Thursday, March 31, 2016

With New Eyes

March 23, 2016 by Lynn Lederman, photos by Toni Dachis

The sky was hazy as our bus left the Mediterranean and we began to climb. To many of us who had been here before, the road to Jerusalem had changed. Bedroom communities and construction cranes have replaced open green spaces.

Our group gathered in a sunny Jerusalem park overlooking the Old City to process what has already been a jam packed and thought provoking two days. Meryll shared a teaching from the Bava Mitziya about finding a blessing in that which had been hidden from our eyes.

We arrived at Kfuzot Hayer, a lane devoted to the arts, and split into two groups. Our group went with Rabbi Matt Berkowitz, (a former class mate of Rabbi Davis'). We learned about the amazing work he and David Moss are doing with Kol Haot.

Matt shared his seven year journey designing a very unique and visually pleasing three part Haggadah. The larger section contained beautifully designed prints, some with intricate paper cuts. 
Vibrant colors and 24 karat gold leaf adorned these stunning prints. The end papers were specially made with Israeli parsley and parsley fibers were in the paper.

The anthology also included 27 essays decorated with many Biblical motifs. This was made as a limited edition of 250 sets, of which 170 have already been sold. There is also a trade edition.

Matt led us in a discussion of the Binding of Isaac and then shared David Moss' scroll which was made into a Houston day school mural depicting the dramatic story.

Next, we studied a portion of the
 Purim Megillah and divided into small groups. Using David's techniques, each group designed a mural and we all enjoyed the creative process. 

The two large groups exchanged places and we entered David Moss' studio. David shared his personal journey, describing how he became a Jewish "folk artist". After meeting with a scribe for ten minutes, David knew that he wanted to breathe new life into the ancient art of making ketubot. He was like dry kindling waiting for the spark.

David would meet individually with couples and developed a process whereby he would personalize each ketuba. Often using intricate designs and exacting micrography, David's ketubot are stunning works of art. He showed us many of them, as well as the letters to the couples. Many of these have been published as magnificent books. 

David also was commissioned to create a unique Megillah and this process took three years. He was able to gain permission to use that work in order to publish a limited edition and subsequently a trade edition.

Being with David was an awe inspiring and uplifting experience.

Lunch in Machne Yehuda market was an experience. Each of us was given a "bite card" with six stalls and a map. We hunted for tastes and all left feeling well fed. Purim preparations were evident all around us. Not only aromatic hamentaschen (savory and sweet), but our ears were treated to a familiar Purim melody sung by a young man hawking "the best" strawberries.

Our last visit was the Artist's House. We had a private tour of their collection and exhibits, as well as the history of the Bezalel School from which Anat graduated.

After a much needed rest, we enjoyed a short walk to Darna, a Moroccan restaurant. This was both a culinary and visual delight! Some of us opted for a graffiti tour of Machane Yehuda. Another full and "eye opening" day!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Purim Sameach!

March 24, 2016 text by Audrey Goldfarb, photos by Mark Fischer

Purim in Israel is a day of school vacation and NO TRAFFIC! We headed east toward the desert along the border that divided Jerusalem from '48 until '67. You no longer feel the divisions today, but tensions remain.

We arrived at the Inn of the Good Samaritan and met Lior, Natan's son, the archeologist instrumental in establishing this museum. Meryll set the tone by sharing a psalm that David may have written while hiding from King Saul. This exercise helped us imagine him being in the wilderness of the Judean Desert, hiding, lonely and terrified.

Why was this an important place? The site's biblical name was Ma'ale Addumim from the reddish color of the rocks. During King Herod's time it was a natural resting place in the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The area was occupied from King Herod's time until the end of the Ottoman Empire.
Today it's an archeological site. The museum houses several reconstructed mosaic floors that were moved to the site due to unstable political conditions. Ninety-eight percent of the mosaics required reconstruction by hand using 1.7 million tiles. Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Samaritans each had their own mosaic floors, but often the same artisans were used.

Design motifs included vines, birds, vases, animals and the seven species of Israel (fig, olive, pomegranate, barley, wheat, date, and grape).

Next stop was Susan's House, a place where at risk teens find support and vocational art training. This is a project of Minneapolis Federation and JDC. Sixteen to eighteen year old participants are there by choice and commitment. Etti, a 21 year old alumna bravely shared her story of overcoming many obstacles. Her journey was a testament to her own personal strength and the power of Susan's House staff. We toured the workshop and purchased many of their art pieces.

We lunched in Talpiot. During our break Judy and Louise shopped for Purim costumes. One chose a red curly wig and the other a bright pink spiky wig. Can you guess which group member chose which wig?

Our next stop was the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Rabbi Davis shared Rabbi Larry Kushner's teaching which encouraged us to continue our journeys with an open heart and mind.

Frankie, an archeologist explained that during a Temple Mount construction project 400 dump trucks unloaded earth filled with artifacts into the Kidron Valley. Our job would be to carefully sift through this dirt one bucket full at a time and sort our findings into six categories: pottery shards, mosaics, metal, bones, glass and special stone. Toni found a sheep or goat mandible with teeth. Robyn hit the jackpot finding an ancient bronze coin possibly Roman or from the Second Temple period. We learned a new word, numismatist. This is a coin expert who will make the final identification.

We returned to the hotel where we prepared our costumes and rested. At 5:30 we boarded our bus to attend the Megillah reading at Natan's synagogue Kehilat Yaar Ramot. We were warmly welcomed by Rabbi Arne Bendor and the congregation. Natan introduced the mural created by his nephew artist, Aithan Shapira. This tryptic of trees native to Israel, olive, almond and pomegranate was made lovingly in memory of his grandparents.

Rabbi Davis led the congregation in Maariv. We enjoyed the Meggila reading as well as the congregant's costumes. Toni ably assumed the role of event photographer.

We returned to the hotel for dinner well before the kitchen was due to close. After Birkat HaMazon, Rabbi Davis left us with a teaching about Purim, likening it to a double sided coin which presents two faces, a king who can sentence the Jews to death and then saves them, and Queen Esther who hid the fact that she was Jewish. We are finding many hidden blessings here in Israel.

A few of us went on to party. The rest of us said good night and went to our rooms.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

New Beginnings

Friday, March 25, 2016
written by Robyn Awend, photographs by Josh Awend 

Our day began with a visit to Yvel, a last minute add to the itinerary. After an impressive 3D introductory film about the company we were greeted by Daniel Israel, the new US marketing representative for the company. Daniel, a charismatic individual, shared his moving story of immigration from Ethiopia to Israel when he was 5 during Operation Moses in 1984/5, a year long journey with many  struggles and losses. "I was surprised to see white Jews when we arrived," laughed Daniel with his ear to ear grin. Through his difficult childhood Daniel stayed strong and became an IDF soldier; paratrooper, sniper and eventually captain. He found his way to Yvel through his desire to give back and help the future of the Ethiopian community. 

Yvel, a creation of Issac and Orna Levy, celebrated its 30 year anniversary.  Yvel employs a mosaic of cultures and supports 122  families - 90% of the workers are from 23 countries. Yvel (Levy spelled backwards), is among the most celebrated and recognized high end jewelry companies in the world winning many prestigious awards and honors. A special part of Yvel is a new initiative, Megemeria (meaning Genesis or new beginning in Ethiopian). It is a business within a business. The purpose of Megermeria is to give back. It is a jewelry school for immigrants over the age of 35 who are unemployed and have no formal training. It also includes people with disabilities. Megemeria employs 21 people for yearly courses in jewelry making to help them master a skill that they will have for life. In addition, Megemeria offers classes in subjects such as history, finance and language to ensure that when people graduate they will have the skills and expertise needed for success and to be contributing members of society. They receive a scholarship and stipend and at the end of the course, each student creates his or her own brand of jewelry. Isaac, also an immigrant at a young age, wanted to give the same opportunity to others for new beginnings. 
After an exciting and informative tour of the design studios, they opened their beautiful showroom special for us (on Purim) to browse, shop, sip cappuccinos and taste the wine from their cellar. Many of us took part in all of these offerings! We ended our visit with a l'chaim and group photo with Daniel, who we all fell in love with.

Thankfully, Daniel, the story of Megemeria and their beautiful jewelry will be coming to Minneapolis this fall as part of collaboration between the Sabes JCC and the Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.

From there, we headed to Modiin, "The City of the Future" and the hometown of the Maccabees. Our first stop was lunch at Caffit overlooking the impressive city. Our lengthy farmers table was filled with one delicious dish after the next. A few of the favorites were the fried cauliflower and a salad that was a culinary work of art in itself (greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, feta cheese, homemade bread crumbs, topped with crunchy sweet potato strings). YUM! During lunch, we met with Meryll's cousin Giora who was one of the first families to move to Modiin. He shared with us his experience in Modiin over the past 20 years and how the city as developed in that time.  We also met Gila Miller, art teacher at Yachad in Modiin. She is doing amazing work in the school system to broaden the curriculum as well as to offer additional lessons for special education students. She shared with us the quote from the famous art philosopher Herbert Read, "There is no art without society and no society without art." Words that resonated. 

Dessert was served. Delectable warm mini chocolate and cream cups, homemade muffins, coffee and green tea. During dessert we met architect Yvan Lang from Modiin, specializing in sustainable 'green' architecture. He shared with us the architectural history of Modiin. In 1988 it was decided that there needed to be another city added to the landscape, as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were becoming too crowded. Moshe Safdie, the most famous Israel architect, was responsible for Modiin's design. In 1996 the first families moved to Modiin. 20 years 
later, its population is nearly 100,000 people. Modiin is the community between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv located at the edge of the green line. It is a city that started from nothing, which is a difficult endeavor. We learned that many of the original concepts were changed and things did not always work out as originally planned. One example: originally there were no stop lights, then they had to be added several years later due to the rapid growth in the city's population and commuters who need to work outside of Modiin. Currently, the city is not considered a "real city" because it is still a bedroom community. Today, Modiin is a desired place to live. It is becoming quite expensive and highly populated. These are some of the issues they are facing today. 
We were able to get some beautiful views of Modiin after lunch. We spotted almond bushes, date trees, pomegranate trees, zatar bushes and sabras emerging from the cactus. From there we visited Beit Omanoot (Artists' House) in Modiin, where we were greeted by local artist Alejanda Okret & curator and artist Gabi Yair. The structure is dual purpose with its main function serving as a shelter in times of need, however this white walled space is home to the local artists' community, with rotating exhibits of varying media. Because the walls are made with protection in mind, they are hard to nail into, making this a challenge to hang work. The walls are filled with large holes (similar to a submarine) for ventilation. It's a visual reminder of its original purpose.

We then headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for Shabbat. 
Several people from our group went to visit family in Jerusalem while the rest of us headed to the Kotel. Rabbi Davis found the perfect spot for our group to daven (pray) in the egalitarian section of the Wall. He lead us in prayer and in dance, we inserted notes in the Wall, we were surrounded by other groups praying and dancing around us with such pride and emotion. The air was consumed with Jewishness. It was a feeling that permeated us all. We visited the traditional area of the Kotel for additional prayers, men with men, women with women. Together, we slowly wove our way back through the the old city, the Jaffa Gate and back to our hotel for Shabbat dinner surrounded by Jews from all sects and geographic areas. We ended our evening on the balcony singing, studying and reflecting about our day -- talking about the important of place and power of ones dream(s) in life. 

Purim Evening 
After dinner, several of us went "into the night" to experience the Purim night life in Jerusalem. We found ourselves on Ben Yehudah Street in a sea of Purim costumes, characters and personalities; dancing, schmoozing, and of course partying! Anat took us to a nearby cafe, just off the beaten path, known as a local spot, to grab a drink and be witness to all that was taking place around us. Josh paid a local 5 shekels to take a photo with his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume head. Such a bargain! I was dressed as Wonder Woman, not to be confused with Gal Gadot, the new Israeli actress staring as Wonder Woman. However, I did get stopped several times by Israelis, who did a double take.  Just as the evening was beginning to rev up, we began winding down. We passed through the sea of lively Purim goers again, taking note of as many costumes and moments as we could on our way out of Ben Yehudah street, and on every street corner back to our hotel. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Shabbat: Lifting Our Eyes Up

Photo by Susan Weinberg
March 26, 2016 by Meryll Page,

Shalom Aleichem—Welcome to the Shabbat angels, welcome to a different rhythm, a day of reflection, a day of extending our hands to each other rather than a day of creating. As the sun set near Robinson’s Arch in the walled city, we gathered to welcome Shabbat together. For me, our t’filot (prayers), our song, our dance renewed my spirit. In the background we heard Shabbat melodies echoing from youth groups. As the sky began to darken, birds circled above.  Perhaps they, too, were enjoying the scene of so many who come to this place to let their souls soar.
Photo by Josh Awend

For some of us, the Maariv we chanted together brought us to tears with its beauty.Connected to each other, to our own longings, and to this place—Jerusalem--Shabbat entered us. Walking back through the Jewish Quarter in the Old City I felt safe and protected by the walls, the group and the soft amber glow cast by the buildings onto the twisted paths we walked.

Although the mood was broken by the uproarious crowds of families and groups at the hotel dinner, once we regrouped on the terrace after dinner to study together and chant Birkat haMazon, the feeling of a very unique Shabbat returned.  For me it was captured by the idea of ascent—our spirits rising even as we studied about the olot (burnt offerings) and the Songs of Ascent.

The beautiful walk to Shira Hadashah on Shabbat morning, following the park pathway with fragrant purple wisteria hanging from the arbor. set the tone for our experience at Shira Hadashah.  It is aptly named Shira Hadasha, a new song. With full voice, the congregation sang their way through the morning. To be with an orthodox congregation where both men and women led services, read Torah, and shared a d’var Torah was inconceivable 20 years ago.  There was much to celebrate this Shabbat in the congregation as a couple named their newborn daughter. Listening to the couple weave the story of their new daughter’s name to the parasha and to the congregation heightened the intensity. Even those who didn’t understand the Hebrew words, understood the emotion of the moment.

By study time after lunch we were all talking about the community we have built with each other and how it has lifted us beyond any individual experience we could have had. As we moved into Shabbat afternoon, we each found our own way to enjoy even a rainy day in Jerusalem. 

Gathering again at Havdalah, we sang the Shabbat out as darkness fell over the city just as we had sung to welcome Shabbat.  We wished Robyn and Josh—tzaitkem b’shalom—may they leave in peace- as they travel home to their three children.

We can now close our eyes and see our Shabbat experience in our mind’s eye again and again.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Envisioning Horror

March 27, 2016  Text by Bonnie Heller, Photos by Steven Heller

Yad Vashem
The day began with a moving visit to Yad Vashem.    Nathan, our guide, pointed out that the establishment of Yad Vashem was one of the first ten laws established  by the Knesset in 1949.  Once called a "cemetery without graves" today's goal is one of education. Thus schools and those training in the army all visit several times, officers up to six times.  In addition,  all dignitaries visiting Israel are required to stop here,  There are no exceptions.  Rabbi Davis tied our visit here to our theme of vision and quoted from  midrash.

Our Yad Vashem guide
While we watched the opening video of everyday life in pre-war Germany, our guide poignantly noted that those in the films had no idea their lives were nearly over.  He noted they could not imagine what was coming and that they would not be here, an important and sobering tie to vision or the lack of it.  We caught a glimpse of Einstein in one of the movie clips reminding us of his foresight in leaving, but most German Jews felt that since 56% did not vote for Hitler, they would be safe to remain.
At the display of burned books we were reminded "When books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned,"(Heinrich Heine)

We were expertly guided through the rooms highlighting racial laws (1935), Kristallnacht, the issue of refugees, then and now, the Nuremberg laws determining who was a Jew, the dilemma of staying or leaving and the establishment of death camps.

We began to concentrate on the arts. One exhibition juxtaposed a propaganda video of the camps with the reality of prisoner  drawings and visual diaries .  The lies of the propaganda films were in great contrast to the realities of the diaries, drawings and paintings.We all agreed that the hand of the artist created the greatest truth.

Many of the artist names are listed here and examples of their work can be found on the Yad Vashem site. Artists included: Rafael Uzan, Marlya Spat, Roman Kramstyk, Felix Bloch, Pavel Fanti, Max Placik, Leo Haas, Otto Ungar, Malva Schalek, Jacob Lipshutz, are Esther Lurie to name a few. It is interesting to us as artists that each of the artists who felt compelled to create the images, signed their names and chronicled their experiences and the faces of friends and family.  As fellow artists, we need to remember their names and work as well.  Many worried that this might be the only testimony of the time.  The works were smuggled out and/or buried, to be dug up later and shared with the world.

End of Yad Vashem exhibition
Charlotte Salomon, a young artist, wanted to leave Germany, but her father felt they were safe.  Charlotte escaped to France, married and made the mistake of registering. She too died in Auschwitz in 1943. During her short life she painted hundreds of works describing her life, family and ultimately the camps.

Petr Genz was a very talented 14 year old whose diaries painted Prague of the early 1940s.  By the time he died in Theresienstadt  at 16 he had furiously chronicled his life in the camps. His painting Moonscape was carried into space by Ilan Ramon, an  Israeli astronaut who died on a tragic voyage. The resulting publicity helped launch the search for the full diary. Sixty years after Petr's death, the visual diary was published. Petr's sister said when she opened the diary, she felt the presence of her brother. Such are two of the thousands of artist related stories found at Yad Vashem.

At the entrance to the art gallery we are greeted by the words of a prescient artist Gela Seksztajn, who in 1942 stated,    "as I stand on the border between life and death, I take leave.  My works I bequeath to the Jewish Museum to be built after the war."

Schechter Institute
The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies brings the message of pluralistic Judaism to communities throughout Israel. Professor Golinkin, President of School and Professor of Talmud, History and Jewish Tradition introduced us to the building, He noted the architect's signature  use of natural light which can be seen through use of skylights and copious windows. Light flowed from floor to floor echoing the goal of bringing the light of Judaism to many.  Professor Golinkin then outlined the components and services of the Schechter Institute. The details of this can be found in the literature we all received. Several books recently published  by Schechter include The Schechter Hagaddah, A New Psalm, David's Psalms, Lovell Hagaddah, and The Illuminated Torah.  We all got a chance to take a quick look and were informed these books are available at Amazon, Geffin House and through the Institute itself.

The Tali program, an enrichment program serving the secular school system, was highlighted.  The purpose of Tali is to teach Jewish peoplehood. We were reminded that there is a resurgence of interest in living Jewishly in a different way than the orthodox --the Tali program teaches "where we came from and where we are going."

Envisioning Virtual Midrash

The Virtual Midrash website contains hundreds of categories, commentaries and pictures for use from Rabbinic, Christian and Muslim sources.  The basic premise is that Biblical art is a form of midrash-filling in the gaps.

Dr Jo Milgrom began by having us write our names four ways.  She then led us in study of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham and the bracketing of Lech Lecha, the going out and going in.  We innocently followed her direction to fold our paper into 8ths, wrote and illustrated 8 emotions with lines only and shared this with our study partner.  She then instructed  us to draw with lines only a turning point in our lives. We then had a partner interpret our drawing and shared our observations.    "Midrash is to bible what imagination is to knowledge" says Eli Wiesel and Dr. Jo shared this with us. "The language of lines", says Dr. Milgrom, "is not to be intimidating. It should never be boring." She shared that new beginnings are fearful and for her of the two turning points in her life--coming to Israel and making art, it was the latter that changed her life the most. Her lively, dramatic presentation probably changed ours as well.

Envisioning  Sound Through Music
Following dinner on our own, we met at the beautiful Jerusalem Theater for a lively, hamesh concert of the Andalusian Orchestra.

This was an especially challenging, emotional day, topped only by Anat's farewell to us.  She spoke of how much she loved our time together in Minneapolis and how appreciative she was of our coming to Israel. Her grandfather , she told us, was instrumental in the building of Israel and now at 97, suffering from dementia, nonetheless  begins each morning by beading necklaces. She gifted those necklaces to the members of our Art Lab and we all hugged our Anat l'hitrahot.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Magic Unfolds

March 28, 2016 text by Fran Rosenstein, photos by Martin Arend

Today we said good-by to Jerusalem, making our way north to the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee).  On the way one could see transitions on many levels, the modernization of transportation modes, the decline of farming as urbanization takes place even in smaller villages and the reminders of shifting political borders.  It is daunting to realize that so much history is just beneath every surface here. Road signs along the way repeating the names of cities makes one realize how small and vulnerable this country really is. 

Our first stop of the day was at the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art and Heritage (AMOCA) in
Sakhnin.  As we entered the area we were greeted by the  sounds of egrets in a tree rookery outside the museum, another visual delight that resembled a bloom of large white flowers.

by Mehdi-Georges Lahlou
We were then welcomed by Belu-Simion Fainaru and Avital Bar-Shay, co-directors of this museum designed by Egyptian architect Abed Yasseen that opened in 2009.  The museum provides an opportunity for artists to show their work; however, its primary mission is to make art accessible to people, provide a place of diversity 
where ideas about cultures can be shared as well as a place to dialogue and resolve conflicts.  Belu talked about working together with the Arabic mayor of town to promote this institution, educating each other as the project has evolved, even starting with the simplest task of naming streets so people can find the museum.  A variety of artworks were displayed including paintings, photographs, inlaid wood, videography and clothing.  What was impressive was the explanation of how culture and religious restrictions impacted artists and their work.  Of particular interest were works that dealt with current controversial issues making creative use of humor to provoke thought.  Sadly, political animosities and allegiances have often challenged relationships and art exchanges in the functioning of the museum.

We stopped for falafel sandwiches in a cafĂ© sponsored by the museum, observing Arabs, mostly men, who were also frequenting this restaurant.  We next wended our way to Tz’fat, hearing about the burial sites of the Tanayim (fourth century interpreters of Midrash).  There we climbed many many steps to the home of Rabbi Noah Greenberg. 

Rabbi Greenberg proceeded to take us on a magical journey, introducing us to the shtender.  The shtender is a lectern type stand used by Jewish men in prayer and study. Together David Moss and Noah Greenberg developed the concept of integrating the many elements in Jewish practice into what appears to be a simple piece of furniture.  We soon realized simple was not the operative word. 

Rabbi Greenberg described how the shtender was divided into three sections holding religious objects for daily, weekly and yearly practice.  Then he began one by one to unveil the elements neatly hidden within.  In doing so he described how these different objects employed the seven species indigenous to Israel as design elements.  These included wheat, barley, grapes, dates, figs, pomegranates, and olives.  These three dimensional motifs were beautifully carved from one solid piece of wood.  The daily section housed tefillin, a tzdekka box and a siddur. The weekly section housed a seven branch Shabbat candle holder, a Kiddish set, a challah cutting board and knife and ritual objects for Havdalah.  It was amazing how much attention was paid to detail and how cleverly the two artists constructed each piece into an amazing whole.  The last section included objects related to holiday celebrations throughout the year.  Some of our favorites were a box for the shofar where the ram’s horn emerged from a thicket of carved ebony wood.   For Sukkhot there were containers for the etrog and a lulav, even included an extender in case the lulav was extra long, sparking jests about the shtender extender.  With Pesach fast approaching, we eagerly waited to see what would be revealed next.  We were not disappointed as Rabbi Greenberg carefully unfolded the most intricate pieces starting with a matzo container which became the base that held a seder plate.  Hanukkah held a menorah and Purim had the piece de la resistance,  a wooden tube for the megillah.  Carved on the outside was a hangman's noose for the evil Haman.  Inside the bottom half of the shtender the megillah case fastened by a magnet so Haman literally hung.  Moss and Greenberg used reverence in creating these sacred objects, but their sly sense of humor was demonstrated throughout.

Rabbi Greenberg then took us to the central part of the old city to the Caro synagogue and described its history.  We then had some free time to wander around the many shops of Tz'fat.  We finished the day having dinner in Rosh Pina and headed to Ein Gev for the evening.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Day of Reflection: Looking Inward

March 29, 2016 text  by Barbara Krupp, photos by Gary Krupp

 We arrived at night at Ein Gev Holiday Resort on the banks of Lake Kinneret.  In the darkness we could see the twinkling lights of Tiberius across a broad expanse of  blackness; it wasn't until we awoke in the morning that we became aware of the vast sacred waters of the Sea of Galilee.

This day was one of reflection, of connecting to the Land of Israel by connecting to our bodies, our souls, our senses.  We drove from Ein Gev through fertile orchards, tree farms, cattle grazing in the fields strewn with volcanic boulders up into the Golan Heights.  Nathan, our Israeli guide, talked to us about the border issues associated with this area from 1948 through the present.  We were driving in the area that was Syria before the 1967 war.  Ein Gev was the Northern most kibbutz in Israel before 1967 and suffered many attacks.  In 1973, there was fierce fighting again in this area and Nathan fought in battles near Ein Gev where many of his comrades lost their lives.

Our first stop was the Artist village of Aniam where we were welcomed by our guide and teacher Yaron Ronen.  He led us to his studio where he teaches Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Shiatsu and Jewish Meditation and where we were blessed to spend two hours of learning with him.  Yaron embodies calm and grace.  He led us through Tai Chi exercises, taught us how to perform a shiatsu massage on our partner, and guided us through a form of Jewish meditation.  It was really the first opportunity (besides our lovely Shabbat) that we were able to move into stillness and truly reflect on our togetherness as a group and our journey through Israel.

After our time with him, Yaron took us on a tour of the artist village.  He told us that the village was built ten years ago by a few artists who lived in the Moshav nearby. Right now it has seventeen galleries including jewelry, ceramics, ballet, and textiles.  

We met Joel, a jeweler from New York, who demonstrated how to melt sliver and met Osna, a ceramicist from Israel, who employs women from the Moshav to help make her many ceramic pieces.  After visiting the galleries and doing a bit of shopping, we had a delicious lunch at Yaeli Cafe.

Not far from Aniam, is the city of Katzrin, an industrial area in the Golan that houses a winery, a brewery and an olive oil factory.  We toured the Golan Heights Winery, led by a delightful guide named Shalom.  He told us that this area of Israel has had vineyards for the past 1500 years - he showed us a relief decorated with grape vines from the Byzantine period (4th - 7th C.E.).  The Golan Heights Winery was started in 1983 and is a cooperative owned by eight vineyards in the area.  The winery produces 50,000 bottles of wine daily.  It is Kosher wine so all the workers there are Orthodox men.  Our tour ended with a lively wine tasting of three wines.  Rabbi Davis led us in blessings over the first glass, and a special blessing over the second glass as well!

photo by Josh Awend

We ended the day by gathering on the beach of Lake Kinneret at sunset to read poetry.  With the sounds of the wind blowing and the waves churning competing with us, we read poems by Israeli poets.  We shared our reflections on the poems while watching the sun set over Tiberius across the lake.  It was a truly sacred moment, and we were led in a prayer by Rabbi Davis that is recited upon seeing a beautiful sight in Nature:  Blessed are you, Adonai our G-D, Ruler of the Universe, who makes the wonders of Creation.