Honeymoon Israel: Ringing in Shabbat in Tel Aviv

Twenty couples from the Valley are currently in Israel as part of Honeymoon Israel, a trip to Israel for couples that is being piloted in the Greater Phoenix Jewish Community by Valley Beit Midrash. Larry Hirsch, one of the participants, is sharing his experiences from the trip as a guest blogger. Here is his second post.

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Day 1 and Day 2 of the inaugural Honeymoon Israel seem to have merged into one long day starting with a 6 a.m. flight from Phoenix and ending with a fantastic Shabbat Friday evening in Tel Aviv.

Not going to sugarcoat this one, getting here stinks. Flew from Phoenix to Newark on a 6 a.m. flight, meaning a 3 a.m. wake-up call. Flight to Tel Aviv was delayed almost 2 hours due to thunderstorms along the northern corridor of the transatlantic crossing route we had been assigned.  After sitting on the tarmac for nearly 2 hours, we were finally on our way for the 10-hour flight.

After having slept for no more than 20 minutes the entire flight, we arrived in Tel Aviv at 11 a.m. and the Honeymoon Israel team was there to greet us.  After a slight personal hiccup at Passport Control (yes I took a picture, yes I was confronted about having done so, yes I was questioned and yes the picture is now erased), we headed out to the luxury coach waiting to take us into Tel Aviv. Friday afternoon traffic in Tel Aviv was pretty bad – remember the work week in Israel is Sunday-Thursday so there are many folks heading into the city before the start of Shabbat.

After having traveled since 6 a.m. Phoenix time the morning before, Avi Rubel (one of the founders of Honeymoon Israel) and Raz (our tour guide) wanted to make sure none of us hit the wall and went straight to sleep, so we toured the oldest part of Tel Aviv, walked through some markets, learned about some of the architecture and eventually snuck off to find shwarma – which we did.  And yes, it was good.

View from hotel in Tel Aviv.

View from hotel in Tel Aviv.

Finally a few hours to relax and settle into our fantastic hotel – this is not Birthright.  We are staying at the Isrotel Royal Beach on the Mediterranean – and it is simply sublime.  At 7 p.m., it was time to bring in Shabbat with Rav Shmuly.  All 40 of us, Avi, Raz and Shumuly walked to a wonderful vantage point within a small part on the Mediterranean and Shmuly lead a mini-Shabbat service as the sun was setting over the Med and the lights of Tel Aviv were beginning to twinkle.  It was a feeling i will never forget – my first Shabbat in Israel in an idyllic setting with a dynamic rabbinical and spiritual leader and 38 new friends from Phoenix.  It was a moment where I was proud of being Jewish, proud of Israel, and proud of our hometown. Just a really moving and special way to ring in Shabbat.

This was followed by a spectacular Shabbat dinner celebration at the Royal Beach.  The Honeymoon Israel team went all-out on our first Shabbat dinner in the Holy Land.  Local wines, hummus, cucumber salad, mushrooms, fresh vegetables, lamb, chicken, goose, fresh Israeli fish, more local wines and a sampling of deserts.  The food was fantastic and the company was even better as we got to know the people at our table rather well throughout the evening.  All of us from different backgrounds – but all of us now connected in a very special way through a very special experience.  Bedtime was 10 p.m. and falling asleep was no problem – in fact, a little birdie told me I fell asleep within 5 minutes with all the lights and TV still on.

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Shabbat dinner in Tel Aviv.

Day 3 now begins, and we have the option of attending a local synagogue for morning Shabbat services and then it is off to the old port of Jaffa for lunch and some shopping before closing Shabbat with a dinner with young Israeli couples.  The journey has just begun – and already it is very special.

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