Building Community on the Go: The YFE Israel Trip in June 2017

By Jamie Bahar and Rebecca Raphael, Trip Co-chairs

“Community” is a word we hear often at Park Avenue Synagogue. Whether we’re listening to our rabbis talk about how to build and sustain a holy, menschy community, watching our children and their friends belt out “L’kha Dodi,” or joining other families for Shabbat dinner, we all feel connected to our PAS community in countless ways.

But community takes on a whole new meaning when we are nearly 6,000 miles away from home . . . and after a busy day hiking in the Golan and a Jeep ride through the mountains near the Syrian border, there’s no time to shower before the first group dinner on a kibbutz! When we board a bus at 7:00 am for a day packed with a visit to Masada, the Dead Sea, camel rides, a drum circle that has the rabbis dancing with our kids, and then watch the sun set in the Judean desert, the bond of community feels stronger than ever before. As we look over the Old City of Jerusalem on Shabbat, arm-in-arm singing Shehehiyanu to sanctify the moment, community begins to feel like extended family.

Over the course of 10 days in Eretz Yisrael, not only did we experience how a close-knit community can be formed and cherished, but under the leadership of Rabbi Cosgrove, Rabbi Witkovsky, Pamela Schwartz, and Jamie Diamond, we learned about the meaning of our Jewish homeland. We placed family prayers in the Western Wall, uncovered ancient artifacts in an archaeological dig, visited Yad Vashem, hiked through Roman-era aqueducts, sang and danced alongside Israeli children at our ECC partner school, harvested vegetables for the needy, enjoyed Shabbat at the pool with Rabbi Cosgrove tossing our kids in the water, marveled at Theodor Herzl’s vision while standing at his grave, and so much more.

“Watching my son stand on his tippy toes to place a small note we had written together in a crack of the Western Wall was as meaningful to me as witnessing his first steps,” recalls Becky Diamond of her 5-year-old, Marty.

“As a child I spent a lot of time in Israel, but it never felt more meaningful to me than when we watched our own children discover its beauty, learn its history, and embrace its significance firsthand,” says Limor Geller.

Marty Laiks adds, “Our trip to Israel with PAS exceeded all our expectations. We loved watching as everything our children have learned in the classroom and at home was brought to life for them in ways that made it exciting and unforgettable. Most of all, the friendships we developed with the other families in such a short time are a testament to the power of the experience we all shared. We returned feeling more deeply connected not only to Israel, but also to our own very special community at PAS.”

Individually, as families, and collectively, a love of Israel and of our community is now forever a part of us. While we can’t recapture the magic of Israel until our next trip there, we have continued to build upon the friendships we created and we share memories every chance we get. When we say “Next year in Jerusalem,” we might just mean it: it’s only 16 months until the synagogue-wide Israel trip celebrating Israel at 70 and PAS at 136!