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From Mourning to Masada

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wasserman

Prior to the escalation of hostilities in the Middle East, JDate Travel brought a group of singles to Israel. For many, it was their first visit to the cradle of Judaism. For Heidi Wasserman, it was that and much more.

It all started for me while sitting in temple during the Passover Yizkor Service honoring my deceased husband and mother, reflecting on the Rabbi’s profound words: “Sometimes, you have to travel very far away to see clearly what is in front of you.”
Sometimes, you have to travel very far away to see clearly what is in front of you.
I returned home that morning to find an email from JDate promoting their first trip to Israel, scheduled for May 2006. It was to be an eight-day, five-star hotel and sumptuous-buffet trip. I realized that this was fate! What better place to start my new life than where it all began?

This was my first trip traveling alone, so far, and I was apprehensive. I was nervous about going to a country that was continually threatened and where my safety could not be assured, but I felt a level of comfort going with this group of Jewish singles. Once I made the decision to go, my friends and family began comparing me to Goldie Hawn’s character in the movie “Private Benjamin” (1981), complaining like a Jewish Princess all the way! I learned that only 18% of American Jews have ever visited Israel, often due to the same fears… what a shame that they are missing out on a truly enlightening and life-changing experience!

JDate and Kenes Tours created the perfect all-encompassing and well organized itinerary for every age group (25 -77). We were split up by age into three busloads and quickly formed friendships that have enhanced our lives. We shared a common experience that will last in our souls forever. Together, we cried at the Western Wall and Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum); we laughed and danced and drank during the festive parties aboard a yacht and at Tel Aviv restaurants on the Mediterranean; toasted at Shabbat dinner; kayaked down the Jordan River; floated in the Dead Sea; and had mud treatments to improve our skin. We dined in a Bedouin village tent, shopped in the Carmel Market and bought trinkets at the Artist Faire. In a Jerusalem diamond factory, we were educated on how to buy a diamond. We bargained in the Jewish Quarter, wine-tasted at a kosher winery and shared kibbutz community living.

A true highlight was climbing Masada – and reaching the top! We toured the Golan Heights and learned about the war that was fought for this land. We visited Jaffa, Haifa and the Sea of Galilee. We made our way through the Western Wall Tunnels, where, more than any other place on earth, the memories of the Jewish past blend with the hopes of the Jewish future.

We learned the history of our Jewish ancestors in the Walled City from educated, highly trained Israeli tour guides, some with three Masters Degrees. Their devotion to their country was evident and contagious. The guides were instrumental in making this experience one we will always cherish.

Our group met and mingled with Israeli JDaters and others who were incredibly willing to share their personal stories with us. Their music, food, dance, art, and history became ours.

Two more highlights for me were being interviewed by an Israeli radio station about my trip experience, and the honor of reading the blessing as we entered the city of Jerusalem during the sunset prayer at Temple Mount. That moment provided a spectacular view of an entire city built in stone. Sipping from a Kiddush cup of kosher wine as we watched the end of another fulfilling day, we looked forward to the next.
My new appreciation for the everyday lives of the Israelis taught me not to complain about the little things here in America. We have it so good!

Beyond the experience of Israel itself, this journey had other lessons. It was fascinating to watch single Jewish professionals socializing. Some had felt no chemistry online, but formed strong ties during this opportunity to share quality time face to face. All had fun meeting new people every night, and some even found their soul mate.

Our group of adventurers included doctors, dentists, lawyers, entertainment execs and entrepreneurs. There were students, retired seniors, and single moms and dads. We were from New York, Toronto, Las Vegas, Brazil, Argentina, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Florida, Chicago and numerous places in between. Many travelers expressed a longing for their own children to carry on the Jewish traditions in family life and values.

My new appreciation for the everyday lives of the Israelis taught me not to complain about the little things here in America. We have it so good!

Our well-versed and educated tour guide, “Kobi” Arava, shared the following when asked, “What does it mean to be an Israeli?”

“To be an Israeli is to be proud to come back to the homeland and build a model that we lost 2000 years ago,” he began. “Proud to be in a country that is the only democracy in the Middle East. And while the Arabs don’t recognize our existence here, we are protecting the peace that we are so eager to have. Though it will not be in my lifetime, we do it for our children. We started from nothing and we are spending 40% of the budget on security, but still we are one of the biggest empires of high technology in the world because of the Jewish brain.”

The JDate liaison in Israel shared another perspective, “An Israeli is in the center of Jewish life and has a great responsibility to defend the spirit of the people and maintain their self-respect. We are all the same…”

Though I did not find my soul mate on this odyssey of discovery, during those eight days, I did start a love affair – with Israel.

Heidi Wasserman made her “presents” known 30 years ago when she developed the Corporate Gift Division of Tiffany & Co., Beverly Hills and parlayed it into her own successful gift business. She can be reached at heidigifts@aol.com.
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One Comment »

  • Great that you shared your experience on your trip to Israel and hopefully more than 18% of jews who currently visit will increase to be inspiered like you. Being in Los Angeles one of the most populated jewish community outside of Israel. The connections realy starts here too and around the world of facinating jewish roots and history. People do say that being in Israel makes you feel more connected. Get connected and proud of the Israeli spirit.

    To Life!

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