Journey’s Trip to Israel 2023

by | Mar 30, 2023 | Trending News

I ran into my dear friend Amy Lefcoe last spring at the Simon Family JCC and asked her, “So, when are we going back to Israel?”

“Hmmm, let me think about that,” Amy replied.

As always, Amy worked her magic and created what would fast become one of my most memorable adventures. Amy gathered an eclectic group of 18 (Chai) Jewish ladies—some had been to Israel before and for others this would be their first trip to the Holy Land. The “Journey’s Trip to Israel” group consisted of a mix of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish women from Tidewater as well as six Russian American women from Baltimore. I knew this diversity would bring a special richness to our group.

The Itinerary was a gem consisting of visits to some of Israel’s most holy locations, as well as popular historic areas. The trip would entail a balance between many scholarly sessions, historic sightseeing events, as well as an immersion into the local communities and people with many shared activities, and meals among the Israel people. As an added blessing, we had perfect weather every day! What a hug from G-d!

We hit the ground running as soon as we landed in Tel Aviv. Our bus followed the Mediterranean Sea north to sunny Caesarea, then due west to the Setai Kineret Spa Hotel in Tiberias where we spent the night. We were in awe of the gorgeous sunset over Lake Kinneret and excited about the special spa treatments some of us signed up for. The next day we enjoyed the scenic view as we made our way to the Old City of Tzfat. In Tzfat we shopped in the beautiful galleries and made our own mezuzah using a fused glass technique, under the direction of Kathleen Wasserman, a local artist/teacher.

The group shared a most impactful morning as we prayed at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on the mountaintop in Meron. Their scholarly and spiritual contributions to mystical Judaism are world renown, as well as extremely uplifting. I was grateful to be able to honor these great sages.

The next morning began with a tour of the Old City in Jerusalem, on our way to author Sara Yoheved Rigler’s beautiful home. The narrow streets of the Old City never change, and the warmth of the yellow Jerusalem buildings and stone roads always envelop me with awe and wonder of a city that has sustained a culture and people for millennia. We read her book, G-d Winked, and it was a rare opportunity to listen to her talk about the Jewish Soul and her most recent book, I’ve Been Here Before.

From Jerusalem, we took several jaunts. We visited Shiloh, the site of the tabernacle prior to the building of the 1st temple in Jerusalem. The ancient mountaintop fortress of Masada, which is filled with amazing history and gorgeous views of the Judean Desert, was another destination. We also had fun floating and swimming in the Dead Sea. The laughter and smiles were infectious. Of course, we had a riot of a time riding camels!

One of the most moving experiences for me occurred at our visit to our matriarch Rachel’s tomb. The high security walls and barbed wire on both sides of the road made this Jewish American traveler a bit nervous, but our Israeli Security was tight, and I felt safe. After finding just the right spot in the women’s section, we poured out our hearts in prayer. I was taken by surprise by how many women were uncontrollably crying, as well as myself.

Bringing in Shabbat by lighting the Shabbos candles together in the Aish haTorah building, which overlooks the Kotel, was a happy and special moment for all of us. Watching the setting sun reflect off the gold dome seemed surreal as we ate another delicious meal and shared many stories.

We made our way to the Kotel. Hearing the chanting of Hebrew prayers by the Western Wall and having the opportunity to place our own prayers into the wall, reminded us of who we are and our special relationship with Hashem.

Throughout the week, we heard from so many wonderful and inspiring rabbis, rebbetzins, historians, and tour guides. They taught us valuable Talmudic concepts that we can assimilate back into our lives to help us become better Jewish women and thereby be a blessing to our communities.

The sisterhood we shared is truly a solid foundation that I know we will continue to build upon. I know that I speak for the group thanking Amy Lefcoe for being our shining star, lighting the way as we navigate our personal relationship with Hashem and providing opportunities for spiritual growth and an amazing trip to Israel!

“So, I have to ask again, when are we going back to Israel?” Am Yisrael Chai!!

Marilyn G. Johns