This time last year, I had the honour of spending a week in Israel as part of CIJA’s Israel Young Leaders Program.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is “a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization” whose goal is to “improve the quality of Jewish life in Canada by advancing the public policy interests of Canada’s organized Jewish community.” As part of their mandate, CIJA organizes annual outreach trips to the state of Israel, in order to give Canadian students and activists firsthand knowledge of Israeli issues.
2015’s IYLP trip was an opportunity for critical reflection and vigorous discussion. The trip was educational in nature; over eight days, the group met with Israeli and Palestinian academics, business leaders, activists, journalists, students, and local residents, in order to get a multifaceted perspective on Israeli history, culture, and politics. The delegation also visited a number of noteworthy sites in Israel and Palestine, including some of the holiest places in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The following blog is a series of photos and reminiscences from the trip (complete with fun facts and relevant Biblical quotations!).
Note: This is primarily a photoblog; it does not attempt to present an in-depth analysis of Middle Eastern politics and history. All photos by me, unless credited otherwise.
Content Warning: A few of these photos feature images of conflict zones.
Day 1 (December 27th, 2016):
We took off from Toronto on December 26th, 2015, and after a roughly ten-hour flight in which sleep was intermittent, we landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. From there, we launched immediately into a walking tour of the historic town of Jaffa, where were briefed on the history of Israel by Michael Bauer, the amazing tour guide who would accompany us throughout the trip.
Our first Israeli meal was lunch at Jaffa’s Cafe Yaffo. As we walked in, David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” was playing on the radio, which I took to be a good omen.
Throughout the tour we saw a number of religious and historical sites, including the House of Simon Tanner (where the Apostle Peter resided for a period of time and experienced a divine vision) and the Port of Jaffa (mentioned in the Biblical Book of Jonah).
(Click on the photos for captions and relevant Bible quotes).
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent exploring the city of Tel Aviv, prior to dinner at the Goshen restaurant and an engaging discussion of Israeli politics and security.
We spent the night at the Art+ Hotel in Tel Aviv. I loved the decor:
Day 2 (December 28, 2015):
The next morning, we congregated in the Heseg House boardroom for a briefing on Israel’s vibrant tech industry, which is almost on par with Silicon Valley. Afterwards, we did a walking tour of Tel Aviv to see examples of Bauhaus architecture (Tel Aviv features more examples of Bauhaus architecture than anywhere else in the world, as many of the original Bauhaus buildings in Germany were destroyed in World War II).
We then stopped for lunch in the Sarona Market (as Canadians, it was odd to go through a metal detector before entering a food court – a reminder of the spectre of terrorism hanging over everyday life in Israel).
After lunch, we met with activists at the Aguda LGBT community centre for a discussion of the state of LBGT rights in Israel.
Our next stop was Tel Aviv University, where we received a lecture on the Iranian political situation from Professor David Menashri, Director of the Centre for Iranian Studies.
The night wrapped up with a dinner at the Maganda restaurant, where we met with former Member of the Knesset Einat Wilf.
Day 3 (December 29, 2015):
At the beginning of Day 3, we left Tel Aviv and hit the road toward Northern Israel.
We stopped in the Arab-Israeli town of Salam, where we had the chance to chat with local residents (super nice people!) about life on the border between Israel and the West Bank.
(Again, click on the photos for captions).
From there, we travelled to the Druze village of Pkiin. On the way, we stopped at a famous Jewish holy site – the cave where the Book of Kabbalah was written.
We then descended a treacherously steep flight of stairs into the village, where we had an amazing lunch at a restaurant known for making “the best hummus in Galilee.” While we ate, the owners of the restaurant gave us a brief primer on the Druze religion and culture.
After leaving Pkiin, we drove to the Lebanese border for a security briefing. Chillingly, as we looked down into Lebanon, yellow Hezbollah flags were clearly visible.
The evening ended on a lighter note, with a wine tasting of the Galil Winery, located at Kibbutz Yiron in Upper Galilee.
Day 4 (December 30, 2015):
We started the day with a drive through the foggy Golan Heights (which, despite the limited visibility, was an incomparably beautiful view).
We disembarked at a bombed-out building near the Syrian border. At this spot, our group discussed the Syrian conflicts while overlooking areas occupied by Syrian Al-Qaeda; at one point, bombs or gunshots could be heard in the distance.
Our next stop was the holy site of Capharnaum, the town in which Jesus Christ founded his ministry and performed miracles. We stood on the site of Jesus’ synagogue (on which an approximately 1600-year-old reconstruction stands) and visited the traditional site of St. Peter’s house. As a Christian, this was one of the most moving places I have ever visited.
We also stopped at the Sea of Galilee, which was absolutely beautiful to behold.
Once back on the road, we stopped for our first Israeli shawarma of the trip (one of the restaurant staff excitedly took a selfie with our table).
After lunch, we entered the West Bank, driving by Palestinian businesses and villages.
On the way, we passed the Biblical town of Jericho and the mountains upon which Jesus was tempted (pictured below).
While in this area we also stopped at a gas station and rode camels in the parking lot. That was quite the experience.
We then visited a large Israeli settlement ten minutes away from Jerusalem, where our guide briefed us on the debate surrounding the settlements.
From this location, we got a great panoramic view of East Jerusalem.
It was raining when we first entered Jerusalem and we headed straight to the hotel, where we participated in an informative discussion with Katherine Verrier-Frechette, Head of Mission, Canadian Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority.
Later in the evening we had dinner at a kosher McDonalds and looked around the various shops around our hotel.
Day 5 (December 31, 2016):
Day Five (New Year’s Eve) was by far my favourite day of the trip.
In the morning, we participated in a guided tour of the Israeli Supreme Court, learning about the Israeli legal system. The building’s architecture has a deliberate dualism, juxtaposing old and new and evoking the feeling of being simultaneously outside and inside (pictures and fun facts below).
We then toured the Old City of Jerusalem:
In Jerusalem, we joined worshipers at the Jewish Holy site of the Western Wall, where we were able to leave notes of prayer between the bricks.
Below are images taken of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock:
After the Western Wall, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Christ’s Cruxifixction, burial, and Resurrection – the holiest site in many branches of Christianity, and an incredibly moving place.
It was truly overwhelming to visit and worship at these holy sites.
Later in the evening, our group celebrated New Years at the Toy Bar in Jerusalem.
Day 6 (January 1, 2016)
Our group spent the morning at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which features stories of persecution, suffering, and resistance, and is dedicated to identifying all of the victims of the Holocaust (there are still millions of missing names). The building was designed in a brutalist style that evokes steadily-increasing despair (dim lighting, a descending hallway with triangular ceilings, creating the sensation of the walls closing in on you) while ending on a note of hope: a window looking out onto the city of Jerusalem.
During the drive back, we were distressed to hear of a mass shooting in Tel Aviv.
Day 7 (January 7, 2016)
On our last full day in Israel, the group went to the Dead Sea.
Day 8 (January 8, 2016)
Many thanks to everyone at CIJA for such an amazing experience. It was truly humbling.
May God bless the people of Israel.