In 1994, the Birthright Israel program was created. This is a free 10-day heritage tour of Israel for Jewish young adults, aged 18-26. As I write this, my step-daughter Ariel is with Birthright. She left from New York, and upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport she posted the following on her Facebook page: “On Israeli soil. That was one of the most emotional, surreal plane landings ever. I’m in my second home.”
How heart-warming for her mother and me to read this. As Jewish parents we all want our children to be connected to Israel. I completely understand her sentiment, as no matter how many times I’ve gone to Israel, the landing is always emotional and somewhat surreal. The outburst of applause from passengers all around me as we touch down has always proven to me that I am not the only one who feels this way.
We are quite fortunate, all of us, that we have an Israel, a second home. In fact, I would venture to say that Israel is really our first home—the place from which we came as a People, the place where we, collectively and individually, will always be welcome and where, for better or worse, we are treated like family. No matter how many times I visit, I can’t wait to go back. (If only my father’s family and countless others had had the miracle that is Israel. But that’s a topic for another article.)
My wife Aliza and I share a great love of travel which at times may almost appear to onlookers as restless wanderlust. The simple fact is that we live in an exciting world, too exciting not to be explored. Aliza likes to say, “Put me on a plane and wake me when they’re speaking a different language.” She and I have been blessed to visit many foreign cities together with friends and family, and those of you who travel will agree that every new place leaves its mark on your lives.
Wherever we are, we make a point of visiting the local synagogue. We have seen palatial and opulent sanctuaries that have taken our breath away, and we have been humbled in other ways to see modest one-room shteiblach. Often these synagogues are closed during the week, available to tour by appointment only. Around the corner from the great Gothic cathedral in Amiens, France, for example, we happened upon a small, easy-to-overlook medieval shul, noticeable only by its stone carved Magen David at the entrance. In the tiny town of Siena, Italy, a tourist would walk right past the Sinagoga without knowing what it is, but for the identifying plaque displayed on the outside wall since 1948, listing the names and ages of shul members and their children who were deported during the Shoah, never to return.
On Shabbat, a foreign synagogue is even more fascinating. Firstly, it’s always thrilling to see the differences in the davening. Attending a small private backyard British minyan of immigrants from the Yemenite community of Aden, I was intrigued by not only their exotic melodies and Oriental Torah trop, but by their completely altered pronunciation of Hebrew vowels, as well. And while my head was spinning from the strangeness, I was equally comforted by the similarities throughout the davening.
And that, my friends, is the most beautiful part of visiting foreign shuls: Discovering and re-discovering that Jewish people the world over are one people. We are similar and bound together through prayers and Torah, language, customs and spirit. Perhaps this is what Aliza and I find so irresistible about travel—connecting to our fellow Jews everywhere.
Perhaps, too, this is why we enjoy sharing our travels with our Beth Tzedec family, leading summer Musical Journeys. Having traveled to Germany, Eastern Europe and Israel, Aliza and I are now looking forward to this summer’s Beth Tzedec Musical Journey to England. Join us for music, excitement and discoveries in the land of my birth, my second home.