For Marcia Diane, the highlight of her trip to Israel last year was a visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where Abraham and most of his storied kin are said to be buried. Inside the building’s thick stone walls are several cenotaphs, empty tombs erected to honor a person’s memory. As Diane approached the red and white cenotaph of Abraham, she said something miraculous occurred.
“When I was standing there, relaxing and taking it in, I smelled roses really strongly,” Diane said. “I wasn’t sure what it was. I thought maybe it was incense, but I was looking around and I couldn’t see any.”
When she asked her traveling companions if they smelled it too, none of them did.
Diane visited Israel as part the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute’s (JLI) the Land and the Spirit: Israel Experience. She discovered the eight-day Land and Spirit excursion through classes she was taking at Chabad of the East Valley, which uses a curriculum developed by JLI. The institute organizes trips to Israel to enhance and build upon the classes.
“It really complements the classes we’ve been giving and the subjects we’ve been discussing,” said Rabbi Mendy Deitsch, director of Chabad of the East Valley, who is preparing for the next Land and Spirit trip in spring.
Visits to major destinations in Israel are on the trip’s itinerary, including a tour of the Knesset, where the participants get to meet and talk with current legislators. The trip also features lectures from high-level Israeli political, religious and cultural figures.
In addition, the Land and Spirit program allows participants to customize their experience through five different tracks: “In the Footsteps of the Bible,” which explores important biblical sites; “Borders and Security,” through which participants meet with IDF soldiers and tour military installations; “Israel Encounters,” which explores historic and natural wonders; “Food and Wine,” which features visits to wineries, farms and restaurants; and “Classic,” which focuses on traditional tourist sites such as the Dead Sea or Masada.
Participants can choose from day-to-day the track they want to travel, allowing them to go on the “Footsteps of the Bible” one day and “Borders and Security” on the next.
“The second day we’re in Israel, people can go in the ‘Footsteps of the Bible’ and they can visit the sites of events that the Bible records in different places,” Deitsch said. “They can visit a historic military base, Mount Gilboa. You can visit the mystical city of Tsfat and get a more of a mystical experience.
“Another option, and this is all the same day, is a tour of the ancient port of Akko (Acre) and meeting its residents,” he continued. “It has a mix of Arab and Jewish populations. They’ll explore the famous Rosh Hanikra grottoes, where the water made beautiful formations in the rocks. Then the fifth option, if someone wants a little different type of visit, you can visit a winery in the Carmel Mountains and enjoy some Druze hospitality.”
Some other destinations include a visit to the Tel Lachish archeological dig, a security briefing at the Gaza Border Lookout, and a showcase of some of the technologies being developed in Israel’s “Silicon Wadi,” a coastal region with a high concentration of scientists and business people. Wadi is an Arabic word for a valley or dry riverbed and is used in colloquial Hebrew, as well. The name is a play on Silicon Valley.
Deitsch said that last year’s trip was filled by late January and encouraged those who would like to participate in next year’s March trip to register soon.
For Diane, the trip to Israel certainly enhanced the lessons she was learning at Chabad of the East Valley.
She recalled one story in particular, about a rabbi who dressed as a clown to raise money for a young couple’s marriage and later discovered the costume smelled of roses.
“I remembered that story when I was standing at the Tomb of Abraham smelling the roses, because Abraham was a channel for chesed, for loving kindness,” Diane said. “I feel like this was a divine gift that was given to me.” JN
For more information on the Land and Spirit trip, call Deitsch at 480-855-4333 or email [email protected].