Sorry for the long period of radio silence, but wedding preparations have been intensifying. Less than a month now!! We are beyond excited as everything is starting to become real. But more on that later…
This post is all about a very special trip Dana and I took in April. Dana’s sister, Julie, lives in Tel Aviv and works as a JDC fellow for CIMI, the Center for International Migration and Integration. She has been in Israel for about four years, and while Dana has been to visit her and seen Israel several times, I had never been before. We finally decided to take her up on the offer to visit, and the result was the best trip we have ever been on together. From the mountains of her extended family’s home on a Moshav in the north to the desert splendor of the Dead Sea in the south, from the bustle and beaches of Tel Aviv to the ancient labyrinth of the Old City of Jerusalem, I was in constant awe of the country.
We drove to New York City on a rainy Thursday night for a midnight flight direct to Tel Aviv, and despite Dana’s warnings about the complications of boarding a flight to Israel we found ourselves airborne without much trouble. Upon arrival we took a cab to Julie’s apartment, a flat she shares with two roommates and a hot water heater named “The Dude,” which overlooks a courtyard filled with cats and is steps from the Nahalat Binyamin and a short walk to the beach.
Friday night we were lucky enough to attend a Shabbos dinner at Julie’s friends’ beautiful rooftop apartment. I realized that Shabbos dinner epitomizes everything that I like best about religion: a time to slow down, reflect, and more importantly to spend time with friends and family. We decided that, like Dana’s family growing up, we are definitely going to make Shabbos dinner a part of our weekly family routine when we finally do have children. Some of Julie’s friends also exposed us to a unique way of observing Shabbat; they would leave their phones off or at home for the whole day. A seemingly small sacrifice, in today’s world cutting yourself off from your devices is unthinkable to some, and seems to be a very good way of devoting some of your Saturday to a more contemplative life.
After spending Saturday at the beach watching kite surfers and then going to a few bars with Julie’s friends that night, we rented a car early Sunday morning and drove up to Karmiel (near Haifa) to visit Dana and Julie’s Aunt Harriet and her extended family, who live on a Moshav called Yodefat. We spent a very relaxing couple of days with Harriet, her five children and their spouses and kids. What struck me most about this visit was the closeness of the extended family. The cousins, though young, knew each other very well, and everyone took collective responsibility over the cooking, cleaning and looking after the children. And they had so much fun! There were so many smiles, lots of jokes in Hebrew that I couldn’t understand, and a lot of laughter and love.
The trip was filled with highlights and moments like these, but I realize that I am characteristically rambling and will give the rest of my high points as bullets:
- Monday night we went to a Mimuna party (the Moroccan celebration for the end of Passover) in a warehouse in West Tel Aviv. It was by far the hippest thing Dana and I have ever done.
- Our Tuesday trip to the Dead Sea was absolutely breathtaking. I was so blown away by the desolation of the scenery and the awesome, bizarre production that was swimming in that painfully salty body of water, coating ourselves in mud and trying to remember not to swallow any water.
- The Old City in Jerusalem: I could devote pages and pages to the thoughts and emotions that filled me as we toured the seat of three of the world’s major religions. We walked the Via Dolorosa (I got what I consider to be justifiably angry at a shopkeeper who tried to block me from taking a picture of the 8th Station of The Cross, saying I had to buy a guide book from him in order to take photographs. Does he own that particular historical landmark?!), saw the frenzied Church of the Holy Sepulcher, took a very scenic hike around the ramparts, visited the Western Wall, and allowed ourselves to get lost and wander through the city’s ancient stairs and passageways. It was an experience like no other, and we boarded the bus home with weary legs and full hearts.
- Getting hummus in Jaffa: I can now agree with Julie in saying that I hadn’t tasted hummus before this trip. It was an entirely different experience eating it warm from a bowl with slices of raw onion and fresh-baked pita on a gorgeous sunny Friday morning. Wandering around Jaffa afterwards was an unexpected bonus, as was making friends with the young boys who were jumping off of the docks into the water.
- Spending time with Julie was a blessing for both Dana and I. Dana has always been close with her family and her sister in particular, and I know that it has been hard for them to be apart for all these years. I was constantly smiling at the two of them as they interacted in the beautifully silly and mildly antagonistic way that only sisters can.
It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us, an invigorating and re-energizing experience as well as a bit of a pilgrimage for both of us. It was wonderful to realize the traditions that we want to pass on to our children, to see that both of our faiths have their roots in the same two square-mile radius, and to spend quality time with Dana’s sister and with one another.
More to come on wedding preparations next week! The countdown is truly on, and everything is going well.
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