We landed on time at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv this morning a little after 10 a.m. (2 a.m. in Nashville). We were pretty tired from the long flight, but were so excited to be here, we just ignored it. After meeting our tour guide, Doron, and our driver, Avi, we got on the bus.
Our first stop was at Neot Kedumim where we each planted a tree - citizens and visitors have planted more than 50 million (!) trees in Israel in an effort to restore and protect the land. The prayer we offered ended with the words, "Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless this land that it may flow again with milk and honey."
Then we drove on up to Jerusalem where we stopped on a terrace overlooking the Mount of Olives and the old city; I took some pictures, but the sky was hazy from sand and dust, so I didn't get the pretty tourist shot. Looking over the city, we listened to Psalm 137 and recited the Shehecheyanu, a benediction spoken when tasting a fruit for the first time in the season, when moving into a hew home, at the beginning of the Jewish holidays, and on many joyous occasions, such as our initial arrival in Jerusalem!
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה׃
Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam, shehecheyanu, v'kiyamanu, v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.
We give thanks to you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this moment of joy.
For lunch we got our first taste of Israel's version of Mediterranean cuisine - wonderful salads, bread, roasted vegetables, grilled chicken, lentil salad, and watermelon, it was delicious. Then we checked into our hotel with just enough time to brush our teeth before we met with Paul Liptz of Tel Aviv University and Hebrew Union College, a social historian who gave a very informative talk about societal and economic realities in Israel that added great details to the reading we had done in preparation for the trip; his entire presentation was built around questions we had submitted a couple of weeks ago.
I look forward to going to bed soon. Tomorrow will be a full day, beginning with a meeting with Holocaust scholar, Dr. Rachel Korazim and a visit to Yad Vashem.