A Birthright trip for adults? That's right. A recent trip, JUF's Birthright Parent Mission to Israel, presented an opportunity to experience the type of trip so many of our children were so enthusiastic about.
Seven couples along with our JUF liaison, Paula Harris, and our guide, Shay Abitbul, embarked on a nine-day mission in October.
Only four of the 14 participants had previously been to Israel, so we began our journey in Tel Aviv with much excitement and perhaps a little trepidation. Would we be safe? Could we handle the hikes and the jeep rides? Would we get time to shop? Could we keep a pace similar to that of our children?
At Caesarea our first stop, we were awed by this ancient city, now an archaeological park, located on the Mediterranean Sea.
Next we drove to the old city of Safed, a most picturesque neighborhood with narrow alleys and cobblestone streets where synagogues date back to the 16th century. We visited an artist, who explained his artwork based on Kabbalistic teachings.
Day two began with an early morning hike alongside the Banias River, bringing us to the most beautiful waterfall. We learned about the importance of this water source to Israel and admired the natural beauty of the cascade.
The rest of day included an ATV adventure on the Golan Heights, a visit to a winery in the Upper Galilee and a tour of an IDF army tank base. Some of us even climbed into an Israeli tank. Everyone was impressed with everything the soldiers do for Israel.
This day taught us about the close borders, the importance of water, and why Israel shall never give up the Golan Heights. We also discovered that like our children, we were up for a little adventure.
Up early, we began the day with an archeological dig at Beit Guvrin and became part of thousands of years of history.
Our next stop was Kiryat Gat, JUF's Partnership Together region, where we worked on an art project at an absorption center with children from Ethiopia, supported by the Jewish Agency for Israel, a main beneficiary of JUF.
Day four began with a relaxing Dead Sea swim. Never resting for long, we hopped on the bus with our destination: Masada. We toured King Herod's historic hilltop fortress, where a small band of Jewish zealots took refuge after Roman destruction of the Second Temple. Is there any price too high for religious freedom?
Never stopping, the group headed for a hike in Ein Gedi Nature reserve, discovering springs, waterfalls and native animals.
Continuing on to Jerusalem, our trip was more than halfway over. We toured Yad Vashem, including the very emotional Children's Memorial and the Hall of Remembrance. At Mt. Herzl, the site of Jerusalem's military cemetery, we sadly watched a father as he cried on his daughter's grave. It was a sad and moving day as we reflected on the atrocities of World War II and the Israeli soldiers who vow to protect the homeland of Israel so this can never happen again.
After a quick clean up for Shabbat, we headed to the Western Wall for Kabbalat Shabbat. We shared in prayers and singing and worked our way down to the Western Wall to deliver notes given to us by family and friends.
We enjoyed a beautiful Shabbat dinner with two Lone Soldiers and played a little "Jewish" geography with one of the soldiers, who discovered that her brother in Chicago had delivered two of our grandchildren.
After a restful Shabbat, we had the privilege of touring with Colonel Danny Tirza, the IDF's chief architect for the security fence.
It was still not time to rest as we headed to the Western Wall Tunnel to explore the "Kotel" and the adjacent tunnel system.
While in Jerusalem our visit to Machane Yehuda Market was an experience for all of our senses.
At our final destination, Tel Aviv, we visited the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled. We played wheelchair basketball and found out that it takes a real talent that none of us possessed. After touring the kindergarten rooms and dining with several participants, we noted that it was truly a humbling experience and it was rewarding to know that JUF helps to make this facility work.
Our last day included a tour of the Ayalon Institute bullet factory and saw how some very creative Israeli's were able to manufacture millions of bullets used in the fight for independence.
It was now, sadly, time for our farewell dinner. We reminisced about all the wonderful places we had been, and the friendships we had forged. We were so happy to have taken this wonderful Birthright journey, and we were eager to share our stories and all that we had learned and seen with family and friends-and especially our children who have had their own Birthright experience.
For more information on JUF missions, call (312) 357-6260 or e-mail Missions@juf.org.
Caryn Goode, along with her husband Mark, were participants on the inaugural JUF Birthright Parent Mission to Israel. Both of their sons traveled to Israel on JUF's Chicago Community Birthright Israel trips.