Birthright Trip to Israel Blog

Written By Rabbi Yossi Lew

Blog II: Tzfat, Tiberius, Kineret-the Sea of Galilee, & the Syrian border on the Golan Heights

Our journey through Israel continued on Friday and then on Sunday. On Friday, we visited the holy city of Tzfat. This is a very ancient city – and it looks it. It sits very high on top of a mountain. The poor weather continued on Friday, and a huge, thick cloud covered the entire city. It was basically impossible to fulfil my promise to take more pictures.


In Tzfat, the boys visited the men’s Mikveh (ritual bath) built by the “Arizal”, one of the greatest Kabbalists in the history of the Jewish people. His made his Mikveh inside a cave, where fresh water was flowing. This water is still flowing the mountain, and that pure water is FREEZING! Of our 16 boys, 15 followed me into the frigid water… We continued from there to the tomb of this great man, just across the mountain.


In the meantime, the women went for a special visit to a women’s Mikveh and a talk about the greatness of the woman.


Our Shabbos was spent in the holy city of Tiberius. We had the opportunity to teach and educate about the importance and beauty of Shabbos. We also had the opportunity to answer many questions these students have about Judaism. On a personal note, our daughter, Leah, who is studying in Jerusalem, came to spend Shabbos with me. Now that was a treat!


The weather has cleared up, and my luggage finally arrived as well, as Sunday appeared. We spent a large portion of the day on the most beautiful Golan Heights.


Here are a couple of pictures taken this morning. Seeing these pictures, we can well understand why Israel must have this part of its land, for safety and strategic purposes:


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Notice the fields at the shores of the Kineret, the Sea of Galilee.


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Israel looks great…


We later visited a synagogue that was built during Talmudic times, and was destroyed in the eighth century by an earthquake. Israel is painstakingly rebuilding this synagogue now, very close to the Syrian border on the Golan Heights. While we were visiting there, we clearly heard the gunfire of Israel, destroying five Hezbollah terrorists over the border.


The sunlight was too strong to get a good shot. Here is a picture I took of this synagogue, followed by a picture of the pillars which will find their place in there on of these days.


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We later visited a major olive oil press. Here they do not merely make olive oil. With incredible creative ingenuity, they have developed cleaning elements, and even cosmetic products, from crushed and wasted olives!


Tomorrow we head to Tel-Aviv for the day, and will spend the night in the Kibbutz. From there, we travel to the south, to include Masada and the Dead Sea. We will be back in Jerusalem on Wednesday night. I do not know whether I will have internet access until we arrive in Jerusalem.


I will do my best to keep you up to date. Be well and all the best. -RYL



First Days in Israel: North of Israel-Golan Heights, Banays Nature Trails, and Lebanon & Syrian Border

I have been in Israel since Wednesday, and it has been miserable! It is freezing cold in the North of Israel, and the day we went to tour the Golan Heights close to the Lebanon border, it rained almost all day. We were soaked to the skin!


And so, it was dark, overcast, foggy, gloomy and soaking day - yet, here in Israel, they are motivated to even dance and sing, realizing the great miracle and blessing of rain! The Israelis were really excited about all this rain, despite being really soaked. They appreciate miracles there...


Today we went to visit the Banays nature trail, built around the Banyas stream. As a result of the rain, however, the stream was a like a roaring raging river (see pictures).






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From the very muddy and difficult trip, we went on a jeep to the border of Lebanon and Syrian. It was sobering to think what these countries were doing to Israel before the Six Day War, and how miraculous it is for the Jewish people to have it now.


My phone died in the middle of the day, so I only have a limited amount of pics.


Tomorrow we head for a visit to the holy city of Tzfat for an amazing day. Will send lots of pictures from there.


Oh, another incident of misery happened with me: my luggage was lost by the airline, and, as of this email, the airline knows nothing. I have had to purchase more clothing. That was fun!


With all that, though, we are all in high spirits, and are going to have a great Shabbos.



Blog III: Jerusalem- The Old City, the Gravesite of King David and the Western Wall

Today we toured the old city of Jerusalem. This part of the city is surrounded with a wall, that, according to Jewish tradition, has been walled since the days of Joshua, who brought the Jewish people into Israel. It is simply a thing of awe to recognize this. When a city possesses a wall, it means that everyone inside it is united in a real way. Interestingly, this coming Friday is a national fast day (from dawn till nightfall), commemorating the time when this very wall was surrounded by the enemies of the Jewish people, which led to the destruction of both Temples...


Please see the picture, and it should be obvious to see five or six different types of stone and rocks. This is because the wall continued to be built after it was destroyed. The final version of stone that stands as the wall today is approximately 450 years old, constructed during the Ottoman Empire. Present in the layers of visible stone here, though, is parts of this wall that is over two thousand years old!


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After entering the Old City we toured its streets. We visited the gravesite of King David. Yup, that King David... The thought of this boggles the mind! We walked for a while through the very ancient streets of our eternal capital. Some of these streets are over three-thousand years old - literally! We stood outside a wall build during the times of Isaiah the prophet in order to protect the city from king Sanneherib of Assyria! This construction is mentioned in the book of Isaiah chapter 22, and elsewhere. See here for more information:


We then made our way to the Western Wall. Some of the participating Young Adults had never had a Bar and Bat Mitzvah. I led the ceremony for these seven students, and we then went to the Wall. We tied Tefillin on all the boys, and we all had our time to pray at Judaism's holiest of sites.


Here are some pictures taken with my phone late this afternoon:


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We reluctantly said farewell to Jerusalem this evening, and we headed for Tel Aviv. The participants went to party on the beach, and I had the great thrill of meeting our very own Monica Potashnik, who is currently visiting Israel. She also brought, to my delight, her mother-in-law, Raz's mothers, and Roz's sister, Nataly. It was so wonderful to have a piece of Chabad of Peachtree City right here, in Israel!





Blog II: "Yad Vashem" and Mount Hertzel-the National Cemetery of the State of Israel

Today was a real emotional day for all of us. We visited "Yad Vashem" in the morning. This is Israel's Holocaust Memorial, and the world's headquarters for Holocaust studies and information.


We listened to a Holocaust survivor's firsthand description of her story. This is a woman who was torn from her mother at five. She has no idea what her parents, or her siblings, looked like. They were all gone. Kind people took her under her under their wing, and she is now here, with generations of Jewish children.


We then visited the museum, which provides a detailed picture of the events. It really shook the participants up.


Here is an actual sign which used to hang at the train station of the death camp, Treblinka. It hangs at Yad Vashem today


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After lunch, we visited Mount Hertzel, the National Cemetery of the state of Israel. We paid our respects to Hertzel, Begin, Shamir, Rabin, and others. We visited the memorial for all those civilians murdered in terrorist acts. We then spent time at the graves of two American boys, in their twenties, who took bullets and were killed, consequently saving others at the same time.


These are the true heroes.


Newly recruited Israeli soldiers at a ceremony in front of Hertzel's grave, on a foggy and rainy evening. (see photo below)


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Tomorrow we go to the Western Wall to pray, and we visit the Old City of Jerusalem. And then it's off to Tel Aviv. 





First Five Days in Israel: Tiberias, Arbel Mountain, Tzfat, Golan Heights, Syria, the Border of Lebanon, and Jerusalem

Dear Friends of Chabad of Peachtree City,


We have been in Israel for five days already, first three in the Tiberias and the North, and yesterday, Friday, we arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Shabbos. We had some Internet issues, so please forgive the delay.


Here is a birds eye view of the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, which is a fresh water lake, supplying most of Israel's fresh water. This lake, mentioned in the Torah, could be seen from all over the hotel we were at.




On Wednesday, the seventh day of Chanukah, we hiked up (and down - ouch!) the very difficult Arbel Mountain. There are natural caves on this mountain, in which the Hasmonian family were hiding from the Greeks. This family eventually became the "Macabees" who defeated the Greeks and made their way to the Holy Temple and facilitated the miracle of Chanukah.


It is unbelievable to have had the amazing privilege of, after twenty-two hundred years, walking in the footsteps of these heroes DURING CHANUKAH!!


Here are two pictures from this experience taken with my phone:






Later that day we visited the holy city of Tzfat. There is so much there, but I only took pictures of the amazing candle factory. In these two pictures, you can see the story of David and Goliath made from wax, as well as Noah's ark. We use our Havdalah candle which we purchased in this store.






On Thursday, we took a jeep ride to a spot which overlooks the Golan Heights and Syria. It is amazing to see how close these archenemies of the State of Israel are. To think how people in Israel continue to live like this is truly inspiring.


Here is a picture looking towards Syria. On the right far side is Mount Chermon (mentioned in the Torah), the closest to Syria, and Israel's only ski resort (it snowed on that very day!). Past that, to the left, is Syria.




Later we visited the most northern part of Israel, on the border of Lebanon. Our visit was to Kibbutz "Misgav Am", purchased and settled before 1948, when Israel was declared a state. This Kibbutz, and its people, are in direct target from the Hizbollah terrorists. Because this Kibbutz is on a hilltop, it is easier to see what terrorist activity could be brewing. In 2006, they did, indeed, attempt to infiltrate this Kibbutz. It was made sure these people would never try this again...


In this picture, the fence between the countries can be see. On the right is a very tall white pole, on which is attached a massive lamp and cameras.




On Friday we arrived in Jerusalem. This place is so alive, all in preparation for the Shabbos. Later in the afternoon, most of the city shuts down. It is so surreal.


Undoubtedly, the greatest and most important time was Friday night at the Western Wall. We prayed and danced, in the presence of thousands of others from every walk of life, from every religion and every color. Truly and amazing experience.


On Shabbos day, we had a question and answer session, and then on Saturday night we began the difficult task of preparing the students to visit Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial. The lighten the mood, we visited the Ben Yehudah pedestrian mall, where I believe we purchased half of Israel...


Have a great week and all the best. - RYL





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