By: Rabbi Jay Siegel
For ten days young adults from Beit T’Shuvah , JACS, people looking for a sober Israel experience, and Israelis came together to share what was nothing less than life changing. Coming from all over the United States, Canada, and Israel, we set out to have a spiritual, physical, and emotional experience. No one could have imagined on our first day how we would all bond as a group, and how each person would change their perspective of how they connection with Israel, God, themselves, and others.
We arrived in Israel in the late afternoon and immediately we drove north to the holy city of Z’fat. We spent the next few days getting to know each other and exploring the ancient history and spiritual nature of Z’fat. On Shabbat evening some experienced services with the locals, and came back glowing from the singing and dancing. Shabbat morning we had a wonderful discussion about spiritually and religion and how it works in peoples lives. Most people experienced Z’fat as a spiritual place and felt an immediate connection!
After Shabbat we made our way to Tiberias, where we spent the next day and a half exploring, hiking, and having fun. Back on the bus we visited an Israeli drug and alcohol treatment center where we were able to hear from two Israelis our own stories. Go figure, addiction and recovery know no boarders. True to the pace of the trip we found ourselves in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. We had a moment of reflection and discussion at Rabin Square. People in our group did not realize how much this would touch them. Seeing a place where so much hope was, is, and, unfortunately, can be shattered was mind-blowing for some. In contrast to that heavy moment we stayed the night in Bat Yam, a wonderful beach community with clubs, restaurants, and coffee shops lighting up the beach life. Some people decided to have an evening A.A. meeting on the beach. I wonder if it was a first.
The next morning we met up with four Israelis who joined us for the remainder of our trip. Each one brought a new perspective and dynamic to the group. We spent the morning on the beach and then off to Tel Aviv, Independence Hall, and shopping around Sheinkin Street. After this brief stay in Tel Aviv, we rode south to a Bedouin camp. We rode donkeys, learned about Bedouin culture, and slept in tent, a real experience for some of our more pampered folks.
The next morning we climbed to the top of Masada. There we learned of the ancient and awesome history of that sacred site. We quickly went to the Dead Sea were folks bathed in mud and salt water, and after we dipped in a pool at Ein Gedi. We left just in time to make it to a beautiful dusk view of Jerusalem from Mt. Scopus. There we said a prayer and came together as a community to simply take in the awesome moment.
A day trip from Jerusalem brought some of us to Returno, an Israeli drug and alcohol treatment community. We heard stories from patients and the founder told us what prompted him to start this international program. One of our Israeli friends shared her experience of her own personal darkness, and that again brought a unity to our group. When we returned to Jerusalem we went right to the Kotel, the Western Wall. For many in our group this was the first time they had seen the Kotel. It was a moment I know moved them and all around them.
We then made it to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, Mt. Herzl, the military cemetery, and then brought Shabbat in at the Kotel. This was a moving and hard day for most of us. The sadness and joy, the destruction and recreation, and the exhaustion and zeal all played part in, what I would call, the most moving day of the trip. The next day was Shabbat where we wrapped up all our experiences and had a tour of the Kotel tunnel. Then we were off to the airport for an early Sunday flight.
In short, as you can see, we packed in the physical and the spiritual with the past and the future. It was truly a trip that incorporated everything one could have imagined. Friends were made and experiences were had. It was truly a trip that none will forget. I know all would do it again in a heart beat.
*To see the photos of the trip go to Beit T’Shuvah’s Flickr site.