Counting Stars

Each morning in Israel we begin with tefillah, as we do back at home at Community Day School. On Monday, our Torah service was unique because we read from a gorgeous Sephardic Torah that stands upright and is encased in decorated wood. It was also special because Aaron read his Bar Mitzvah portion in preparation for his ceremony on Thursday at the Kotel.

We then set out for a short climb to Tel Azekah, an archeological mound high above the Valley of Elah, where the battle between David and Goliath took place in the time of the Philistines at this historic stronghold of the Kingdom of Judah. Eitan recounted this biblical story, which was reenacted by Isaac (playing David) and Aaron (larger than life in the role of Goliath) as we overlooked the very location where the epic encounter took place.

Our next stop (yes, this all happens in one day!) was at Tel Maresha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in an area known as the “Land of a Thousand Caves,” where we got our hands dirty as amateur archeologists. The man-made chalk caves at Maresha were used for quarries, burial grounds, animal shelters, workshops, and underground spaces for raising doves and pigeons. We learned that ancient inscriptions discovered at the site provide archeological credibility for the story of Chanukah and the Second Book of Maccabees. How cool!

Our simple instructions were to scrape, schlep, sift, and schvitz, not necessarily in that order. While digging and sifting through rock and dirt in the caves, CDS Class of 2019 stumbled upon fishbones and an animal jaw, plenty of pottery shards, and even a bronze makeup applicator that perhaps hadn’t been used in 2,000 years. They also found a large piece of pottery that maybe had a place at the Maccabee family dinner table …

After all that digging, we had to haul our archeological finds, along with the heavy buckets of clay and rocks, back to the surface. That took some serious CDS Class of 2019 teamwork. Then it was time to go spelunking, with an exciting (and very narrow) crawl through a candlelit cave, where we celebrated Alex’s birthday with an underground beatbox party led by Eitan.

At last it was on to Kfar Hanokdim, for our long-awaited camel ride and night spent sleeping Bedouin tents in the Judean desert. As we boarded our camels, the setting sun was breathtaking over the dramatic mountain landscape, and the evening desert breeze was a welcome respite from the serious heat of the day. Experience it here:

We enjoyed a traditional Bedouin dinner served on large trays with handmade pita, as well as a bonfire complete with s’mores and a special visitor–Eitan dressed in the guise of a Bedouin host and speaking in Arabic to answer our questions about desert life and culture; due to Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, actual Bedouin hospitality was not available.

After birthday cake for Alex, we then took a mindful reflection walk under the desert stars. Eitan reminded us that when Abraham complained to God that he was childless, God promised that his children would be as numerous as the stars in the sky: “God took him outside and said, ‘Look at the sky, and count the stars if you can! So will be your descendants.‘”(Gen. 15:5). How amazing it was that we were able to stand in the desert night, as Abraham once did, as his descendants, as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Eitan then shared a quote from poet and paratrooper Hannah Senesh: “There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living.” Each of us chose a star and focused on people who inspire us, either living or from our past, and then reflected silently on the gifts those people have brought to our lives and how we want to live with intention based on the examples they set.

After sharing this powerful experience, at last it was time to retire to our tents in anticipation of our 4 a.m. wake-up call to climb Masada …

3 thoughts on “Counting Stars

  1. Each day this account of your activities leaves me stunned, breathless, moved, and filled with gratitude. I am grateful for the educators and guides leading our kids, for those keeping them safe, for our graduates – who make the most of every moment wherever they find themselves. So grateful to our worthy journalist, Jen, who makes it seem like we are right there with you (only without the schvitz).


  2. What a wonderful day!!!! Thank you so much for these amazing blog entries about their travels. Just amazing! I can’t wait to see the blog about Masada and the Dead Sea!


  3. This blog leaves me breathless. I’m trying to articulate the depth and breadth of this experience and there are so many emotions that I can’t seem to capture them all. I am so thankful for the teachers and you Jen for giving me/us peace of mind knowing our children are cared for and engaged. I am in awe of how much they have learned in such a short period of time. It is truly truly amazing! Every time I hop on this blog (breathless with anticipation I might add) I learn something new that I didn’t learn from the other blog entries like for example, the Hannah Senesh connection among many others. It’s amazing how even the slightest piece of dirt or the dust particle in the sky has a spiritual and holy Jewish significance beyond the mundane that is enriched through stories. Judaism is a storytelling culture! It’s a different way of looking at the world and these kids will have such a deeper enriched understanding of their beyond the classroom that will give them far with the wings they need to fly. They are confident, soaring… rising like the eagle flying over Masada, which I can’t wait to read by the way.


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