A lot of my readers have never been on a UJC/Federation mission to Israel, and (based on email I have received) there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what happens on these trips, so I'll be blogging the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley's mission to Israel. There are 96 of us going - quite a strong number, thank Gd, given that the Valley boasts all of 8000 Jews.
Day 1 of our trip was an exhausting whirlwind, bringing back memories of mission trips past (I single out Jerry Roth, my former mission roommate, of blessed memory) and creating new ones as well.
We succeeded in having two Daf Yomi sessions on Sunday, one at the gate and the other in the air. The gemara was not easy; it jumped from topics of slavery to korbanot to tumah to tort law. Nonetheless, we held on tight and enjoyed the ride. It's amazing that the Amoraim (sages of the gemara) had all of these sources at their fingertips, without resorting to a CD-ROM.
No sleep on the plane, regrettably. I did manage to catch two movies I enjoyed, though: I, Robot and 21. Unfortunately I also tried Daredevil; I would have been better off playing Tac Tac Toe. What a bad film that was.
My seatmate was a good sport, putting up with sitting next to a rabbi; there are lots of people on the mission who are more fun than I am (yes, it's true), but she didn't abandon me for the glamour and fun.
I chose to daven shacharis at my seat (sans tallis/tefillin), rather than look for a minyan. I just don't think that harassing the flight crew is worth holding a kavvanah-less, buffeted-about minyan next to the bathrooms. I found a chance to put on tallis and tefillin and say shema in the airport while waiting for the luggage, so all was good. At least here everyone in the airport knows what you're doing, and you don't draw stares for this odd use of leather...
I've been asked repeatedly why I am returning to America before Shabbos, while the mission continues until mid-week next week; the answer is that I am not going to leave Caren with our four potential hooligans for an entire Shabbos. Then the follow-up question comes: Why go on the trip at all, just to be in Israel for four days?
There are several reasons:
1)I'm homesick for Israel.
2)I've reserved and canceled trips twice since my last mission (Dec 2003), and I'm tired of canceling.
3)These mission trips area always wonderful, showing me sights I have not seen before; I return to the States truly recharged.
4) I feel like I may be able to add something to others' experience.
5)I can't stomach counseling others to go, if I won't go myself. Someone did comment to me that it's wrong for clergy to have to pay for these trips, but to me, if you aren't willing to reach into your wallet yourself, you can't really ask others to do it.
And now it's Monday, but I still consider it Day 1, since we have not reached a hotel yet, and I haven't showered, changed or slept yet.
From the airport we went straight to Neot Kedumim, a project restoring a large chunk of parkland with plants from the Torah. Our guide was great, hitting many high points in a very short period of time. One striking sight: A cedar planted just feet (okay, meters) away from a date palm. This is botanically unusual, since palms thrive in hot climates and cedars are native to colder climates – but they put the two together to fulfill the biblical passage regarding righteous people, that they should flower like the date palm and flourish like a cedar in Lebanon.
I've been sending Neot Kedumim small checks for years in response to their mailings; it was good to finally see it in person.
On our way to the next stop we passed by Zichron Yaakov, a place I've long wanted to live. Manyu years ago, before children, I had a pipe dream of buying land in Zichron as a first step toward aliyah.
Our next stop was to pick eggplant for MiShulchan l'Shulchan, From Table to Table. Among their other activities, they get volunteers to harvest fields which are not worth the farmers' while. We picked the eggplants for an hour or so, getting muddy and burry but – speaking for myself – feeling good about the endeavor. (I did hesitate because one may not mass-pick vegetables that grow during shemitah, even after shemitah – but without sefarim around, I concluded that because the owner had rendered them hefker, and we were picking them for aniyyim, and because for all I know the eggplant had grown after shemitah, and because this was for tzedakah, I could comfortably rely on heter mechirah.)
I think I'll cut this one off here; I'm typing on the way from Table to Table to Tel Aviv, and I hope to post it before minchah. Time to start up another Daf session, anyway.
This is my third JFLV mission. Each of my previous two has had a flavor of its own; the first felt like a first-time adventure even though I had lived in Israel for two years, and the second was more like a reunion, with many previous missionites (I can't say missionaries) returning. I wonder what this one will feel like, when it's complete.