Israel Mifgash – Days 1-2

Shabbat Shalom From Haifa

It was all smiles and positive energy when we arrived at the Hugim High School today after a good night of sleep! Everyone said how comfortable and well-cared for they felt at their “homes” in Haifa. Students came for our first day of touring in Israel with their day packs, snacks (lovingly packed by host parents), cameras and enthusiasm. Because Friday is only a partial work-day and school-day in Israel, we had a short day of traveling, but a great one.

At the brand new and beautiful Hugim School, we met our guide, Dror, who lives in Haifa. We got on the bus and were on our way by 8:30 AM. We were a group of all of the American students, a handful of Israelis, and Atara, one of the teachers from the Hugim School. A few Israelis each day will travel with us on our day trips while the others are at school. 

Our first stop – Rosh HaNikra. Rosh HaNikra is the northern-most part of Israel on the Mediterranean Sea and is at the very edge of the border with Lebanon. While mostly quiet these days, this border has been at the center of conflict over the years. It is hard to even imagine conflict in this beautiful and quiet corner of Israel when saw it on a day like today: it is a combination of sea and sky, mountains and caverns. In addition to being a place of historical and geo-political significance, it is unique and spectacular from a natural perspective as well. The crashing waves and strong currents of the sea has eroded the rocks over the course of thousands of years and carved out dramatic grottos and caves. 

As we took the cable car down to the grottos, just in front of us we saw the buoys marking the border in the water between Israel and Lebanon. We then explored a few of the caves and caverns that have resulted from continual erosion. In addition to being of geographic significance due to its access to the sea and its towering heights, this was also a stop on the underground railroad that was built by the British in 1942 to connect Egypt, Turkey and Europe to one another. 

At Rosh HaNikra, Dror took out the map and we spent a little time looking at the State of Israel in the context of its neighbors and neighborhood. A tiny modern state, Israel may be small in size, but it is complex in nature, particularly along its borders.

We got back on the bus and headed for our second stop – a tour of the city and ancient port of Akko. Also on the Mediterranean, Akko, like Rosh HaNikra, was a strategic location that was used to block conquering empires from entering the Land of Israel.  Akko’s mammoth retaining walls are the largest in all of the middle east. Like other cities in the region, Akko has both an ancient city and a second more contemporary city where people live and work. The ancient city of Akko is an underground city built by the Crusaders who were making their way from Europe to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims. Its massive rooms and halls, archways and waterways make Akko a fun place to explore and to imagine Akko’s colorful and fascinating place in the history of the Israel.

We toured the area and enjoyed our first falafel in Israel in the ancient marketplace that was alive with sights, sounds, smells and textures.  Today, Akko is home to a diverse group of people: Jews, Christians and Muslims who are living according to their own religious sensibilities. At any moment, you hear church bells tolling, the Muezzin calling Muslims to prayer, and you glimpse names of synagogues as you drive through the neighborhoods of the contemporary city. 

We were back at school by 2 pm – happy and tired. Everyone went home to their host families to rest and change into Shabbat clothing. American and Israeli students met at the Ohel Avraham Synagogue, a Reform congregation that is housed in the beautiful Leo Baeck Education Center on the water overlooking the Haifa Bay. We enjoyed a terrific service (and that is not just according to the rabbis!) and stayed at the synagogue for a family-style home-cooked dinner where we could sample a variety of different Shabbat dishes made by the families. Everyone left the synagogue happy, healthy and full!

Tomorrow all of the students will enjoy a day of rest, travel, fun, and family with their hosts and we will report in tomorrow with some of the details of their Shabbat experiences in and around Haifa.

Shabbat Shalom from the beautiful city of Haifa – situated high up in the Carmel and looking down at the magnificent coastline of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea.

Rabbi Lisa Eiduson

In Their Own Words

Quotes and pictures collected by Annie and Gen