Honeymoon Israel: Packed itinerary and Shabbat in Jerusalem

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 final post.

June 5

Our final night in Jerusalem was spent having Kabbalat Shabbat at a park overlooking the hills of Jerusalem with Rabbi Shmuly, planned guest Avraham Infeld and surprise guest Rabbi Jeremy Schnieder of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale.

This was followed by Shabbat dinner at the Dan Panorama Jerusalem and an hour with Avraham Infeld – who was, easily, the single best speaker I have ever heard on Judaism and Israel.

Now tracking backward, the last few days have included the following: touring the Machaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem and then cooking lunch with a local chef; meeting Ketubah artist David Moss and creating our own works of art; Western Wall tunnels; Masada; floating and cocktails at the Dead Sea; a lecture by professor Reuven Hazan regarding the Israeli political system and the differences from American-style democracy; touring the Jewish Quarter of the Old City; visiting Yad Vashem; learning about the Druse people on Mount Carmel outside Haifa and eating Druse cuisine in a home overlooking the Haifa port and surroundings; visiting Majd al Krum, an Arab village in Israel and meeting with high school kids and families to get their views on being an Arab living within the Jewish State; exploring Tzfat and having a chance to meet with Kabbalah artist David Friedman; kayaking down the Jordan River; driving to the top of Mount Bental and looking down on the Syrian conflict; and dining in a mango orchard in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee. And by the way, there is a plenty that has been left off this list.

The trip has been an experience of a lifetime. It has been awesome and tiring and special and thought-provoking. It has been, as the slogan for Honeymoon Israel suggests, all about the journey.

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Honeymoon Israel: Tikkun olam project and headed north

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 third post.

June 1

Time is limited, but that is only because Honeymoon Israel has been such a fantastic morning-to-evening experience thus far.  Yesterday we went to the Jaffa Institute in south Tel Aviv and helped pack boxes for economically challenged families.  A very eye-opening experience to learn about the struggles of so many immigrants to Israel – and the Jaffa Institute is committed to helping this disadvantaged part of the city, whether they assist are Jewish or not.  I highly recommend that readers learn more about this agency.

The evening prior to that we had dinner with members of a congregation in Tel Aviv and the experience was, well, very Israeli as the service at the restaurant was more like a negotiation.  Yesterday we took a long trip up to the North and we now find ourselves in the Golan Heights, Kfar Blum to the be exact.  In a few minutes, we are off to Tsfat and then kayaking down the Jordan River.

More to come in a longer blog post later….will catch up the readers on Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the Old City of Jaffa and today’s activities as well. Off to tour the kibbutz……


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.


Honeymoon Israel: On their way

Twenty couples from the Valley are headed to Israel today through 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, will be a guest blogger, sharing his experiences from the trip. Here is his first post.

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The monitor in the airplane shows the route to Israel.

Honeymoon Israel has officially commenced, albeit quite early.  The gang all arrived at Sky Harbor for our 6 a.m. flight – although one of the couples forgot their passports and had to head back home to retrieve them; there has been no disclosure as to the guilty couple, it is the first secret of Honeymoon Israel.  However, all 20 of us, Shmuly and Erin are all on the plane and we are on the way to the armpit of America, that being picturesque Newark, New Jersey.  Thereafter, we have a 2.5 hour layover before boarding the 10-hour flight to Tel Aviv.

My wife and I are both excited and admittedly, slightly nervous.  Leaving family and our beloved dog behind is always unsettling and so too is going on a trip with 38 other people who we don’t yet know.  The nerves will soon be replaced with intrigue and familiarity.  Today is going to be a long day to say the least, but once we step foot on Israeli soil at Ben Gurion it will undoubtedly be worth the 18 hours of travel time.  We are looking forward to 10 days of learning and have no doubt this will be an experience of a lifetime.

More to come from Israel.