Update from Rabbi Jan Kaufman:
As you can imagine, the 24 hour FAA ban that was imposed on US carriers caused some of our mission participants to make alternate flight arrangements to return to North America. Larry Ritter and the staff of ITC were very helpful in making some of these arrangements. We began our day with t'filah at the Kotel Masorti. We didn't have to worry about the direction of mizrah. We were facing the Kotel itself and its history and meaning was right in front of us. Our colleague, David Ebstein, was officiating at a bar mitzvah right next to us.
We rearranged the schedule of the day to make a shivah call to Effie and Na'mah Rahav, the parents of Lt. Bar Rahav who was killed in action on Sunday. The house was filled with young people - Bar's friends. His brother, Nir, just finished high school and will enter the army. The heartbreak of burying a child is unimaginable. There was a photo of Bar in his army uniform next to the shivah candle. Effie told us that the visit of our delegation gave him and his family tremendous support. We stopped briefly at Kehillat Sukkat Shalom, the Rahav's home congregation. It's a lovely shul whose interior was designed by Reuven and Rahel Hammer's daughter, Ora.
Our next stop was Noam Camp Ramah that had been relocated to Park Hayarden. It was Yom Sport and the camp was divided into regions. When we walked into camp we were greeted by the director, Amit Stern, who told us the t'nuah had to relocate the camp in two days. The ruah was amazing - the kids were singing at the top of their lungs. When one of our colleagues asked Amit where the kids sleep, he said look straight ahead. The kids sleep in sleeping bags on the ground because it's too hot for tents. We were joined at lunch by Ari Hasit, a third year rabbinical school student at Machon Schechter. Each day there are parent volunteers in the kitchen. The day's volunteers were two mothers, both lawyers, spending the day in the kitchen at Ramah. Our time at camp concluded with a study session led by Ari, who is exempt from going to war. This led to a discussion of what to tell the kids at camp and how to process the situation with them. In many cases, the campers have older siblings in the army and, in some cases, have fathers who have been called up to reserves. Camp staff listened carefully to the wisdom our rabbis shared about how to approach what's going on with the campers.
The day concluded with a visit to the Shoshanna winery in Atlit. Owned by Shoshanna, who was raised in Kehillat Moriah in Haifa, her winery is supervised by our colleague, Dubi Hayun, co-president of the Israel RA and rabbi of Moriah. Yizhar explained that they can't use the word kosher because that can only come from the rabbanut but uses the phrase under the hashgahah of the Masorti Movement. Shoshanna is a boutique winery that produces only 3000 bottles a year of mostly red wines. After Shoshanna explained the history of her winery, she gave us a tour and showed us how she makes the wine. Of course, we had a wine tasting, along with a delightful spread of cheese and home-made bread. Many of our colleagues purchased wine to take home. It was a fitting moment of contrasts and hope to end our mission - to see life in Israel continuing as usual in an elegant winery supervised by a Masorti rabbi.
The mission was intense, exhausting and utterly worthwhile. The RA thanks all those who joined us to bring hizuk to our community in Israel. We especially thank our chairs, Rabbis Gordon Tucker and Aaron Melman (Aaron gets an unplanned Shabbat in Jerusalem thanks to the FAA), Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, for making the arrangements for our program which was unfolding as we were on the mission, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld whose ideas it was to hold this mission and who worked tirelessly while on the Conference of Presidents mission in Israel last week recruiting and planning for the mission, and to Larry Ritter and the staff of ITC for handling all of the logistical arrangements (which also unfolded as the mission proceeded aided by the FAA). The thoroughgoing commitment to Israel that is fundamental to the Conservative Movement could not have been more evident. We thought it fitting to have been the first official group representing one of the streams on the ground for a solidarity mission and hope that this will only inspire us to do more.