Written by Cindy Liebson

It will be almost impossible to describe this trip to Israel, as our tour guide explains on the bus ride to our hotel tonight.

We started the day with a walking tour of beautiful Tel Aviv- a city that embodies in its name and its character the ancient and ultra-modern.

This was followed by a lunchtime walk through the shuk, overflowing with spices and pastries and fruits. Some of us stopped for falafels and iced coffee, some had quiet lunches and explored the shops,  and we all met again at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Our morning started with a workshop on Israeli Activism – the Jewish value of courage – making things happen, finding one’s purpose. We experienced an interactive session with four Israeli mothers who were inspired to take action in their own communities by such leading educational efforts, helping the homeless through choral singing, and having the chutzpah to take the first step to bring about positive change at any scale.

Most inspiring was our introduction to a lovely young Israeli-born woman who had been led through seemingly random turns of events in her life to encounter famine, inability to access education, disease, and lack of clean drinking water in Africa. She described, that by simply asking “why?”, the root cause appeared to be lack of access to electricity. A college student, she returned to her Hillel organization and raised money for two solar panels, providing refrigeration for medicine and lightbulbs for a schoolhouse for an entire village. From that inspiration, she has now led an effort to provide solar panels to power pumps for clean groundwater, irrigation for farming, and electricity for schools and medical clinics. Her thoughtfulness to empower these communities to provide for themselves has changed the lives of thousands of Africans throughout the continent.

To round out our sessions, a man named Zeev Ben Shachar treated us to a discussion on Israeli Advocacy- the importance of perspective regarding the fine lines between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and encouraged us to use the Jewish value of learning from everyone in order to be truly wise.

The Stock Exchange houses a Birthright-Taglit Center for Innovation. One of every 1700 Israelis are involved in startup companies-the highest per-capita in the world.  Showcased within this center, an articulate and intelligent 24 year old woman led us through just a few of the most amazing inventions born in Israel- from a robotic exoskeleton to help those with spinal cord injuries, to cell phone apps such as Waze to guide everything from driving to pregnancy, to the magnificent Iron Dome system that protects this small and intense nation from rocket fire.

It is hard to believe that it has been only a little over 70 years that such incredible innovation has arisen from what appeared to be a sandy wasteland. But when we toured the Beit Haatzmaut (Independence Hall) exhibit housed within the Stock Exchange, we became privy to the dreams of Theodor Herzl, who predicted the Holocaust long before it happened, and who led a congress of Zionists to begin the process of reclaiming the Jewish homeland. Like Moses, he never lived to see his dream realized. But we learned about the rebirth of Israel under the most impossible circumstances, by a small number of extremely courageous individuals inspired by him, who made the choice to stand up and declare statehood, as five Arab nations around them were poised to obliterate the Jewish State. We learned about the Declaration of Independence of 1948 and the surge of rapid decisions and timing that made it possible-and that it was signed in haste on a blank scroll and transcribed later, unbeknownst to the world, as declaring statehood was an urgent matter in that moment. A most touching moment was to hear the original recording of David Ben Gurion declaring to the world, with Rabbi Kook next to him blessing the new beginning, and applause…applause…and then the haunting melody of the national anthem, Hatikvah, being sung.

With that, we embarked upon a trip to the Herzliya Marina for a lovely outdoor dinner by the sea.

We are now on the bus to our next hotel, singing, laughing, writing, and napping- and as our tour guide explained, we don’t just decide to travel to this intense land of bizarre coincidences and connections for the food or the architecture. The call to come here is one that is made directly to the soul, and we often do not know why or what the purpose of this call is, until the journey is made. The journey is made at the proper time, for a reason, and to a human specifically-there is no way to explain this calling mere words.

Lilah tov, as we head to Tzvat in the North.