Postcards from Israel

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s recent Israel@60 mission left indelible memories for participants, who toured the Jewish state from Holocaust Remembrance Day through Independence Day.

J. asked for personal highlights from the trip. Here are a few responses.

‘People and prayers’

On the first night of the mission, people were anxious to go to bed as most had just completed the long flights to Israel. Liki Abrams and Orli Renat said they were going to the Kotel and invited me to attend. At first, I thought the right decision was to go to bed and rest up for a very busy day ahead, but I just can’t resist a visit to the Western Wall.

We entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, wandering down the narrow streets to the Kotel. The Old City was very quiet, almost deserted except for the stray cats. As we rounded a corner, there it was — lit up in all its glory — the Kotel. While the Old City was dark and deserted, the Kotel was anything but: lively, bright and filled with Jews praying at the Wall.

Here it was almost midnight, and the place was bustling with people and prayers. It was a wonderful feeling to be among them.

Tom Kasten


Unremitting link to history

Being in Israel for the arc of Yom HaShoah to Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut was very powerful.

Those eight days reveal Israel’s genetic makeup and enable one to fully comprehend the singularity of her DNA, which has imparted to the state its values, its inextricable and unremitting link to history and the sanctity for life. To me that was the most enduring impression from our visit.

To be sure, a glimpse into the state of Israeli high-tech and start-up industry was fascinating and inspiring, and enabled one to envisage boundless possibilities. But it was instructive at a thinking or a tactical level in many ways — not at the kishke level like that trio of observances. The former informed; the latter defined.

Howard Zack


Dancing in the streets

It was the Israel Independence Day and we all celebrated Israel’s 60th anniversary in Tel Aviv in Rabin Square with about 5,000 people. There were fireworks, a laser show, a band, dancers and lots of singing. All of us sang Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, and everyone was very, very happy. It’s hard to describe the excitement and happiness. People celebrated all night long, all singing and dancing until about 3 a.m. There were no riots, no one got unruly, no one was being pickpocketed; everyone was simply happy that Israel was in existence.

Linda C. Kramer

Los Altos

A people unbroken

My most enduring memory comes from our visit to Tel Dan on Israel’s modern northern border. Two thousand eight hundred years ago, it was also Israel’s ancient border.

We marveled at the massive defensive walls of the biblical city. Then we wandered through the trenches that Israeli soldiers used as they prepared to defend Israel’s border on the eve of the Six Day War in 1967.

For all of us, there was a simple but stunning epiphany: We are part of a three-millennia continuum, a people unbroken and unbreakable. Since 800 BCE, a dozen ancient empires have come and gone at Tel Dan. But we, the Jewish people, were there then, and we’re there now.

Jehon Grist


World-class city

Tel Aviv: I remember even 10 years ago a metropolis with a great deal of litter. A Third World capital city. Skyscrapers that looked like Eastern Europe in the 1980s. Basically rough residential infill. Difficult to engage in commerce. Corrupt and slow. Rude. Some culture. Some good museums. Worthy of a stop if it was directly in your path, but only because of the great beaches.

Today it has metamorphosed into a world-class destination. Clean. Exciting new urban architecture. A significantly higher standard of living seen in restaurants, stores, expensive cars and high-end real estate.

World-class universities and hospitals. World-class scientists and other professionals. A capitalistic market accessible to outsiders. A dynamic business culture with world-class standards.

Still completely secular and still open all night.

Ephraim Greenwall


Uplifting sadness

I’ve never witnessed a more somber and moving sight as the Yom HaZikaron ceremony with 100,000 Israelis and guests in Rabin Square.

You could sense the pain each and every person felt for a loved one, a friend, a neighbor. The sadness was almost overwhelming, but strangely uplifting because you knew that this memorial was part of a national strength.

Twenty-four hours later the country showed its schizophrenia: 100,000 people in Rabin Square singing at the top of their lungs, joyfully dancing with strangers,

celebrating 60 years of accomplishments and survival.

Sam Lauter

San Francisco

‘A real place’

If I had to pick out one highlight for me,

other than climbing into an Israeli tank and F-16, I would have to say the guides. They brought to light and put in perspective all the history, political issues and problems with Israel both thousands of years ago and today. “Israel is now a ‘real’ place for me, and the work done by the [federation], especially for the Israeli Arabs, I know makes a real difference.

Allan Drabinsky

Walnut Creek