The more than 24 hours of travel from Pittsburgh to Newark to Ben-Gurion International Airport isn’t for the faint of heart or spirit. Luckily, the CDS Class of 2018 has both of these things in spades. When we landed in Israel, we were greeted by our tour guide, Eitan Amitai and counselor, Gali, who had planned for a meditation and yoga activity, expecting a group of sleepy and jet-lagged teens.
But not even the trials and tribulations of a cross-Atlantic flight could dampen the excitement of these newest CDS alumni at finally being in Israel together. The bus ride “up” from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was filled with palpable energy, and of course, the enthusiastic singing of Israeli pop songs, including the 2018 Eurovision winner.
Once we arrived at the Haas Promenade (the “Tayelet”), everyone held hands and closed their eyes to make their way to the overlook in a single-file line, with Naomi Shemer’s iconic “Jerusalem of Gold” playing in the background. They finally opened their eyes at the same time to behold (many for the first time) the full splendor of the city of Jerusalem spread out before them in the soft light of the Judean sunset.
Our group was complete with the arrival of one friend who flew early to Israel…and another who joined us after spending a year with her family in Abu Dhabi…and the surprise visit from an older sister (and CDS alum!) now working at the Knesset.
The 8th graders sang their graduation version of Shehecheyanu (the Jewish blessing for ‘firsts’), and Eitan blew the shofar to commemorate the occasion.
He also shared the cautionary tale of a man who tried to outsmart King Solomon by posing the question: “I have a butterfly in my hands. Tell me, is it alive or dead?” If the King had replied “dead,” the man planned to open his hands and let the butterfly go free. If the King said “alive,” the man would squash the butterfly in his hands. Instead, the King replied, “ha-kol b’yadecha – it’s all in your hands.” The story, Eitan explained, is a parable for the next two weeks. The trip is in our hands, he said, either to remain closed off, or to embrace all that Israel has to offer with full hearts and open minds.
After a delicious barbecue (kosher meat!) on a cool Jerusalem evening, it was time to finally head to our hotel and prepare for our adventure in the Old City in the morning.