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It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the halfway point of this incredible journey!   While we all miss our families, and are getting used to calling home at midnight (for some of us, to catch our kids as they arrive home from school), there’s something unique about being in such a sacred place, deepening our connection with Israel, while our family, our co-workers, and everyone we know are sleeping.

Today, we continued our journey through Yokneam & Meggido, led by our guide, Bernice.  Bernice did a wonderful job coordinating a series of meaningful mitzvah-oriented events thoughout the day.   We appreciated her deep history and understanding of the region and her saying, “Israel: Your Home Away from Home.”  It definitely is starting to feel that way.

Leket Israel

Following an interesting tour of Kibbutz Dalia, where we are staying, we traveled to a local farm to participate in a program designed to produce fresh food for needy people.  The organization, Leket Israel (www.leket.org), has two main programs.  First, they have a MEAL rescue program in partnership with hotels, caterers and others throughout Israel to collect cooked meals that would otherwise be discarded and distribute them to the needy.  Second, they have a FOOD rescue program that that works with local farmers who, for one reason or another, have decided not to harvest their crops.  This could be because of the lack of labor, lack of market, or another reason.  So, the program brings volunteers to the property to harvest the fruit or vegetables so that it can be distributed to those who cannot afford fresh food.   We spent a good part of the morning picking radishes.  Surprisingly, no one in our group had any previous farming experience.

Lunch at Diana

For most, this is the trip’s culinary highlights.  A traditional Mediterranean meal served “family style”.  Humus, baba ganoush, tahini, Israeli salad, chicken, meatballs, lamb and more.  Fairly certain Adam stuffed his pockets with Humus.  It was absolutely delightful.

Food Pantry – Kol Halev

Next, we visited a local food pantry led by Yochai, an amazing individual who has dedicated his life to serving the needy after a profound military experience in the late 60s that ended with him being severely injured and many of his friends and fellow soldiers being injured or killed.   Since then, he has developed a food pantry and distribution program that serves thousands of people.   After learning about his military experience (he oozes Israeli pride), we helped him prepare and pack food and each of us got a hug on our way out.

After School Program – Bayit Cham

We visited a dynamic after school program for underpriveleged kids.  Each of us brought gifts from home for the kids of this special pre-school.  We sang songs, planted a garden, and shared snacks.  The pervasive spirt of partriotism we’ve seen all over the country was also present in this little after school program (even the balls were blue).  Past Rubinites, Steve and Kim Lieberman, found their time in Yokneam so meaningful that, as part of their child’s bar mitzvah project, they worked to bring dozens soccer balls to these kids!  We hope to keep in touch with our new friends.

Teenage Volunteers

Our final activity of Day Four was a visit with a group of teenage leaders.  Each of them had recently graduated from high school and committed to spend a year in public service before entering the military for two years.  We were inspired by their energy, their vision and optimism.

For dinner tonight, we split up into 5 groups and each of us were paired with a local family for dinner.  We all enjoyed the hospitality, learned about family life in Israel, enjoyed great food.

Day Four 

We spent much of the day traveling to Jerusalem.  We took the “scenic” route so that we could further understand the geography and topography of the country.   Upon arrival, we found a beautiful vantage point, we recited the shehecheyanu prayer as we entered the last stage of our long journey.

A Few Words About Jerusalem

We ask Israeli’s we meet about their experience.  Do you feel scared?  Do you feel insecure?  There’s a difference.  The difference between feeling unsafe vs. feeling insecure.  For many of us, at the height of “Ferguson”, while a few of us felt “unsafe”, many of us felt insecure.  There was a stressful and challenging situation in our community.  The whole world was witnessing and discussing our brokeness in many different ways.  The stress wasn’t so much about feeling unsafe (although, it was certainly about this for some), as most of us knew that we could make choices and remain safe.  But, most of us felt the insecurity of watching as the government attempted to keep the peace, protect our fellow citizens, and respect the rights of every voice to be heard.  Based upon our initial interaction with the people of Jerusalem, that’s the experience they are having.