Tag Archives: Jewish

Travel Guide: Jerusalem

I recently had the pleasure of chaperoning a two-week trip to Israel with the eighth grade class at my school. The purpose of the trip was to develop strong cultural connections with Judaism and the land of Israel, celebrate their B’nai Mitzvah together as a grade, and form new and better friendships with their classmates. Based on the reflection that the guides led on final night, I’d say that mission was accomplished.

Many organized trips to Israel like ours cover the three regions of the country; the north, the south, and the central region, which includes Jerusalem and its surroundings. We spent the first four and last three days of our trip in and around Jerusalem, and that’s what I’ll walk you through in this post. Stay tuned for the others!

We hit the ground running after a 12-hour flight that landed at Ben Gurion International Airport at 6:30am! Despite kids’ pleas to go to bed, we headed to Neot Kedumim, a biblical garden and land reserve that highlights animals, plants, and plant products mentioned in the Old Testament.

Highlights included herding sheep . . .


. . . and planting trees, a vital part of every first trip to Israel as a way of “giving back” to the land and contributing to its continued prosperity.


It was the first trip to Israel for many of our students and we spent some time singing and celebrating on the Talpiyot Promenade that overlooks the Old City.


This was also a perfect location to experience some of Israel’s idiosyncratic juxtapositions of religious and modern life.


We spent most of the following morning at the City of David, the archaeological sites that date back to the Second Temple period (about 530 BCE-70 CE). Attractions included a walk through Hezekiah’s Water Tunnel, an underground tunnel built in the 8th century to protect Jerusalem’s water from Assyrian invaders. As it was a bit chilly that day, I opted to wait outside and take pictures overlooking the Old City, but my students said it was a lot of fun.

We also visited the Davidson Center, which is a museum dedicated to the ongoing archaeological excavations around the Temple Mount area of the Old City.

No visit to Jerusalem, at least for Jews, is complete without a visit to the Kotel, or Western Wall, part of the ancient retaining wall of the Second Temple. Most of the wall is reserved for men and therefore all of my pictures come from the women’s section. The segregation irritated me more this time than it has in past visits to Israel. There’s something truly fundamentally wrong with separating men and women because of invented notions of purity.

We walked back through the Old City as the sun was setting. It was beautiful.


The next day we visited Beit Guvrin, an active archaeological dig that is a lot of fun no matter how many times I’ve done it. There are so many artifacts yet to find! Spelunking there is great, too, because some of the completed excavations are best experienced in the darkness by candlelight. This time, we visited a columbarium dating back to 200BCE! And the park itself is beautiful.

After celebrating Shabbat together in Jerusalem, we went to the famed Ben Yehuda Street to eat and shop. I bought some gifts and had a delicious and overpriced falafel – my gift to myself!

We returned to Jerusalem for the final two nights of our trip after traveling through the country. Our first stop when we got back was to Latet, an organization that aims to reduce poverty and create a better, more just society in Israel. We volunteered by sorting boxes of food for delivery to needy families for Passover. The kids received very little instruction, someone hooked up an iPod full of Israeli folk songs, and suddenly everyone had organized themselves into groups sorting different food products. In moments, without talking about it at all, everyone knew who was packing boxes of canned vegetables, grape juice, matzah, chocolate spread, and others. There was so much excitement and energy in the room, cheering as boxes filled, laughter as we threw food products to one another (until we smashed a wine bottle and had to clean that up . . . and then promptly continued), and genuine joy in the work we were doing. We participated in two service projects on our trip and I absolutely loved both of them. Doing service work with students is high on the list of my favorite things.

The same day, we visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum. Our visit started in the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations, the area of Yad Vashem that honors non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Remembering that there were people, however few and far between, who risked their own lives to save others is the only way to go through the rest of the memorial without losing all hope.

The museum itself is designed to mirror the darkness of Hitler’s rise to power – you are literally underground in a close, constrained environment. Yad Vashem does not allow visitors to freely walk from one room to the next. Instead, all must pass through each room in turn, zigzagging across a long hallway the way Hitler’s persecuted people had no choice of where to go or how to get there. By the time the war ends, visitors are at ground level and the museum opens to a beautiful view of the world outside. Unsurprisingly, most students were especially moved by the Children’s Memorial. The fact that it even exists is enough to say about it.

But two days later, we visited Yad LaKashish, a beautiful contrast to the Holocaust. Yad LaKashish is an organization that teaches the elderly different types of crafts, like metalworking, bookbinding, jewelry making, and silkscreening. The artwork is then sold in the gift shop to finance the whole program. The artists love visitors, especially young people, and they make truly beautiful things. I was not alone in wishing aloud that I had any artistic ability whatsoever. Clearly it’s never to late to learn!

That afternoon, to bring the story of Zionism to a conclusion, we visited the Herzl Museum and reviewed much of what we’d learned in social studies class (a nod to my department – we done good!) prior to the trip about the Dreyfus Affair, Theodor Herzl, and the origins of the idea of a Jewish state.

Our final evening was spent reflecting on what we’d learned and experienced, thanking all of those who had been part of the trip, and enjoying one another’s company before heading to the airport in the wee hours of the morning.

I love Israel because it feels like home. This was my third time there but that feeling was present within me from the first moment I landed at Ben Gurion International Airport back in 2007. There’s an unspoken understanding among Jews in Israel, and this is most certainly a sign of privileged status in the country, that you’re welcome to visit, to explore, to ask questions, and to call Israel home. I did a lot of exploring this time around. I asked a lot of questions, specifically about the relationship between being religiously Jewish and culturally Jewish. Israel answered a lot of the questions I’d been asking before the trip and as always, I left wanting more.

Stay tuned for my posts on our time in the south, my favorite part of the country, the much greener but equally beautiful north, and the vibrant city of Tel Aviv.

Home for the Holiday

Shana tova! Happy New Year!

I was more than delighted to leave New York City this past weekend and spend Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at home in Rochester with my family. My brother is a sophomore in college who flew home for the holiday and my sister is a grad student in Rochester, so she was already home. The three of us overlapped in my parents’ house for all of 24 hours over the summer and I was almost childishly excited to be together again.

My grandparents drove from Montreal and Toronto to be with us, as well. I know that I am very lucky to have all of my grandparents and that they are all healthy and able to drive long distances. Without traffic (almost a certainty at Customs) Rochester is five hours from Montreal and three from Toronto, so it’s a significant amount of travel time. I am so grateful to be able to be with my family at any time, but especially at the start of the new year. So far, this is absolutely the best part of returning to the US.

Rosh Hashanah started Sunday night and I arrived Saturday morning, which meant I had time to do a few Rochester-related activities before contributing to the Rosh Hashanah cooking that my mum had been working on all week. I ended up making two cakes, stuffed vegetables, and doing a variety of prep for other dishes. Before getting involved in holiday preparations, however, we had time for a trip to my favorite local place, the Rochester Public Market.

There are a number of farmers’ markets in various Rochester suburbs, but the downtown public market is the largest and definitely the best, both for quality of produce and variety of options. It’s open year-round Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays with an increasing number of vendors as we get closer to the weekend. When I lived in the Park Ave neighborhood after college I went to the market every Saturday morning to buy my produce before heading to our local grocery chain, Wegmans (which I dearly miss!), for the rest. I knew which vendors would have what I wanted and where they were located, who would sell half baskets for half the price, and who sold parsley leaves in little bags instead of large bunches. Some vendors have changed in the last few years, but the market is still my favorite Rochester place.

Market shoppers! There’s more diversity here than any other place in the city. (Note: Statement based on personal experience, not empirical evidence.)

My parents picked me up at the airport on Saturday and we headed straight for Juan and Maria’s Empanada Stop for a late breakfast. I meant to get a picture but I was too distracted with my empanada and fried plantains. Next time!

This is NOT Juan and Maria’s. Juan and Maria’s has a cult following complete with bumper stickers, but this place also looks tasty.

And then it was time to buy vegetables, fruits, and pumpkins fresh from the farmers at ridiculously low prices:

In addition to produce, there are meat and cheese stands, local wine vendors, family bakeries, flower stalls, and several craft beverage specialists:

Part of the market is reserved for small household goods and occasionally clothing stands:


Afer completing Mum’s shopping list and heading back to the car, we passed Duke’s Donuts. I’m not a huge fan of sweets but they have apple cider and that’s a very good thing:


Great place to spend an hour, even if you just look around. There’s lots to see, free samples at many stands (my favorites are cheese and wine), and excellent people watching. Planning a trip to Rochester (at a time when I happen to be home)? Let me know when you’re visiting and I’ll wander around with you!

As good as the public market is, however, it doesn’t top being with my family. I have yet to find anything better than that.


Travel Guide: Philadelphia, PA

In all my travel blogging, this is only the second blog post about the US! I’ve been other places, really.

Last week my parents and I turned a wedding in New Jersey into a short vacation that included three days in the City of Brotherly Love. My dad has been there a number of times for conferences, but neither my mum nor I had ever visited. We loved the architecture we saw, the history we learned, and the food we ate.

Philadelphia looks like this:

Anyone who has ever studied American history knows that many discussions about the formation of the US took place here. We visited Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed . . .

. . . Congress Hall where the first US Congresses met, way back when Congress actually did anything . . .

. . . and the Liberty Bell, so named because it has been the symbol of liberty for various groups working for freedom and justice in this country. . . .


We spent a while in the National Museum of American Jewish History, too. I particularly liked the section on Judaism in colonial America because that’s what I know the least about. My knowledge of modern Jewish history is much better. As a result, I wasn’t as captivated by the museum’s exhibits as someone new to the topic might be. The museum was really well done, and I’d recommend a visit.

For a dose of local life and fresh vegetables, we visited Reading Terminal Market on three separate occasions, which I absolutely loved:

Philadelphia is also home to Eastern State Penitentiary, which struck me as ironic considering the love infused in so much of Philadelphia’s portrayal of itself. There is a dark side to everything human, a side that reminds us that there is more than one story. Through audio testimony, we learned how prison design and the purpose of prison in the US has changed over time. The exhibits also asked visitors to consider important questions about the prison system today, like whether prison is rehabilitative, whether it is objective, and whether punishments truly fit crimes. That was the most important section for me because it put visitors in uncomfortable positions and asked them to think about humans rather than numbers.

We also spent a good deal of time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has multiple buildings with a wide variety of exhibits. Tickets are good for the day of purchase and the following day, so we took advantage of that. That’s where the Rocky statue and steps are, too. Yes, I ran up the steps and I’m pretty sure my mum took a video as proof.

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Everything I’ve heard about food in Philadelphia turned out to be true. We enjoyed the following:

Breakfast: Pearl’s Oyster Bar and Dutch Eating Place, both at Reading Terminal Market and both delicious
Lunch: Lucha Cartel and OCF Coffee House
Dinner: VedgeZahav, and Abe Fisher
Coffee: La Colombe Coffee Roasters

The DNC is taking over now and that’s pretty cool, too!

As an added bonus, I got to meet up with my friend Lauren from Singapore! That was the icing on the cake, really.

If you have a couple days, I’d recommend a visit. After all, what’s not to love about a city with a sense of humor?