In Odessa, Winter Is Coming

maxresdefaultBy: Marina Moldavanskaya
Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Coordinator

The whole city of Odessa is preparing for the coming winter. Although winter is always a challenging time in the region, the current situation in Ukraine is creating the need for increased preparations across the entire population. The Ukrainian government has stated that the gas supply this winter will be significantly reduced as compared to previous years. In addition, local authorities announced that there will be upcoming power cut-offs across the nations for hours in different regions throughout the region.

Because of this, the whole population of Odessa is working to insulate their homes and prepare for the cold weather ahead. Most families are working to repair cracks and seal windows and doors. In addition, residents are trying to purchase extra devices for heating and hot water. Of course, this challenge will also affect the many Jewish organizations in Odessa. Not having constant electricity will cause challenges with daily function of programs across all organizations. Many organizations are desperately trying to buy generators in order to have constant electricity available; however, purchasing the generators and the necessary fuel will be very expensive.

Despite all these difficulties, Odessans continue to be optimistic. All programs and organizations continue to operate and provide exciting Jewish programming. Winter is not only the time of cold temperatures, but, more importantly, it is also the time of Chanukah and our winter camps. Everybody in the community has already started preparing for large-scale celebration of Chanukah – typically, on each of the eight days, several events are held. Now, we all must dress warmly and get ready to celebrate Chanukah!

To make a truly global impact, The Associated works in conjunction with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to help account for the needs this winter and all year round. The funds received through the Annual Campaign help promote education, social services, arts and culture, leadership, volunteerism and community development initiative in Odessa.

I am a Mother of a Combat Soldier

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By Amian Kelemer (as read at Baltimore’s Gathering for Solidarity on July 21, 2014)

I am a lot of things.

Daughter, sister, wife, mother.

Teacher, colleague, friend…

The one thing I am that has changed me at my core more than almost anything else is being a soldier mom. And once you are a soldier mom, you are always a soldier mom.

Being the mother of a combat soldier means transformation.

It means losing your breath every time you hear about an incident in Israel. It means unexpected tears flowing from your eyes every time the prayer for the soldiers is recited in synagogue. It means sleeplessness, restlessness, bleary-eyed watching the clock for missions to finish. It means heart racing when the phone rings.

When our oldest daughter enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces as a combat soldier in the Karakal unit, it changed me forever.

When a soldier finishes basic training and is ready to start active duty, she receives a TaNaCH (Bible) and a gun. I had the privilege of surprising my daughter by attending this special swearing in ceremony. My daughter accepted her gun and her TaNaCH wearing my father (Alav HaShalom’s) marine corps insignia. Like every marine, he fought for our home, and like every Israeli soldier, she protects our homeland.

In Risa’s ceremony, just like in every other swearing in ceremony for every unit, the energized crowd listens as an Army Rabbi recites from the book of Joshua:

Chazak V’Amatz! Be strong and courageous for it is you who will cause this people to inherit the land that I have sworn to their fathers to give them. … Behold I have commanded you: ‘Be strong and courageous.’ Do not fear and do not lose resolve for the Lord Your G-d is with you wherever you will go.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, each soldier shouts “Ani Nishba’at” (“I swear”). That moment is full of tingling feelings and transformation. Our teenagers transform into soldiers and our mothers transform to soldier moms.

Not many American moms see their daughters swear allegiance on a Bible and a gun, let alone, lug grenade launchers that are bigger than they are. I have the honor and the sheer terror of being a soldier mom. When our daughter described looking down and seeing that she had the infrared light of a sniper’s rifle locked on her chest or told us about being alone in the middle of the night and guarding a munitions depot, my heart stopped. But soldier moms continue on. They pray and encourage – and they do not say, “Stop what you are doing and come home right now.” Even though you know that your child may never come home.

Our daughter lives her ideals and her ideals belong to each of us. She wants us to know that wherever your home may be, Israel is your homeland. She wants to ensure that she has done her part in securing our Jewish future.IMG_1800

She is taking this responsibility for all of us and we are all responsible for all of the young adults who have taken on this task.

I once learned this lesson from a young soldier. My friend invited me to pray at her synagogue in a potentially dangerous area. While she and her children walked there every Shabbat, I was scared and we requested a livui. A soldier guards from the front and a soldier brings up the rear. My friend’s children skipped ahead because the way was familiar to them and they usually walked without guards. The soldier called to me and said, “Your children must not walk past the guard in the front.” My reply was, “They are not my children.” And, what he responded will echo in me forever: “They are all our children.”

And indeed they are. We are all forever changed because we are all the parents of all of these children who have all become soldiers.

We are also soldiers in our own way – giving with every ounce of strength we have. We are the Jewish community and we support each other – we are all the parents of all of our children.

I am a soldier mom. But I know you are too. I know you are hoping and praying for the long life and success of each of our children. I am transformed and so are you. Every positive thought you have in the direction of a soldier brings down more good and strength in the world. Please keep those good thoughts coming.

In America and even in Israel, it is probable that not every one of the children we raise will be an actual combat soldier. In fact, when he was asked if he wanted to follow in his sister’s footsteps and enlist one day, my 6-year-old told me that he wants to be a speech therapist because it is a lot safer! But today, all of our children need to fight for their ideals. In the streets of America, on the college campuses and around the world, we may all need to be a little more brave and stand up for ourselves a little more.

Every Shabbat as I would close my eyes to light Shabbat candles, I would feel the air get sucked out of my lungs. Panic would well up in me. I was meant to usher in the calm of Shabbat, yet I could not find a bit of serenity inside me. I feel the same when I read the names of the boys who have been killed in action or the names of the boys who have been wounded. And when you see their photographs, many are just boys. To catch my breath, I silently sing to my daughter the refrain from the song parents have been singing for too many wars:

Ani Mavtiach lach, Yaldah sheli ktana, she zot tehiyey hamilchama haachrona

I promise you, my little girl. That this will be the last war.

While we may not be able to fulfill that promise, we can swear “Ani Nishbaat” – I swear and you swear together with my daughter and me that we will always keep the soldiers in our hearts and prayers. Our hearts forever transformed.

Send in the Clowns

jill maxBy: Jill Max, Chair, The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center

I hate the circus. The primary reason for these feelings stems from my childhood and my family’s requisite annual pilgrimage to Madison Square Garden to witness the “greatest show on Earth.” The smell of the menagerie was bad enough, but it was the clowns that really freaked me out. Fear of clowns: Coulrophobia (it’s a real thing, Google it).

When I discovered that we were going to hear from Tsour Shriqui, the Director of Medical Clowns, I immediately worried that he would bring one of their professionals with him. Fortunately, he was alone and thanks to him, I was able to see clowns through a different lens. Medical Clowns are actors who spend several months training before they are sent to work with patients in hospitals throughout Israel. There is extensive research about the positive effects on the patients they work with, particularly children, their parents and people with PTSD. The clowns are very busy these days, many have been sent to hospitals in the South like Barzilai and Saroka.

As we wound our way North through the hills to Nazareth, I was struck by the serenity and quiet in this largely Muslim Arab town. When we arrived at the Nazareth Industrial Park, perched on a mountaintop, we gravitated to the outdoor patio on the top floor and marveled at the breathtaking view.

The Nazareth Industrial Park was built 2 years ago to promote the development of industry in the Arab sector of Israel. It is the first Arab/Jewish industrial park. We learned about the Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, a coalition of 100 Jewish Federations, foundations, religious and service organizations dedicated to learning and raising awareness about Arab society and Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.

We had the opportunity to hear from Julia A-Zahar, a leading Arab businesswoman whose company, Al Arz Tahina produces some of the best tahini and halva in the country. She is also a community activist, lay leader and the Chair of the the Masira Fund, a program for the advancement of people with disabilities in Arab society. It was an inspiring afternoon, particularly following our experiences on our way out of the Tel Aviv in the morning.

As the bus continued to wind through the mountains, I watched the sun beginning to retreat behind both clouds and hills. We arrived at Baba Yona Ranch and were greeted enthusiastically by representatives from Dalton Winery. The weather was glorious and the wines were lovely; however, we soon learned that we were not exactly going to relax and enjoy a leisurely outdoor dinner. Instead, we were divided into three teams and tasked with preparing the meal ourselves. Under normal circumstances, I would have loved this activity, but I was tired, and soon realized there were too many cooks in this makeshift kitchen. I headed back to the wine tasting and had a great conversation about what we’d learned in Nazareth with some new friends from the Lehigh Valley Region of Pennsylvania.

It was the first time since my arrival that I momentarily stopped thinking about sirens. I looked up at the clear, starry sky, breathed in the clean air and let out an audible sigh of relief.

Jill is currently in Israel on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaigner’s Mission.

Happy Hour

By Jill Max, Chair, The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center

Jill Max 3Last night, I walked to the beautiful Tel Aviv port (don’t worry, there are plenty of places along the way to duck and cover) and had dinner with two Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) staff members and four young adults from Baltimore who are participating in the Onward Israel program that The Associated subsidizes. The eight-week program matches college-age students with internships in Tel Aviv (and many other cities) that suit their educational or career-related pursuits. I knew half of the group, and I knew that all of them had anxious parents at home who were eager for reassurance that their kids were all right. Each one had a different level of comfort with the situation, but I was so impressed with their maturity and their ability to see this as a unique opportunity for growth. One young man shared his newfound culinary skills, while one of the girls was proud of her ability to take the bus by herself to her internship. They all spoke candidly of the challenges of being here at this time, but none of them was considering leaving. Sadly, a few of the participants did decide to go home, and of course I support that decision. This is not an easy situation to deal with on a daily basis, particularly without your family around.

This morning I had the opportunity to make two site visits with the director of the program and the internship coordinator. Both of the interns we visited expressed how much they were learning and how beneficial they felt their experience was for them. Their supervisors clearly valued their work and were very enthusiastic about their contributions. I couldn’t stop thinking about how different these experiences were than most of the one’s I’ve heard about at home. These interns were really part of the team, and felt valued. It was a great way to start the day!

I spent a few hours this afternoon with a dear friend who lives in Tel Aviv. Abraham Silver is one of the most interesting people I know, as well as brilliant. Abraham made Aliyah in the early 80s, a pioneer from Brooklyn who became a date farmer in the Negev. That, however, is not where his story ends. Abraham served in the Israeli army and reserves as an elite paratrooper, he is an historian, and is arguably the best tour guide I’ve ever known. Oh, and by the way, he got an MA in Architecture about a decade ago, commuting between Tel Aviv and the University of Pennsylvania. I first met him when our family traveled to Israel on the Associated’s Family Mission in 2007. Since then, every time I come to this land, I make sure to see Abraham. He is my touchstone to what is really happening here, my guide to a uniquely Israeli perspective on the situation, and aside from all of that, a wonderful father and adoring husband. I should also mention that his wife, Alisa, is a world-renowned brain researcher and was recently named Teacher of the Year by Tel Aviv University. Unfortunately, Abraham and his seven-year-old twins, Shiri and Libby were unable to attend the ceremony, due to the red alert.

It was 5:20 in Tel Aviv, officially Happy Hour, and I’d returned to the pool to relax and do some reading before my mission officially began this evening. The wi-fi was spotty, so I had trouble connecting to both my email and Facebook, but I was feeling content, enjoying my glass of wine and people watching by the pool. I had just begun to return an email, and as I was typing, the sirens started blaring. Several people around me were blissfully sleeping, and I moved efficiently from one to the next repeating, “sirens, sirens, get up, get up” (Note to self: I am a pretty cool cucumber in an emergency). The lifeguard quickly directed us to the stairwell, and we made our way down three floors. Once again, I had the opportunity to meet new people and to hear everyone’s stories about their experiences with the sirens thus far. After about 10 minutes, I was back in my chair (I took the wine with me) and enjoying the breathtaking view as the sun began its daily descent. The lifeguard confirmed that the Iron Dome intercepted two missiles over Tel Aviv. “Don’t worry, please enjoy your vacation: the Iron Dome has got us covered,” he assured me.

I’m sleeping with my balcony door open tonight, as I did last night. There’s a beautiful breeze and I find the sound of the waves soothing. And yes, it is easier to hear the sirens.

 Jill is currently in Israel on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaigner’s Mission. 

URGENT

By Jill Max, Co-chair, The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center

Tuli, my driver, greeted me with his handwritten sign and immediately launched into what I can only assume is his typical Jill maxcomedy routine. We walked to the van and he asked me if I spoke Hebrew. “I used to, but it’s been quite a long time,” I told him. “But this year, I am committed to learning again.” We exchanged elementary Hebrew phrases, he complemented my accent, and then I asked him how it had been all day. “More of the same,” he said, “but at least there’s less traffic in Tel Aviv!”

As we sped down the freeway, I sat terrified in the seat behind him, less afraid of missiles and sirens than his typically Israeli “driving while multitasking!” To my relief, he decided to put on some music, rather than watching the TV, and immediately started singing along to Foreigner’s Urgent. At this point there was nothing to do but smile nostalgically and join him. Classic 80s rock reminds me of high school, and my first trip to Israel with NFTY. I spent six weeks exploring this glorious country. It was the beginning of a long and complicated love affair.

When we arrived in the business district, I asked Tuli, “So what do we do if the sirens go off while we’re driving?” He explained that it had happened last night on his way to the airport with two couples. Everyone simply pulls over, their cars are left in the middle of the street and they walk in the nearest building’s shelter. Every shelter stays open now.

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Jill and a few Baltimore participants of Onward Israel.

And then I heard it: a boom, followed by a second boom, and then a siren. Tuli pulled over, and we walked up to the closest building and into the shelter with several other Israelis. Everyone was on his or her cell phone, watching closely and waiting for the all-clear. We were all very calm, even joking and exchanging tips on the best incoming missile alert apps (I have red alert on my phone). In less than five minutes, we were back in the van. “How’d I do?’ I asked. “You’re a natural,” Tuli smiled.

When we arrived at my hotel, which sits directly on the Mediterranean Sea, I noticed all of the people in the water and playing Kadima on the beach. The Iron Dome intercepts, and we go back to singing Feels Like the First Time. I got out of the car and thanked Tuli. He went to shake my hand, and I said, “I think we need to hug this one out.” As he left, Tuli gave me a big grin and said, “Enjoy!”

I plan to take his advice.

Jill Max is currently in Israel for the Jewish Federation of North America’s Campaigners Mission. 

Returning To My Home Away From Home

Heather teachingBy: Heather Greenebaum

I was thrilled to get more involved with the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership as part of my McDonogh High School senior project. Last summer, I traveled to Israel through the Diller Teen Fellows program and made many friendships in Ashkelon that continue to remain strong. I chose to return to Ashkelon for my project because it represents my extended community in Israel.

Upon my arrival in Ashkelon, I reunited with my Diller host, Tali Rozenson, and her family.  I was very excited to spend a week with them. I truly felt as though I returned to my home away from home.

While Tali was in school, I worked as an English teaching assistant at two different schools – one secular and one Modern Orthodox.  Not knowing exactly what to expect, I was assigned to a classroom full of eager children.  I had to quickly find a way to teach them despite the language barrier.  With the younger kids, I came up with number games and would point to different objects to teach them the English words.  I played word games with the older students such as Scattergories and helped them with reading comprehension.  Many of the school children enjoyed learning to write in cursive.  I loved working at both schools; it was inspiring to see the kids’ enthusiasm and the progress they made in such a short amount of time.

I also had the opportunity to volunteer with Tali at Wings of Krembo, a youth movement run by teens for children with special needs. There, we participated in activities connected to Lag B’Omer since the holiday began that evening.  My first Lag B’Omer celebration in Israel was very festive and full of campfires, friends and food.

One of my favorite parts of my trip to Israel was volunteering with Tali at Beit Canada Immigrant Absorption Center. The kids were so much fun to be around because they were so energetic and funny.  We played games and let the kids take “selfies” on our phones.

During my free time in Ashkelon, I enjoyed spending time at the beach and reuniting with friends from the Diller program.  Several of us took a train together to Tel Aviv to spend the day shopping, sightseeing and drinking the famous Aroma iced coffee.  I had an amazing experience in Israel for my senior project and I truly feel blessed to have been able to reconnect with friends and family in my home away from home.

For more information about the Diller Teen Fellows program, contact Megan Goldsmith at mgoldsmith@associated.org.

For more information about volunteering in Ashkelon, contact Rebecca Weinstock at rweinstock@associated.org.

Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut: A Split-Second of Culture

 

 By Marisa Obuchowski

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Two years ago I embarked on a journey, a masa, to Israel for five months to live, explore and intern in Tel Aviv. I loved the time that I spent abroad learning the culture, engaging with the land and the people and connecting more deeply with my heritage. While in Israel, I adapted to my surroundings by learning the bus routes, finding hidden gems at the market and becoming slightly more aggressive (let’s call it passionate). During the process, I celebrated new traditions and holidays, but none more awe-inspiring than the start of Yom Ha’atzmaut on the heels of Yom Ha’zikaron. This moment was particularly poignant, because in Israel, Independence Day is immediately preceded by Memorial Day.

862923_10100782504681367_1926112263_nGrowing up in the U.S., I equated Memorial Day with the kickoff of summer—a three-day weekend when outdoor pools opened, barbecues ignited and families took trips to the beach. In Israel however, Yom Ha’zikaron was a somber day of reflection, remembrance, and reverence. The cadence of the day was slower; bustling cities became lethargic and cemeteries were flooded with families, friends and fellow soldiers remembering their loved ones. It’s almost as if a dark cloud settled over the entire state. But there was a silver lining.

As daylight dissipated, a frenetic energy picked up as the pulse of the city returned stronger than ever. In Tel Aviv, my friends and I followed the masses to Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square), unsure of what was in store. On stage, there was a large projection screen streaming the closing service of Yom Ha’zikaron in Jerusalem, though the atmosphere reminded me of the New Year’s Eve countdown in Times Square. People of all ages waited in anticipation for the ceremony to finish, when finally, in a split-second, daybreak occurred giving way to Yom Ha’atzmaut. Fireworks went off, music started to play and everyone broke out in song and dance. It was a bizarre yet incredible transition from one day to the next; a perfect moment of yin and yang, if you will, reminding us that without sorrow there is no joy, and vice versa.

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Walking home we were enveloped by the festive chaos, sprayed with shaving cream from head-to-toe, donning Israeli flags and glow sticks…and that was just the beginning. The celebrations continued throughout the night, in the streets, bars and restaurants all over town. To give some perspective, my friends and I were out until nearly 7:30 in the morning, at which point we bought sushi, ate on our rooftop deck and finally went to sleep.

It was one of the wildest, most exhilarating, nights I can ever remember. In a way Yom Ha’atzmaut epitomized the Israeli culture and people I had grown to adore— kind of crazy, loud, unforgiving, amazing and lovable in spite of the hardship and adversity they have endured.

Marisa interned with Masa Israel Journey from March-August 2012. She currently resides in Federal Hill.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is on Tuesday, May 6. To learn more about Israel experience programs, visit associated.org/experienceisrael. Visit baltimoreisraelcoalition.org to view a list of Yom Ha’atzmaut events taking place in the community. 

 

Challenging Times in Odessa

Odessa_PS_Rav_10.04.14By: Marina Moldavanskaya 
Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Coordinator

Historically, April is a special month for Ukraine. Liberation Day, celebrated on April 10, marked the day Odessa was liberated from the Nazis in 1944. And although tense times are upon us, we make a point to celebrate this joyous day.

As the global community knows, following the annexation of the Crimea, pro-Russian protests and activities intensified in the eastern parts of Ukraine. There has been an upsurge in violence in these areas following the occupation of administrative buildings and other important centers in Donetsk and other cities in Eastern Ukraine. Luckily, Odessa remains relatively calm; however there have been acts of anti-Semitism.

A couple of weeks ago, anti-Semitic graffiti appeared on a Holocaust memorial, tombstones located in a Jewish cemetery and on homes. The head Rabbi of Odessa, Abraham Wolf, responded to this event saying,

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“Everything that has happened we perceive with indignation, and we believe that these actions are aimed not only at the aggravation of interethnic relations, but at the creation of a negative image of everything happening in the country. We have repeatedly stated that the citizenship of Jews, as well as every citizen of Ukraine, is determined by their personal choice and not nationality. Whoever it was at this time, he achieved the opposite goals. Numerous words of support come from different people to our community. We thank them for their support and the manifestation of brotherly love to our community. We do not know the masterminds and perpetrators of these abominations. We do not conduct investigations and are confident that the professionals have to do it. And we hope that these people will be found and punished. And the Almighty bless all those who want peace and understanding.”

Along with his statement, Rabbi Wolf, together with the commander of the Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense (UPDF), Colonel Valery Zagorodnii painted over the graffiti as a sign of their support and loyalty to minorities in Ukraine. It was an incredible sign of solidarity.

BfzMyD9d-V4The Rabbi’s sentiment is shared by the Jewish community of Odessa, who are praying for peace in our country. Young professionals in Odessa organized The Manifest Of Peace, which supports our beautiful city by hosting cultural events and strives to build a united Ukraine.

With the celebration of Odessa Liberation Day, as well as the Passover holiday, the residents of Odessa are living their normal lives, but are also constantly monitoring the situation in the country. Passover distracted the Jewish community from the tension with joyous sederim and community events. The Jews of Odessa gladly remembered the story of exodus from Egypt, and hoped that we too can emerge from this challenging situation.

Todah, Israel. You Surprised Me.

Heart-to-HeartBy: Elizabeth Schuman

Everyone asks me about the Heart to Heart mission to Israel. Was it incredible? Did you visit the Wall? How about Tel Aviv? Did you climb Masada? Wasn’t the food the best you’ve ever tasted?

Well, yes.

Jerusalem and the Wall are breathtaking, with history you can feel, see and touch. Tel Aviv pulses with creative energy. And the food is a locavore’s delight—with fruit (persimmon!), cheeses, fish, breads and vegetables that lovingly illustrate the bounty of our planet.

And then I tell them more.

I tell people that the light is different in Israel. That the colors, sounds and sights are more pronounced, richer and deeper. That it is as if you’ll never see or understand it all, but are utterly compelled to try. That when our tour guide Mikal said to us, “You are standing in history. Welcome home,” it was all that the group needed to hear.

Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, is complex, diverse and magical. The Jewish story rubs elbows with the Christian and Muslim stories. Israelis are fourth-generation citizens and Israelis made aliyah last week. Israel is filled with opinions, ideas and controversy. This is not a one-size-fits-all country.

We learned about homecoming from Ethiopian Jews. Boarding planes for the first time, they carried few possessions on the way to Israel, holding to their Jewish faith as they turned to organizations such as the Ethiopian National Project and the Beit Canada Absorption Center, gentle places designed to ease the transition to Israel.

We met Eli, who was 11 when he left his village and made his way to a refugee camp in the Sudan and eventually to Israel as one of the 14,000 Ethiopian Jews on the planes during Operation Solomon, a 1991 rescue mission. Today, he is a teacher. We met Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, who came here as an orphan, completed school, served in the Army and is now the first Miss Israel of Ethiopian descent.

In Ashkelon, Baltimore’s partner city, we saw how the birth of volunteerism began with a simple idea: involve teenagers. Today, the AMEN volunteer program involves more than 6,000 teenagers across the city. One of the program’s many projects? Wings of Krembo. It’s a social program for children with special needs, led by – you guessed it – some of the dynamic teens in the AMEN program.

We learned about the divide between the ultra-religious and secular and how Israelis are working to bridge their differences through initiatives like Mafteach, which helps Haredi Jews gain skills for the workforce. We met young girls living at Orr Shalom, a residential home for girls taken from their families because of severe abuse or neglect. We saw how kindness, determination and care work their magic to overcome unimaginable beginnings.

We met movers and shakers. Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz sounded like any big city mayor with his concerns about residents, jobs and infrastructure, albeit in a city defined by millennia of cultures and religions. Dana Weiss, a leading Israeli journalist, shared her take on the rough-and-tumble complexities of Israeli politics. We met artists, executives, community leaders and members of the Knesset. We spent time on a kibbutz, seeing how community transformed parched land into farms.

As mothers, we saw our children in the faces of the young Israeli soldiers. By chance, hundreds were assembled outside Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, on the day we visited. Later that week, we visited an army base, hearing soldiers’ stories of grandparents and family who died in concentration camps. The Holocaust is in these soldiers’ DNA. For these soldiers – for this country – never again means just that. Protecting the Jewish homeland pays homage to those who had nowhere else to go more than seventy years ago.

I tell people about saying Shehechayanu as we overlooked Jerusalem, about how we climbed Masada and slathered ourselves with mud as we floated in the Dead Sea. We explored Tel Aviv, meeting innovators and futurists. We walked through the Old City and journeyed through the Four Quarters. We met incredible Israelis devoted to their country and one another. And, yes, we did a little shopping.

Before, I never understood why people return time and again to Israel. I do now.

What we learned is that Israel is far deeper than anything you can envision –a complicated, joyous juxtaposition of faith, family, people, home and geography. Along the way, we discovered that a land a world away is, indeed, our home.

Todah. Thank you, Israel.