Temple Emanu-El’s Jewish heritage tour of Israel this summer was Rabbi Batsheva Appel’s first turn at tour leading. “It was wonderful to be back in Israel and to lead a trip for the first time,” she says. Joining her on the June 20-July 1 journey were Marcy Tigerman, Janet Kenigsberg, Larry and Leslie Shire, and the rabbi’s sister-in-law Karen Appel. The congregation group joined 14 other Americans visiting Israel for the first time. “We were all separate at first, but we bonded,” says Tigerman.
Rabbi Appel conducted a class about Israel before the trip. “They got tired of the fact that I answered a lot of questions with, ‘Well, it’s complicated.’ It became a joke,” she recalls. “Once we were there, they understood.”
“It was fun traveling with the rabbi and getting to know her as a person,” Tigerman says. “It’s hard for a rabbi to lead their congregation. It’s a big responsibility. She gave us all a book of special prayers we could read at various places. The rest of our extended group would join in. I felt lucky to have her there as a spiritual leader.
“I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world,” says Tigerman. “I would encourage anyone to make this trip once in their lifetime. Being there was a great combination of physical, heart, and emotion.
“The food was remarkable, so healthy and fresh,” she adds. “There were things I’d never seen or eaten before. The biggest surprise was the difference in culture. We’re very friendly in Tucson. There’s not a lot of contact on the streets there, not a lot of acknowledgment, which was different.”
Tel Aviv recently opened a 10-site, one-kilometer long Independence Trail, inspired by Boston’s Freedom Trail. “We were able to visit sites of the founding of the State of Israel,” Appel says.
Along the Mediterranean coast, the group toured the former Roman capital of Caesarea, the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum, and the old city of Akko, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Further north, at Rosh Hanikra, they visited chalk cliff grottoes.
Heading to Galilee, they visited the mystical Kabbalistic city of Safed, Mitzpe Gadot in the Golan Heights, and Tel Hai to see the Roaring Lion monument. Rambam’s grave in Tiberias and the Roman ruins at Beit Shean were on the itinerary, along with mosaics at the Beit Alpha synagogue. Natural springs at Gan
Hashlosha, often referred to as the original Garden of Eden, were a refreshing stop.
Ancient highlights included King David’s tomb on Mount Zion, Jerusalem’s Old City, Western Wall tunnels and ramparts, Davidson Center and Tower of David Museum, Masada, Qumran (site of the Dead Sea Scrolls’ discovery), and the Dead Sea itself. At the lowest point on earth in the heat of summer, the dense seawater was uncomfortably hot, says
Modern Jerusalem visits encompassed the Mea Shearim ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, the Western Wall, Mount Herzl military cemetery, Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Ammunition Hill museum, the Knesset parliament building, Israel Museum and its Shrine of the Book, housing the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“It was exhausting but exciting,” says Tigerman. She describes it not as a vacation, but as its own experience inward and outward. “I loved the history, walking on stones the Romans had walked on and connecting with Jewish history. Every day was a new highlight. Every place we went to was more amazing than what we’d seen before. I came back with a sense of Jewish identity and pride. I wasn’t back three days before I was looking for trip number two.”
After visiting Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher on the Via Dolorosa, Tigerman realized “Jerusalem is sacred ground to everyone, it’s important to everyone. I get why there may never be peace. They won’t give it up.”