A Message from Israel: Arrival

"Bring them home" sign in Ben Gurion Airport

Rabbi Sue Shankman and some WHC members are currently in Israel. They will be providing updates of what they are seeing and feeling on this visit to the Holy Land. Read other entries: Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

WHC’s solidarity mission of hope and resilience began on Wednesday, February 14. I recited the following words from Birkon Artzi-the Reform movement’s collection of Blessings and Meditations for Travelers to Israel:

God and God of my ancestors, I am returning once again, to the birthplace of my people, the Homeland of my faith. May I renew the bonds of common endeavor and friendship that I have fashioned there before. May my efforts and endeavors be successful, and bring me and my fellow travelers, prosperity, spiritual, enlightenment, renewal, and well-being. And let this journey bring me new experiences and encounters, new bonds of hope and connection with the land of Israel and its peoples.

Our arrival at Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday was markedly different than past trips. The airport is eerily empty, yet filled with the faces of those who are still missing—the hostages being held by Hamas. There are signs in virtually every shop and restaurant window proclaiming “Bring Them Home Now.” I walked through Shuk HaCarmel-the Carmel Market, which looks the same at first glance, albeit with far fewer shoppers and tourists and many stores closed due to insufficient staffing because so many have been called to the reserves.

Our hotel has some tourists, but we are greatly outnumbered by the displaced families — families with children and their dogs (many recently acquired to help bring comfort to their children)—who have made their temporary homes in the rooms and halls of the hotels—doors often open to allow for the sense of open community they enjoyed in more peaceful days in their kibbutzim and moshavim in the South.

Our group, which we have dubbed the “Three Temple Trip”, included travelers from Washington Hebrew Congregation, Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and is co-led by colleagues Rabbi Amy Schwartzman, Cantor Sydney Michaeli, and Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen. We gathered for the first time at Maganda Restaurant in Tel Aviv where we expressed our gratitude at being together, and recited:

“On this soil, sacred to memory, and the millennial home of our people, we offer grateful things for our safe arrival and pray for the welfare of this land.”

Everywhere we go, everyone we meet thanks us for our presence; a dear friend said that it helps to feel they are not carrying the weight of this moment all alone.

Tomorrow we begin our deep dive into understanding the lasting impact and trauma of this war, and we will end the day sharing Shabbat with our friends from our sister congregation Or Hadash.

More to follow…