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The strength of our Jewish community is our membership. We are blessed by so many warm and caring individuals and families that make our community a great place to live and work. Our member Q & A section seeks to tap into that community spirit and find the mitzvot motivation of our members.

Ian Housman and his wife, Danielle, made a recent visit to Israel and they we kind enough to share their experience with us.

           
 
   
     
   
 

Israel from different angles

By Ian Housman

Israel evokes many thoughts and feelings.  Some religious, some cultural, some controversial, and others we struggle to put a finger on.  Prior to the start of Taglit-Birthright Israel, my mother enrolled me in the Passport to Israel program in order to ensure that I would make it to the Holy Land.  During college, my wife Danielle and I went on Birthright at separate times.  Since then, we moved to Utah, got married, and are becoming increasingly involved in the Salt Lake Jewish community.  We would occasionally talk about when we would go back to Israel to take advantage of the Passport to Israel opportunity, reaching little consensus.  Expecting a little one this spring, we planned a trip to Israel this past October as a baby moon. 


Planning our trip, we knew we wanted something different from our Birthright experience.  With some hesitation, we planned our own itinerary.  We would visit Eilat for some relaxation and beach time, and then spend several days in Jerusalem, seeing the sights we missed or were unable to fully enjoy while on Birthright.  Our last day would be spent in Tel Aviv.

   

 

Waiting at the Taba Border crossing for the first checkpoint.  We were told by the SCUBA company we were going with that normally this crossing is completely vacant…. except for the day before major Muslim holidays.

A view from Eilat toward Aqaba, Jordan.  Notice the very large flag.

 

 

Spending several days in Eilat was great!  What surprised us was the complete lack of any American tourists.  It was clear this is where Israelis go to holiday.  Despite its precarious geo-political location, Eilat seemed a well-established tourist destination à la Jersey Shore.  Walking along the boardwalk-like beachside promenade, we had difficulty believing we were a mere 15 miles from Saudi Arabia. 


Our most interesting experience while in Eilat was a day trip snorkeling along the Sinai coast from Taba, Egypt.  Unaware our chosen day to venture to Taba was the day before the Muslim holiday Ein al-Adha, we were shocked at the chaotic scene at the normally vacant Taba border crossing.  It seemed every Arab Israeli was going to Egypt for the holiday.  After navigating through the various checkpoints for about 2 hours, we were treated to a beautiful day snorkeling along the coast of the Sinai.  The coral and fish were beautiful.  While the snorkeling was great, the most impactful part of the day trip occurred upon re-entry to Israel.  As with many experiences, our perspective can cloud or enhance our appreciation for what is around us.  Upon reentry into Israel from Egypt, it became clear that as Jews, Israel is unlike any other land. As we re-entered Israel, there was a feeling of “coming home” as customs officials gave us a sentiment that we were one.  We have never experienced this on any of our international travels.  Truthfully, I have not even had this experience coming back into the US.

   

 
 

A reminder of the very real and necessary role of the borders of Israel, our Red Sea Snorkel, and the Dead Sea.

  After several days in Eilat, we headed north.  On our way to Jerusalem, we took a quick swim in the Dead Sea at Ein Bokek.  As we left the Dead Sea and headed toward Jerusalem, the elevation increased, the temperature dropped, and it felt like we were going somewhere like no other.  We recalled the intense atmosphere of Jerusalem from our respective Birthright trips, but felt that among the rushed pace and incumbent sleep deprivation, we were unable to fully appreciate Jerusalem.     As we neared the top of the hills, Jerusalem came into view, with towns dotting the hilltops all around.  We spent the next several days getting to know this powerful place.
     

The Western Wall on our first day in Jerusalem.

Not a place on earth like this. 

   
   
 

Days were spent exploring the Old City, while nights were spent finding the best falafel and shawarma in the New City.  It was quite fascinating walking around the different quarters of the Old City, taking in the changes in aromas, dress, language, cleanliness, and atmosphere.  During our Birthright tours, we did none of the “underground” tours- namely the Western Wall tunnels, and the City of David.  It was quite difficult to imagine what once was during the Western Wall Tunnel tour.  Everything was on a scale inconceivable for its time. Yet, as we approached the nondescript location along the wall closest to the Holy of Holies, the power was inescapable.  It was a reminder that regardless of what our beliefs are, the significance of Jerusalem and Israel should be cherished.  As we came back up into the chaotic Muslim Quarter, the peace and stillness of the Western Wall Tunnel seemed a world away. 

On our last day in Jerusalem, we started the morning with a tour of the City of David and the Hezekiah Tunnel.  As the tour descended deeper and deeper underground, there continued to be more layers of the ancient city of Jerusalem.  Deeper still, we entered the Hezekiah Tunnel- a tunnel that was dug to secure the ancient city’s water supply.  After about twenty minutes of walking through the dark tunnel through solid stone, we saw light.  It was difficult to imagine the determination necessary to chisel through solid stone so long ago. 

     
   

 
  That afternoon, a deafening silence emanated as Shabbat descended on Jerusalem.  We went to the Western Wall to take in the infectious atmosphere as the silence broke with the start of Shabbat.  As we walked the most direct route from Damascus Gate, straight through the Muslim Quarter, to the Western Wall, there was a quick moving stream of Hasidim.  The uneasy rush of the mass toward the Wall was calmed by Arab Israelis ensuring the mass to not worry; Shabbat would not be starting for several minutes.  Upon arriving at the Western wall, the scene was one of organized chaos.  The Hasidim were dressed in their best, diligently praying and singing.  The IDF were hollering festive chants.  Some were in circles, some in small groups, while others prayed, sang, and meditated on their own.  We simply took it all in, soaking in what can only happen in this single place. 
  The next day we made our way to Tel Aviv to see how the rest of Israel enjoys Shabbat.  An hour drive brought us to what seemed like yet another world.  We toured the old city of Jaffa, taking in the numerous gentrified areas on the wharf.  From Old Jaffa we walked to the city center of Tel Aviv, stopping for fresh squeezed fruit juices, coffee (decaf for Danielle), and sushi (relegated to California rolls) here and there.  Tel Aviv had an extremely modern almost European feel.  It was quite obvious that this was a city born from a vision- a reflection of much that embodies modern Israel.
     

 

One last day in the paradise of Tel Aviv.

 

As we made our way to the airport that night, we reflected on our week-long trip around Israel.  Our Birthright experiences had introduced us to many of the major sites around Israel.  This trip introduced us to many more dimensions of this complex place.  Any traveler would be quite naive to make generalizations based on a week-long trip with limited interaction with the local culture. Yet, we did feel this trip started to scratch the surface of understanding what Israel is all about. 


One cannot visit Israel without being impacted.  It is a place like no other.  From the time we arrived, a welcoming sense of uneasiness emanated throughout the country.  The uneasiness was subdued in most places, but real or perceived, it was unmistakable to us.  It was not until we went to Egypt for a day that this uneasiness was put into perspective.  It became immediately apparent through our newfound perspective that the uneasy atmosphere was not without reason.  Israel is something to be cherished and protected.  From the beaches of Eilat, to the religiously significant sites of Jerusalem, to the golden beaches and glistening high-rises of Tel Aviv, our experiences in Israel were truly impactful.  Reflecting on these experiences, it makes us proud to be part of a people with such a vision, and excited to embark on our next journey as parents, passing on our history, culture, and its values.

 

           
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