Mission Journal - Monday July 24th

Monday July 24th

We arrived at the new Ben Gurion International Airport at 1:30. The new terminal is huge and very well done. This was my first trip to Israel since 1999 and I was amazed at the difference. Our group convened a little after 2pm. We were met by representatives of the Masorti Travel Bureau, who organized the trip with our leader Rabbi Neal Zuckerman and Rabbi Jan Kaufman of the Rabbinical Assembly. Outside the arrival area, we were met by other rabbis joining the mission and staff of Masorti, our guard, and our driver.

With no time to lose (three days is a very short amount of time to do a lot—even in a small country like Israel), we headed North on Highway 6 (Israel’s new, ultra-modern toll road).

On the way, we saw the security barrier. It undulated closer and farther away from us as the Green Line approached the highway and depending on the nature of the cities. Tukarem is at the narrowest point of Israel (8-9 miles from Green Line to Mediteranean Sea. At that point, the security barrier was a 100 feet from the highway and built as a wall. Immediately passed the town, it pulled back from the highway and once more became a fence.

Here is a sketch I made:

We arrived at Givat Havivah around 4pm. Givat Havivah was built as the educational center of Hashomer Hatzair youth movement (affiliated with Kibbutz Artzi Federation) but is now used by a variety of educational groups and as a training center for soldiers who are new immigrants or need remedial training before the army.

The Noam Youth Movement (Masorti’s youth arm) was finishing staff week of their camp. Additionally, Rabbis of Masorti kehillot (congregations) were holding a retreat there that day.

A map of Masorti kehillot from their website shows a clumping of kehillot in the North of Israel.

As soon as I walked in, I got a big hug from Rabbi Barry Schlesinger of Moreshet Avraham Congregation in East Talpiot. We studied together when I attended Machon Schechter for my fourth year of JTS Rabbinical School.

Ze'ev, the head of Noam, and his staff hosted us for a discussion about Noam and the matzav (situation). The Noam camp expected around 500 campers plus staff (mostly at Givat Havivah but some at another location). The educational targets included campers and the counselors. They estimated around 30% of participants have Anglo families (parents grew up in English-speaking countries), but that 95% are Israeli-born.

After taking in additional campers, they were going to have more than 50 campers relocated from the North. The camp experience would allow them to get out of bomb shelters and have fun. Still they expected the campers to be torn between their safe time at camp and their families’ in danger in the North. Their camp consisted of one week or three week programs. A selection of their staff talked to us about their reasons for working at camp and relationship to the Matzav (family in North or Army, hosting relocated families, attending University in Haifa, etc.) The camp also has a special needs component—which is a parallel of Ramah’s Tikvah program.

That evening, we went to Jerusalem. At 7:15pm, we stopped at the Goldstein Youth Village to meet with participants on Ramah Seminar (from Ramah Wisconsin and California). Then we checked in to Sheraton, and went to the Anna Ticho house for dinner with presentations from military analyst Ilan Ben Ishai and the Masorti movement.

After dinner, there was a heated discussion about traveling to the North while it was under attack. We decided to postpone a final decision until the following morning when we could get up-to-the-minute security information from the Jewish Agency. Our main stop was intended to be Kiryat Bialik near Haifa. Other planned stops were cancelled. The security issues was not when we made a stop: at each place we would be able to meet in bomb shelters. Instead, the concern was the time spent driving up North. In the bus, we would not be able to make it to a shelter within the two minute window before missles fell.

We arrived to our rooms exhausted and went to sleep for a few hours before our trip North the next day.

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