Hard to believe it's the last full day on Israel Connection 2017! Participants had three options to choose from or could have a free day to explore. They reconvened for a farewell celebratory meal in the evening.
MASADA & THE DEAD SEA
Participants took the cable car up to Masada, Herod's mountain palace and the site of the Jews last stand against the Romans. They discussed Masada's role as a symbol of Jewish defense and its current significance in modern Israel. From there, they went to the Dead Sea where they experienced weightlessness while floating in its salty water.
THE CHALLENGES OF JERUSALEM
Participants visited the Yad BeYad (Hand in Hand) Bilingual School. It's dedicated to bringing together Jewish and Arab children in a positive, natural learning environment. They heard a lecture on the 'Geopolitics of Jerusalem' as they traveled through the city exploring some of its political and diplomatic complexities and gained insight into current developments. They toured the streets of East Jerusalem with Rami Nazzal, a local Palestinian Journalist and visited with a resident in the Gush Etzion settlement.
FOOD & WINE
A tasty treat for participants on this track. They learned the techniques of producing goat cheeses and yogurts at Shai Zeltzer, a family-run farm located west of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of Mount Eitan. From there, they had a wine tasting at Flam Winery, which is located in the picturesque Judean Hills and chatted with local wine makers and connoisseurs. Then they had a chocolate workshop with local Chocolatier, Sima Amsalem in the beautiful neighborhood of Ein Kerem.
THE LAYERS OF JERUSALEM
The day started with a lecture called Yiddishe Kopf: Jewish Innovation in a Modern State. Dr. Tal Becker led the talk. He's a Senior Fellow at the Shalom Institute. Israel Connection participants returned to the Old City for a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter and guided visits to various excavated sites. These included a walk along the rooftops of the Old City for a behind the scenes look at the various communities in Jerusalem and how they live together; the four Sephardic synagogues; the Cardo, a Byzantine street that is now the world's oldest shopping arcade; Hurva Square, the central square of the Jewish Quarter; a visit through the 2,000 year-old Herodian Mansions; the Jerusalem Archaeological Park and a stop at the Davidson Center and the Southern Wall excavations. They wrapped up at the Kotel.
SHABBAT IN JERUSALEM
Our participants spent Shabbat morning at various local communities and relaxing during the day after a busy week of sightseeing. In the afternoon, some took a guided walk through the streets of Jeruslaem using the writings of Jerusalem's poets and authors. Others walked along the Old City Ramparts and took a walking tour through the Christian Quarter including the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other Christian sites.
Everyone gathered together for Havdallah overlooking the Old City and enjoyed time in the new, contemporary shopping area called the Mamilla Pedestrian Arcade. It's located near the Jaffa Gate. That night wrapped up with a show about the story of Jerusalem at the Tower of David Museum. The walls of the Citadel serve as a spectacular setting for a show.
MEMORY NEAR AND FAR
Participants visit Yad Vashem, the Jewish National Memorial to the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Here they saw: the Avenue of the Righteous, the museum, the Children's Memorial, the Art Museum and shared a poignant memorial service.
They explored the Machaneh Yehuda market before preparing for Shabbat. Kabbalat Shabbat services at the pluralistic section of the Kotel called Azarat Israel and Shabbat dinner along with Houston students studying in Israel and Houston lone soldiers.
FROM THE GOLAN TO JERUSALEM
Participants took a Jeep tour of the Golan Heights and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. They learned about the strategic complexity of the area especially with the most recent developments on the Syrian side of the border. From there, they headed to Mitzpeh Gadot, an adandoned Syrian outpost where they followed in the footsteps of Israeli combat soldiers. This gave them further insight into the challenges Israel faced in the 1967 Six Day War and the power and surprise of its aftermath.
They stopped at Amiad Winery on Kibbutz Amiad in route to Jerusalem. They paused at an overlook of the New and Old Cities and recited the traditional 'Shehechiyanu' prayer. Israel Connection travelers than explored downtown Jerusalem including the Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall. In the evening, they took a Western Wall Tunnel tour which is the underground continuation of the Wall alongside the Temple Mount.
Arrival to Jerusalem
Participants, including Annual Campaign Chair Haya Varon, enjoying the day!
THE SEA OF GALILEE & THE YEVULIM FARM
Participants started the day hearing from Paul Liptz of Tel Aviv University who spoke about the challenges in Israeli society.
Our travelers then had a unique opportunity to visit a JDC beneficiary program called the Yevulim Farm. The farm supports adults with disabilities including mental health conditions, autism, cognitive delay, and physical challenges and helps them with self-confidence and social skills. The farm offers a highly interactive, eight month course where people with disabilities learn key skills for successful employment and independent community living. Yevulim participants watch their hard work pay off with the growth of fruit and vegetables. At the conclusion of the course, they're offered opportunities to become paid farm guides for business events and tours for soldiers, youth and kindergartens. Yevulim is a life-changing step towards the confidence it takes to live an independent life.
Israel Connection participants made potpourri and wrote down personal wishes.
Our Houston travelers got to explore Tsfat, a center of Jewish mysticism for hundreds of years and a contemporary artists' colony. Activities today included: guided tours of the Ari, Caro & Abuhav Synagogues; a dialogue with a Kabbalah inspired artist, a visit to the Tsfat Cemetary, including the grave of mystical master Rabbi Issac Luria; a tour of the Meiri Museum; and a visit with a traditional Jewish scribe (a "sofer stam"). They concluded this full day with a special Galilean dinner.
Participants enjoy a special Galilean dinner. It's our 'mission in the kitchen.'
Israel Connection 2017 dance the Hava Nagilla during dinner!
Participants spent the day touring Tel-Aviv. Some went on a street art and graffiti tour and visited Nachalat Binyamin, a pedestrian mall with restored buildings and sidewalk artists followed by the Carmel open-air market. Others in the group visited Independence Hall, where David Ben Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel in 1948.
They spent the afternoon at Beit Hapalmach. There they learned the story of Israel's pre-state elite fighting force, the Palmach. Participants heard a special briefing from Major General (res) Amos Yadlin, Executive General of the Institute of National Security Studies.
Yeda School leaders in Petach Tikvah honor our CEO, Lee Wunsch, on his upcoming retirement.
YEDA schools (Inspired by KIPP: Knowledge is Power Program)
Israel Connection participants spent the late afternoon in Petach Tikvah, our Federation's partnership community, at the new YEDA school. They were able to experience first-hand how the school is a vital part of this developing community. They interacted with the faculty and students to learn how this school has made an impact on the community's lives.
In 2013, YEDA opened its first school in Kiryat Bialik, bringing new hope to families just north of Haifa. Similar to KIPP: Knowledge Is Power Program schools, which started in Houston in 1994, YEDA enables disadvantaged children to reach their full potential. The name YEDA is a Hebrew take on the KIPP acronym, and means Knowledge, Discipline and Empowerment.
YEDA, run by the Leo Baeck Education Center, will ultimately grow to include pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade. The project would not have happened without donors from the United States including our Federation, which made a five-year, $50,000 per year commitment, for a total of $250,000, to help bring the school to fruition. Ultimately, YEDA plans to open 25 schools throughout Israel serving 10,000 students, including a campus in the Yoseftal and Dado neighborhoods.
YOSEFTAL & DADO
Participants were introduced to our partner neighborhoods, Yoseftal and Dado. The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston has had a rewarding relationship with a little corner of Israel, the Yoseftal and Dado neighborhoods of Petach Tikvah, since 1982. The partnership with our two sister neighborhoods, initially formed through a Jewish Federations of North America project, has enhanced people-to-people relations between our communities. Over the years Houston has also been able to help provide community-enhancing programs and infrastructure for these low-income neighborhoods, which are home to more than 7,000 new and veteran immigrants.
Every Federation Israel Connection trip visits Yoseftal and Dado to learn about the neighborhoods. They spent the evening enjoying small group dinners and conversation with various families in our sister neighborhoods.
Israel Connection 2017 chairs: Joy & Joe Kaplan
Participants on our Israel Connection 2017 trip arrived and visited the Old City of Jaffa. They traveled through the renovated alleyways to the Jaffa Overlook for an introduction to Tel Aviv.
That evening cocktails and dinner included a conversation with David Siegel, the former Consul General of Israel to the Southwest United States.