love” —
You cannot “educate someone to love the Land,”
nor can you “educate someone to love the scenery.”
With love, you can “infect” someone else.
Sometimes love can be awakened,
Sometimes but not with a strong hand,
not with an outstretched arm,
and not with burning anger — rather through an approach of mutuality.
You come to a place — a hill, the desert, a spring, a house…
You can change it and make your mark upon it,
but it is also important to be open
and give it the opportunity to leave its mark on you.

And so it is that Israel has once again left its indelible mark on me. I do hope that some of you who have never been will consider coming to Israel. I’d love to lead a trip one day in the not-too-distant future with Uri, especially for newcomers (but not exclusively so).

Dancing to “Miriam’s Song” at Debbie Friedman Memorial Concert at Hebrew Union College

Last night happened to be the memorial concert for my friend singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman (of blessed memory ) at my alma mater, Hebrew Union College. So a few of us headed over there for music and dance and to memorialize someone whom we all miss so much. (Debbie had given me and Chaim a beautiful silver mezuzah to honor our marriage, a cherished gift.)

View of the Old City by night from Beit Shmuel

One of the unexpected gifts of this trip was meeting two rabbinical students from the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical School in Germany who are studying in Israel this year. Anita (unpictured) is from Hungary, and David from the Czech Republic, each with unique stories of their Jewish upbringings in Eastern Europe and finding their way to rabbinical school. Both are dealing with interesting pastoral care situations for which they sought my advice.

With David and his wife Juditka. David is a rabbinical student from the Czech Republic on his year in Israel from the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical School in Germany.

Chaim arrives to Israel tomorrow, and we will head up to Haifa and the Galil for two full weeks. More to come…

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The Old City of Jerusalem

A view of the Mount of Olives from the Archeological Park

Robinson’s Arch

The Western Wall extension by Robinson’s Arch

Uri humorously demonstrating King Herod’s building of the Second Temple

Intrigued ultra-Orthodox youth watching women lay tefillin in the new egalitarian section near the Wall. Maybe his worldview has been expanded?

Walking in the Arab Quarter of the Old City

Shmoozing and selling.

A view of our group with Al Aqsa behind us, roof of Austrian Hospice (Uri Feinberg, and Rabbis Adena Blum, Michele Paskow, David Edleson, Me!, Brian Leiken, Mark Kaiserman, Dennis Ross, Debbie Zecher, and Don Goor)

A view of Al Aqua mosque and Jerusalem from the roof of the Austrian Hospice in the Christian Quarter

Incongruity: he was singing “Hotel California!” Mamilla Mall

They played a mean klezmer, Mamilla Mall

I played David while he played the harp.

A wonderful day of walking in the Old City, digesting rich history and archeology, then walking the Mamilla Mall with its art installations, street musicians, and shops. Preparing now for Shabbat. We will go this evening to Kibbutz Gezer and its Reform congregation with Rabbi Miri Gold, and have Shabbat dinner with her in her home.

Shabbat shalom!

Israel’s Political/GeoPolitical Maze + Food+Art

The pool at our hotel wasn’t going to open until 8, so I walked up the road to the Jerusalem YMCA for my morning swim. Their new sports facility opened in November, and it was quite impressive — a ten-lane pool! As always, it is part of my embodied prayer/meditation time, though now that I have started learning qigong, I have another embodied practice, as well.

Swimming at the brand-new YMCA in Jerusalem

A small section of the breakfast buffet at the Orient Hotel

I returned to the hotel, grabbed a quick breakfast at yet another amazing buffet, and proceeded to our morning lecture with Professor Reuben Hazan from the Political Science Department of Hebrew University whom I had previously heard speak a number of years ago. He offered us a comprehensive comparison of Israel’s parliamentary and America’s democracies, an up-to-date analysis of Netanyahu’s political and legal troubles, an Israeli view of Trump, and a sobering analysis of Obama’s legacy in the Middle East.

Prof. Reuben Hazan, Hebrew University

We then hopped our bus and proceeded to Gilo, a Jewish suburb of south Jerusalem which was not part of pre-‘67 Jerusalem. Uri offered maps and a nuanced analysis of the issues related to the occupation, with threats are both internal and external. Are all the settlements the same? To what extent is the “security barrier” an “apartheid wall” or a “ghetto wall”? Would pulling out of the West Bank create the same kind of untestable vacuum politically that it did in Gaza? What about a one-state rather than a two-state solution? We were all left challenged by the many complexities and how to translate them to our larger communities that may only know sensationalist headlines.

Uri sharing maps of Jerusalem pre- and post-1967, while standing on a lookout from Gilo

View of Jerusalem from Gilo lookout

Raz from Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah on border with Gaza

We travelled to a beautiful moshav on the border with Gaza and met with a man named Raz who spoke about the ongoing trauma that they all live with due to the rockets and missiles that are launched. Previously, they have had to contend with tunnels that have been built from Gaza into the moshav (initially for smuggling, now for attacks; they had to block one up with concrete which then created a toxicity problem for them).

The furthermost home on the moshav is only 200 feet from the border with Gaza. At one point they received 386 alarms in two days — and only have 7-9 seconds to get to the bomb shelters once the sirens blare. The government offers a lot of psychological services for adults and kids, and everyone is trained, including bus drivers. They even have surfing therapy for the kids! He spoke about resilience being community-based and about their Tu B’shevat celebration two weeks ago at which 400 of them went out biking. “My victory is living a normal life,” he said.

Raz spoke of the days when they hired Palestinians from Gaza to work on the moshav before the disengagement in 2005 and said he and his family had kept in touch with some of them for a time, and sent them money. He is well aware of the humanitarian crisis that is happening in much of the Gaza Strip and believes that it is self-preserving to help the Palestinians, that desperate people do desperate things. “If this is difficult for us, it’s much more difficult for them.” He also said that because he has never seen or touched peace, the only thing he can believe in is co-existence.

A home-made missile and the head of an Iron Dome that landed in Netiv Ha’asarah. The army tries not to use Iron Domes too close to the border for fear of them landing in Gaza and the Palestinians getting hold of sensitive technology.

Netiv Ha’asarah decorated the security barrier at the Gaza border

From Netiv ha’Asarah we travelled to Sederot, another border town with Gaza which I had visited five years ago. During that trip, Chaim and I had seen an indoor playground that was equipped with several specialized bomb shelter rooms — one for computers, one for soccer, as well as a climbing wall that only went up half the wall so that the kids could fulfill the 15-second rule should the alarms sound there.

Today we visited an outdoor playground that also has innovative shelters — long colorful serpent tunnels.

Waving from a bomb shelter/play tunnel at an outdoor park in Sederot

We left Sederot, returned to Jerusalem and met with Noa Sattath of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Israeli equivalent of the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement in Washington, DC. She spoke about the 4 major issues that they focus their attention on: 1. Equality for non-Orthodox movements in Israel
2. Ultra-Orthodox monopoly on Jewish life in Israel
3. Gender segregation in public sphere
4. Racism, including starting a racism crisis center!

After a brief rest back at the hotel, we went out for an evening at Mahane Yehuda market, which has become a hip place for new cuisine after dark. We tasted Syrian tahini, Israeli beers, Georgian pizza, and Lebanese knaffeh. We also saw some of the art of Solomon Sosa, a street artist who has painted about half of the 360 shutters in the market, only seen at night!

So another day ends with a full stomach and a full heart and mind.

This wheel for making tahini was smuggled out of Syria, and is based in the Mahane Yehuda market at Tahina haMelech (Tahini the King)

Solomon Sosa started making street art on the closed shutters of the market.

Boutique beers from all over Israel at Beer Bazaar. They have over 100 beers, including 7 they make themselves.

Etrogs are not just for Sukkot anymore. Etrog Man to the rescue!

The other night I went to see an Israeli film called “The Baker from Berlin” and this was one of the specialities featured, pull-apart chocolate rugelach that made my mouth drool. Now I saw it at Marzipan bakery, and we bought some for Shabbat!

Along Israel’s Borders

The not-so-distant mountains beyond the jeeps are Lebanon

Today was a day for learning some of the geo-political realities along Israel’s borders. Two jeeps met us at Kfar Blum to take us on a dirt road journey to the Golan Heights. On the way we came across a number of tanks and other military installations. Tank gunner Emanuel came over to tell us that we could not take photos of their equipment, and we engaged him in conversation. Before he left, our guide Uri told him to take care of himself, and Emanuel answered, “First, I take care of you.”

Conversing with tank gunner Emanuel. We are facing the direction of the Hula Valley, over which 1/2 million birds migrate bi-annually on their way to and from Africa.

As we continued up the road, we came across a huge herd of cattle blocking our path. We lost a lot of time trying to get them to the side so we could pass!

Clearing the cattle traffic jam so the jeeps could get through

Minefields on the border

Our destination was a former Syrian outpost at Tel Facher that Israel took in the ‘67 war, thanks to Israeli spy Eli Cohen, an Egyptian Jew who went undercover in Syria. It is because he suggested to the Syrians that they plant eucalyptus trees at this lookout to protect themselves from the heat that the outpost was evident to the approaching Israeli soldiers. The Israeli phrase to “throw yourself on the fence for someone” derives from the battle at this site. The device to blow the barbed wire malfunctioned, so a soldier threw himself on the barbed wire fence so that his comrades could walk on his back to get over it.

Uri demonstrates military maneuver of the ‘67 war at Tel Facher/Golani Lookout

Uri, our master tour guide, was full of these moving stories of courage and devotion to land and people during the ‘67 war. In the bus, he continued with some of the history of the War of Attrition and the ‘73 Yom Kippur War.

From Tel Facher, we travelled to Mt. Bental overlooking the Syrian border to meet with Lieutenant Colonel Sarit Zehavi, former intelligence officer where we got a thorough briefing on the current geo-political situation and its many complications, including strange bed-fellows. She is in the process of completing an experiential museum center near the Lebanon border which will provide an opportunity for visitors to experience how security is done through situation-room kinds of war games and technology.

Snow-covered Mount Hermon (left of tree, in background)

Learning about the current geopolitical situation with Syria, Lt. Colonel Sarit Zehavi, former intelligence officer

Our next stop was the exquisitely beautiful Kinneret Cemetery, right next to the Kinneret itself (Sea of Galilee). Here many of the early Zionist pioneers are buried, including Berel Katznelson, one of the intellectual founders of Labor Zionism. We spent a good amount of time at the grave of beloved Israeli poet Rachel, reading some of her poetry and even wrote some of our own (I still have to edit mine before posting). There is a closed box next to her grave where one can take out copies of her poems to read.

Poet Rachel’s grave at Kinneret Cemetery. Uri is showing us the hidden box of poetry that resides next to her grave.

Singer-songwriter Naomi Shemer is buried there, too. Notice the font — I want Hebrew script on my grave one day, too.

I can’t come to Israel and not meet a camel, can I?

We left the north of the country and travelled south to Jerusalem along the Jordan Valley, through the West Bank, this time close to the Jordanian border. My Verizon phone service even sent me a text that said “Welcome to Jordan.” In one day, I saw Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, reminding me how close Israel really lives to its neighbors.

We stopped at an overlook at Mt. Scopus to recite the Shehechayanu as we watched night fall over the Old City.

Here we are staying at the gorgeous and brand-new Orient Hotel in the German Colony.

Another informative and tiring day concludes. It was an emotionally (and morally) challenging day — I cried more than once, falling in love all over again with Israel in a way I hadn’t since my very first visit in 1981.

Thanks to my wonderful rabbinic colleagues and to our wonderful guide Uri for making this trip so meaningful and fun!

If you’ve never been to Israel (or even if you have), let’s plan a group trip. I know a really good guide…

 

Meeting the Other

Stop 1 at Givat Haviva with Mohammad Darawshe, a leading expert on Jewish-Arab relations

Today’s theme was on diverse communities in Israel: we learned some about the Arab communities, the Druze community, and the special needs community through our varied visits today.

We departed Tel Aviv and headed to Givat Haviva, an educational center on a vast kibbutz-like campus that fosters a shared society between Israeli Arabs and Jews. Mohammed Darawshe, director of the Center, spoke about the economic, social and political challenges that Israeli Arabs face in Israel. First of all, he said that Israeli Jews and Arabs understand co-existence and equality differently. While Israeli Jews support both concepts, they tend to believe that co-existence will lead to equality, despite the majority never having had visited an Arab village or having invited an Arab into their homes. Arab Israelis, on the other hand, believe that equality must come before co-existence is possible.

The Center no longer brings youth from the two communities together for immersion programs because they found that while stereotypes were certainly challenged in the short-term, the effect would wear off within 9-12 months, and the students reverted to the beliefs of their family and larger community. This is known as the “going home syndrome.”

The solution had to be longer-term. However, while successful, there are only six integrated Arab-Jewish schools in all of Israel, with the possibility of integrating only one new one every three years. So what they have implemented instead is the bussing of the teachers — Jewish teachers in Arab schools and Arab teachers in Jewish schools, a program now operating in 840 schools, affecting 184,000 students. For Jewish students, it may be the first time that they have experienced an Arab in a position of authority. For 68 percent of the students, this is the first meaningful encounter they have ever had with the other, and for 92.2 percent, their perspective about “the other” changes to the positive, for both groups. It sounds like it works!

Mohammed shared so much more about the changing face of the economic situation for Arabs in Israel and about the changing economy itself, about women in the workplace, and some telling anecdotes that I will love to share with anyone who is interested in hearing more. Mostly, I left feeling encouraged that Israel now understands that its own economic viability depends on an educated and financially stable Arab population, and is taking real steps to close the gaps.

Stop 2, Said Abu Shaka at the Um El Fahem Art Gallery.

We travelled from Givat Haviva to Um El Fahem Art Gallery to meet with founding director, Said Abu Shaka, who spoke movingly about his poverty growing up, his mother’s love, and his dream of opening this art gallery where Arab artists could exhibit. He said he wanted to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The gallery includes a ceramics workshop for women to create art.

Hamsas!

Stop 3, Nurah’s Kitchen

We travelled then to Dalyat haCarmel, a predominantly Druze city, to have lunch at Nurah’s Kitchen. Over a lovely (kosher) meal, Nurah told us some about the Druze community and religion, and our guide Uri filled in some information, as well. Most fun facts: 1. Druze broke from Islam because they considered Jethro (yes, the Jethro who is the father-in-law of Moses in the Hebrew Bible) their true prophet, not Mohammed; 2. Druze are not allowed to enter their holy places if they harbor any anger or animosity in their heart; 3. It is a closed society with no converting in or out; 4. It is a also a secret society with not much known about its religion; 5. There are secular Druze; 6. Druze do not have aspirations for a homeland and therefore are “home” wherever they live. There are Druze communities in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.

Stop 4, Statue of the prophet Elijah at El Muhraqa, Carmelite Monastery

View from the roof of the Carmelite Monastery

The summit of Mount Carmel, El Muhraqa in Arabic (literally, “the sacrifice”), has a remarkable 360 degree view of the Jezreel Valley. On the grounds of the monastery stands a statue of the prophet Elijah, sword raised because it was here that the Bible (I Kings 18-19) says he killed the prophets of Baal, after which he fled and heard “the still, small voice.”

Most Jews know the kindly Elijah who visits Jewish homes at the Passover seder, at every brit milah, and every Saturday night at havdalah, and we love the folk stories of the chameleon-like Elijah who can appear in different forms to save the day. But the Biblical Elijah was strict, uncompromising, and curmudgeonly towards the Israelites. I like Joseph Telushkin’s teaching that Elijah is punished for his doubt in the faith and continuity of the Jewish people by having to visit us every Passover, Shabbat, and brit milah to be proven wrong in his pessimism — we have and do survive.

Stop 5 at Tulip Winery

In the town of Tivon, a German-Jewish father of a special needs daughter, founded a community in 1964 called Kfar Tikva (Village of Hope) where people with special needs might live. 223 special needs individuals live there now, all have jobs either in the community dining hall, laundry or winery. Tulip Winery, the largest boutique winery in Israel, employs 41 of the villagers. The winery’s motto is “We don’t put labels on people; we put them on bottles.”

Stop 6, The Pastoral Hotel at Kibbutz Kfar Blum. If I told you that this photo represents only part of the dessert offerings, you can only imagine how extensive the salad and main meal buffets were.

My roommate Michelle and I are staying in the Whoopi Goldberg room at the Pastoral Hotel, set in between the Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep rooms.  This is a beautiful hotel on Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Galil region. Our dinner was a buffet spread like I’ve never seen before, with gourmet flavors that I also have never tasted before.

Another long day concludes, before an early departure for the Golan Heights.

Jaffa/Tel Aviv

Scenic view from the train

Sunset from my hotel room

Last evening the CCAR (my rabbis’ organization) Leadership trip began. I said good-bye to Bili and Mats (whom I will see again in a week) and took a beautiful scenic train ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, which I’d never done before. Our group gathered in the lobby of the Royal Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv at 6:30 PM, and I met the other eight colleagues on this trip, only two of whom I had not known before. Additionally, we are joined by our colleague Rabbi Hara Person who works for the CCAR.

Our tour guide is Uri Feinberg, the son of Rabbi Shaul Feinberg who had been the dean of the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College when I began in 1988. I will have to take Uri aside one of these days to let him know the debt of gratitude I owe his father for his care and concern when my mother took ill, then died, during that first year of rabbinical school. Shaul made all of the arrangements to get me and my brother (who was on kibbutz at the time) home to see her before she died, and it was only because of the Pan Am tragedy over Lockerbie, Scotland that there was even a flight to be had over Christmas to get us there in time. (Pan Am had availability, though no other airline did.)

This morning my roommate Michelle (a rabbi in California) and I took an early morning walk along the beach before going to the amazing Israeli breakfast buffet at the hotel. And from there we were gone from 8:30- 6:30 PM, touring and walking and learning and eating.

First off, a walking tour of Jaffa, starting at the Jaffa port which the Bible story of Jonah tells us is where Jonah embarked on his escape from God’s call. But for modern Israeli history, it is also where the first immigrants to Israel arrived in the late 19th century.

Jaffa port

Our tour of Jaffa included graffiti and an introduction to a couple of Arab-Israeli artistic collaborations, Na Laga’at and the Jaffa Theatre. Na Laga’at is also a theatre company of blind/vision-impaired and deaf, hearing-impaired performers, but their center also contains the Black-Out Restaurant which is set in total darkness, in which the waiters are all blind or visually impaired.

You tell me: am I devil or angel?

We then met with members of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism’s pre-Army mechinah (academy), a 10-month immersion into Israeli and Reform Jewish culture through study, volunteering, touring, and preparation for the Army, physically, emotionally, and morally. A key component of the program is when the young people are dropped off somewhere with no food or money in order to learn to trust both strangers and themselves for two nights — the first night asking to be housed by a stranger, and the second night living out on the streets!

Shimko, Nimrod and Tom tell us about the IMPJ mechinah program

We then visited Independence Hall where David Ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.

The NY Times proclaims the new state of Israel AND the immediate bombing that resulted

We also visited the Shalom Center where we got a tour of the colorful mosaics by Nahum Gutman which depict the history of Tel Aviv.

Part of the mosaic

Our lunch consisted of an ethnic tasting tour, a walk through Tel Aviv’s famous Levinsky Market. We “visited” Greece (for olives, cabbage rolls, beans, salmon and other salads), Turkey (for bourekas), Libya (for a nut/quinoa/lentil salad), Georgia (for a walnut and grape energy bar concoction), and Iraq (for halvah).

The Georgian spices

The Greek olive and salad bar

The Turkish bourekas

The Iraqi halvah

The Iraqi halvah

After this feast, we went to the State of Mind Innovation Center, sponsored by Taglit/Birthright, a museum dedicated to Israel as a start-up nation, with exhibits about the technologies that Israelis have created in the fields of science, medicine, agriculture, transportion (we all use the Israeli Waze app, right?), and safety/security (did you know you can download an Israeli app called the Salient Eye that will do home security from your phone?) This was a feel-good place, indeed, (and not only because my friend Yosef Abramowitz’s company Energiya Global was featured). The medical advances included things like Orcam, Pillcam, Rewalk, and SoftWheel. And in the science field, I was amazed by a company called WaterGen whose machines can create water out of air (if there is at least 20% humidity). They are each worth a Google search!

At the Innovation Center

Our visit continued with a presentation by an entrepreneur who started a website buyforgood.biz which focuses on social impact products, and then we concluded with a fascinating conversation with journalist Nathan Jeffay about the (not very encouraging) state of Jewish and Israeli news coverage around the world.

Let’s call it a day!

My Israeli Birthday, My Israeli Family

Mats sharing the birthday cake that Bili’s mother made (Mats’ birthday was Wednesday) with me (whose birthday was today)

With Bili’s parents Yafa and Shmuel

With Oded, Bili’s brother

It had been five years since I’d been in Israel and last seen Bili’s parents. They first met me as a 20 year old college student, and welcomed me into their home Shabbat after Shabbat, helped me hone my Hebrew (Yafa speaks no English, and Shmuel speaks some), taught me to love the forest behind their home and the beauty of the land of Israel. Seeing them last night for Shabbat dinner was like coming home — a place of total acceptance (and amazing food). Yes, we were all a bit older, and yes, we had our heated conversations about Reform Judaism and Donald Trump (whom Bili’s father and brother consider “good for Israel”), but I knew that I was heard and valued. Before I left, Yafa told me that I am her American daughter, which made me cry.

This morning Bili wouldn’t let me into the kitchen as she whipped up an amazing Israeli birthday breakfast of borekas, salad, fresh orange juice, bitter orange marmalade, a gazillion sides, plus a strawberry cake. Only the pomegranate and the salad are on my Weight Watchers “zero point” list, but there are no points to count on birthdays anyway, right?

With Bili and her friend Tali at breakfast

Only one candle?

We (Bili, Mats, their friend — and my new friend —Tali, their dog Hunter, and me) then took a road trip in search of wildflowers, Bili’s weekend passion. She gets news alerts from her botanical club of where things are blooming when, and she goes running, taking loads of photos that she posts each week on Facebook. We went to both the Mata Forest and to the Adulam-France National Park where we saw a lot of red anemones, cyclamen, and, of course, the almond trees in blossom. We are actually in a winter heat wave in Israel so Bili is a bit afraid of what this will mean for the wildflower blooming “schedule,” but this is always the best month in which to see spring “spring” in the holy land.

Me and my anemone

Our picnic lunch

The almond tree in blossom

A glorious day concluded with another Bili feast and binge watching of a British series “Unforgotten,” a phone call with my sister, email and Facebook wishes from friends near and far, and a true sense of feeling younger, not older.

So grateful for this 48-year friendship with Bili. Penpals since age 10 and so many great memories from many (though never enough) different trips to Israel.

Thanks, Bili and Mats, for making today another wonderful memory for the archives of my blessed life.

Shavua tov.