We are incredibly blessed to have the sponsorship of a local Jewish non-profit The Jewish Encounter! Two of PunkTorah’s community members had amazing experiences on their trip to Israel with tour leader Mitch. Read more below…
It is about three weeks now since I have returned from my trip to Israel. The memories are still very fresh but some of the details have begun to fade as the routine of daily life reasserts itself. For the first two weeks after my return I would dream, wakefully and in my sleep, that I was back in Israel. The dreams were very vivid; the smells in the markets, the swishing sounds of the Hebrew being spoken, the feel of the stones beneath my feet as I walked the streets, the crispness of the sun and the fullness of the air amidst every possible growing plant that you could imagine. Hassidim no longer seemed out of place, but acted as sentinels, keeping a watchful eye on the rhythm of greeting, prayer and return.
Visiting Israel for me was very much about trying to articulate a way of living that I have often envisioned, but had never experienced. The people that I met were all very passionate about living in Israel and being Israelis. Israeli flags hung from every conceivable spot during the week leading up to Israeli Independence Day. Thousands upon thousands of flags fluttered in the breeze of this beautiful intimate country. In a sense, the flags for me began to represent the millions upon millions of people that are drawn to Israel. Like the tethered flags we sojourners remain transfixed in our focus upon the land and the people, the people and the land. And yet, like the fluttering flags we shake with the excitement and anticipation of seeing something, someone that we have known, but have not yet met.
I wish that it were possible to compile, compare and quantify different people’s reactions to being in Israel. Jew and gentile; Sabra and foreign born. The descriptive language used by those who have been in the land, is at once different and similar. The reaction that you see in others and the feeling you notice in yourself is one of belonging. I don’t speak Hebrew or Arabic, yet the sounds of these languages weaving in and out of the English spoken in our group seemed very complementary. It was as if there was some ancient memory of having heard people speaking this way in my distant past.
I wish I could somehow separate myself from my biblical and historical knowledge of Israel and Judaism. I wish I could revisit Israel without this prior bias. How would my experience have changed? Would my feelings have been different? I’ll never be able to answer those questions. What I can say without any hesitation is that the resonance that I felt with the people in the land and the land itself was unmistakable. The trip for me confirmed my deepest intuition that I needed to find my place in the larger Jewish community.
The group that I traveled with, The Jewish Encounter, sponsored by Mitch Cohen and his wife Suzette was a major factor in my decision to go on the trip. I read about Mitch’s work and the organization that he is a part of and decided to take a closer look. The idea of an organization that is centered upon Judaism and that encourages a deeper involvement with Judaism, but at the same time is welcoming of non-Jews that feel drawn to those things Jewish was very appealing to me. As a 35 year old man who has Jewish matrilineal ancestors, but was raised in a secular Christian home, Judaism had always interested me. Judaism’s relevance became more apparent to me only as I became older. The Jewish Encounter was one of the few opportunities open to me, that allowed me to visit Israel and experience the land and the people from a Jewish perspective in the company of Jews. My life has been enriched by this experience and I am forever in the debt of Mitch and Suzette and my JE mishpucha. Lastly, group tours always have a tour guide and bus driver. Our bus driver Moishe drove our bus with finesse and gave us good tidbits of local news, peppered with some side-splitting jokes! Our tour guide Raffi is a real mensch. He is brilliant funny and insightful. He knows every nook and cranny of the places that we visited. By the end of the trip he had become a dear friend. The wonderful things that you will hear about him are not hyperbole.
I can recommend this trip for anyone who is interested in experiencing a welcoming, engaging uplifting and thoroughly Jewish encounter of Israel! Mazel tov! -Diego Taylor
From Chaverim to Mishpochah
About the Jewish Encounter Israel Trip: Ai ai ai! You should go. I am not a ‘tour’ person and have only travelled solo prior to this, but I can’t wait to go back to Israel – with this group! I joined the group as a stranger, made some chaverim, and left with a new mishpochah. Rafi, our Israeli tour guide and Moshe, our former-IDF-tank-driver bus driver were equally fantastic and it would not have been such a good trip without them.
About Jewish Encounter: I was impressed by the planning and attention to detail by the folks at Jewish Encounter. Information sessions, meetups, and email communication made trip preparation stress-free. Two of us participated in the “meetups” via Skype, since we live so far away. The trip organizers truly cared about our input and suggestions before, during, and after the trip.
About Israel: Israel is a magical place. It is a surprising and unexpected place. It is not what you see in the news, or hear on the radio. Israel is deliberate and full of meaning: a museum, a park landscape, street names are more than what they seem. Israel is thousands of years old, yet modern. It is serious, yet fun. It is full of art, and awesome food. Whether you identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or something else – Israel is more than you expect, and more than you hope for. You will ask questions, learn, be confused, find clarity (or not)… and don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to return next year! -Monika