From Tuscany to Israel, this group of 16 “jews” just can’t get enough of each other. And only after 11 drafts of a proposed itinerary did we get this journey absolutely perfect. Truly, just being together is perfection but to experience Amnation’s holy land as we did non-stop for 10 days was nothing short of spectacular. It was a well curated culinary extravaganza being hosted, wined and dined by the best chefs, butchers, wineries and markets from Tel Aviv to the Galilean farm of Erez Komarovksy to Jerusalem ‘s Ezra Kedem’s studio kitchen overlooking the Judean hills with the important sites thrown in for good measure. It’s been 16 years since I visited Israel to celebrate our son’s Bar Mitzvah on Masada but that was a lifetime ago in Israel speak.
Whether it was our first time to Israel or a frequent visitor, it didn’t matter in this group because we were together experiencing it all like a virgin. Every morning we greeted each other on the bus with smiles on our faces ready to conquer the day and every
evening we ended the night completely satiated with hugs and kisses in anticipation of tomorrow. But it didn’t take us long to realize that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Israel is a country trying to survive in a hostile environment while desperately hoping for peace. It’s a complicated narrative and one that is hard to understand when you meet the beautiful people we met in this vibrant country especially on the day we trained with the Israel Defense Forces.
Yup that’s right. We traveled to the Galilee where for 3 hours, we were put to the test of “basic training” and it certainly kicked our butts with scrapes and bruises to prove it. Rappelling off the side of the building was one thing but saving Private Ryan..oops I mean Nancy B…was the main mission. We couldn’t even manage to get into a U formation when Jeff commanded but we certainly learned the value of respect and discipline these soldiers have in order to protect their country and innocent civilians more that anything else. As fun and challenging as it was to participate in these exercises, this experience was impactful and continued to occupy my thoughts as we were honored to be invited to the State of Israel’s official ceremony of the Holocaust Memorial and Remembrance day at Yad V’Shem that same evening. A powerful reminder that we will never forget and to make sure it never happens again. With the pulse of Israel so palpable, one can feel the people’s commitment to making the country safe to live and work. We walked through the Jaffa gate, paid a visit to the church of the Holy Sepulcher, and of course brought in Shabbat at the Western Wall where we prayed, held hands, and expressed gratitude for each other and for our next grand meal at Ramah’s kitchen nestled in the midst of a garden nursery with panoramic views of the countryside.
We even delighted in a helicopter ride from the Golan Heights to Jerusalem where we saw again how small this country remains. We had to fit it all in and no trip to Israel would be complete without a hike up Masada (well needed exercise) where the siege by the Romans chronicled by Flavius Josephus led to the mass suicide of the resident family of the Masada fortress. As enthusiastically recounted by our guide Asher, it remains a complicated and controversial event in Jewish history but it was a warning against extremism and the refusal to compromise which brings us to the Dead Sea and the many negotiations we as a group encountered on the bus about how long we needed to float. Our schedule was jammed packed. No time for morning rituals. No time for vacation sex and more importantly our shopping time was compromised. But I wouldn’t have traded one 3-hour tour for another as this was one well executed itinerary by our very own Israeli Amnon and facilitator Asher who exudes passion for life and takes his profession to the highest level. His knowledge base on everything is beyond impressive and his enthusiasm is contagious. We immersed ourselves into this country the size of New Jersey and I believe we all feel the difference between a traveler and a pilgrim. A traveler let’s the country travel through them while a pilgrim travels though the country. We, the 13th tribe of Aspenites, were travelers as we connected deeply with the Israelites and to their land. This trip will be etched in my mind forever along with the humus, the pita, the kabobs, the eggplant, the tomatoes, the beef, the shrimp, the spices, the exotic delicacies,the chocolate rugala, and the belly dancer!
Bada Bing Bada Boom.