More than a Taste of Israel
A little over two weeks ago, I embarked on what would be a life-changing experience: my first trip to Israel as staff for CFJE’s Ta’am Yisrael Trip. It is difficult to put into words my feelings about this adventure, but I am going to try.
As the plane touched down at Ben Gurion Airport, I knew this would be an experience I would never forget. I had only experienced Israel through pictures prior to this trip, but now the sights, sounds, and tastes are a part of me.
Since returning, everyone has been asking me, what was your favorite part? This question has stumped me as I really could not pick one or even two things. In Hebrew, ta’am means taste, the trip is an opportunity for 8th graders to “taste” Israel. The packed nature of this trip was much more than a taste. Rather, it was a five-course meal.
The first course touched on the tikkun olam, which translates as, repair the world. During the trip we traveled to a unique food pantry where we bagged fresh veggies which were later distributed to people in need. We also had the opportunity to travel to schools in Kiryat Gat, Chicago’s partner city in Israel. We participated in mitzvot at the schools. My group made misloach manot, treat baskets, to give to soldiers in the IDF for Purim.
For my second course, I am reflecting on the tastes. There is nothing quite as delicious as the rugalach from Marzipan Bakery in the Mahane Yehuda Shuk. The colors and flavors in the shuk were vibrant from the bright pink nameless fruit I tasted to the colorful spices. The falafel sandwich in the shuk was amazing as well. The tastes continue as our lunch in the Bedouin tent was unforgettable. I also enjoyed my experience at the Salad Trail, a unique farm in the Negev Desert. It was there that I learned that a bigger cucumber does not mean a better cucumber rather that the smaller cucumber holds less water producing more flavor.
The third course was about the history of the land and its people. To think I was standing at the Western Wall the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people. Placing notes that my husband, daughter, son, and I wrote in the cracks in the Wall was such an emotional moment for me. At camp we have made our own representations of the Wall and we have put notes in these walls made from cardboard boxes but there I stood putting notes in the real Wall! Climbing Masada was also an unforgettable moment of this trip. I was in awe of the breathtaking views of Masada and in the distance the Dead Sea. It was so cool to float in the Dead Sea, and afterward my skin was so smooth.
My fourth course is the people and connections that were established. I had made so many close friendships with the fellow staff from the trip. The 8th graders in my mishpacha, family, became a real family. But the true inspiration is in the heart of the Israeli people. There was a common theme brought to life during Ta’am and it’s the amazing survival of the Jewish people throughout time. No matter what the obstacle the Jewish people endure, there is a pride and love for their country that is rarely seen.
The fifth and final course was the connection to my Jewish heritage. There is nothing like walking around in a country in which Jewish people are not a minority. There was something to be said about feeling at peace with my Judaism. It was striking to walk in the streets of Tel Aviv and every door I passed had a mezuzah on it.
The trip was the missing piece of my Jewish identity. I plan on taking the places I have traveled to and the tastes of Israel wherever I go.