We are up and running!

Julian Resnick writes from Israel

For just over two years my life of guiding and educational travel was on hold.

I did not suffer much, as I live on a kibbutz with my wife, two of my three children (the youngest lives in Tel Aviv), their spouses AND my six grandchildren. I had felt for a long time that life was good on kibbutz — even before my first grandchild arrived, but I had a surprise in store for me when I became a grandfather for the first time almost eight years ago. The good was about to change to GREAT!

This is how we are supposed to live. Extended families caring for each other, standing in for each other, eating with each other, living with each other. And during Corona, this was our routine — together. I did miss being out there, touring, teaching, experiencing, sharing my love for Israel and my passion for the Jewish People and our story, but I lived with the belief that it would return. 

And it has, as we say in Hebrew, בגדול (big-time).

In the Old City of Jerusalem, in Caesarea, on the Golan Heights, in Tzfat, in Akko, in Tel Aviv, I run into colleagues telling our stories, clarifying our narratives (and at times sharing the alternative narratives too), marveling together with their tourists from the US, South Africa, the UK, France, India, Egypt, Indonesia (yes, there are Muslim tourists too, often distinguishable as such as they wear traditional garb worn by religious Muslims) at the beautiful sites, sharing powerful stories and emotional responses.

Just over a month ago I guided a lovely, small group of four people — two Jews and two Sikhs. There was something unusual about this small group. No, it was not the interfaith part of it, I have done many interfaith groups before. It was not the size of the group — I have guided from a single person to groups of 40 people. It was not that they were really lovely to be with — I enjoy being with most of the people I guide, even though I will tell you that it was lovely being with the four of them.

What was unusual was our mode of transport for the short five days they were here in Israel. As we wanted to cover a huge part of the narrative and see much of the country and we had a very large budget, we used helicopters to see Israel.

And what a sight it was seeing Jerusalem from the air!! The Old City with the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert, the Mediterranean coast, Tzfat and the Galilee, the Golan Heights. All magnificent! And, as Israel is so small, our time in the air was no more than 45 minutes per ride.

Looking back at those five days, another thought enters my head — one which I thought I would share with you. I thought to myself that if I could use a helicopter to visit the three most powerful sites in Israel in a day, not being limited by travel time, traffic jam and geographical location, where would I go? (and where would I eat my meals on that day? – yes, some restaurant suggestions are going to be included here).

These are the three sites I would visit with you on this helicopter-supported day in Israel. We would take off just north of Tel Aviv near Herzliya, from a field across the road from the Herzliya airport. We would have left about 7.30am from our Tel Aviv hotel. If your budget was very big, you would have finished a lovely breakfast at The Norman; if smaller because the cost of the helicopter has cleaned you out, the breakfast would have been at the Market House. Our destination on the first of our rides would be Jerusalem. We would land near the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, drive just a few minutes to the viewpoint, looking over the Old City from our northeast vantage point and enjoying the view dominated by the Dome of the Rock. I would use one text to create the narrative framework, a few lines from Genesis 22:

22Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

Here I am,” he replied.

2Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac — and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

6Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Offering this text as the contextualization for the rest of the 24 hours, and emphasizing the phrases in bold on this page as the crucial lines of text, we continue to what is for me the crucial site in a visit to Jerusalem, the Ophel or the Southern Steps. Looking at the Hulda Gates, the conversation turns to one about empathy, about becoming the best possible Jewish State we can be, about celebrating our return and yet being mindful that our joy, our legitimate joy, is not enjoyed by all who live here. We consider the implications for the staircase that our ancestors walked up on the pilgrimage festivals. We talk about being mindful of pain even when we celebrate, about the destruction of the Temple and about the reminders in our life cycle events.

We return to our helicopter and fly over the Judean Desert with a sideways glance at the Dead sea, up the Jordan Valley; and land on the Golan Heights at the foot of Mt. Bental. It is at the top of the Bental, as we look into Syria, that I bemoan the decision in recent times to replace the original political sculpture with the distances to Damascus, Washington DC and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem signs dense with political meaning with totally parve signs which mentions the distances to New York and Toronto. 

Who cares? Silly of me, of course all South African Jewish families care because their aunt/uncle/brother/cousin lives there; but seriously, why? Why remove the wonderful teaching aid as we consider the difference between the distance to Damascus (60km), the distance to the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem (243km), and the distance to Washington DC (11,800km)? Do I need to add anything? I think not.

Back up in the air, across the north of Israel and we begin to head down the Mediterranean coastline, passing Akko, Haifa and Caesarea before landing again and heading for our third and final site of the day in Tel Aviv. 

So many wonderful possibilities in Tel Aviv, but I need to choose one. I am going to choose a walk along the promenade. I will begin just across from the Carlton Hotel towards the beach next to where Haim Arlosoroff was murdered a long time ago, on June 16, 1933. Here I will tell a story of fact stranger than fiction.

I will continue walking along the water’s edge, sandals in hand and toes in the water. We will talk of identity, of claiming the public domain (or pharhesia), of identity questions, of what makes this small piece of coast Jewish space. Of political satire (when we stand next to the bizarre statue of Ben Gurion doing a headstand), of the sinking of the Altalena

We will walk and talk for close to an hour until we finally stand near where the Dolphinarium once stood, in front of two memorials side by side. Both remembering that awful night in 2001 during the Second Intifada, when a Hamas-affiliated suicide bomber blew himself up killing 21 young people.

Oh, I did promise you a few restaurants, even if you are arriving by car or bus and not by helicopter. Eat at Onza in Jaffa, Habasta in the Carmel Market or The Eucalyptus in Jerusalem. Warning only one of the three is Kosher.

See you soon in Israel.

Julian Resnick was born in Somerset West and grew up in Habonim Dror. He studied at UCT, and made Aliyah to 1976. He’s conducted numerous shlichuyot and educational missions on behalf of Israel, to Jewish communities in England and the USA. He works as a guide in Israel and around the world (wherever there is a Jewish story). He’s married to Orly, and they have three children and six grandchildren and are members of Kibbutz Tzora.

• Published in the PDF edition of the July 2022 issue – Click here to read it.

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