Last week, I had the opportunity to travel with a few of my colleagues to Israel as part of our planning and preparation for Spark. This was my first trip to Israel and, in addition to thinking through all we need for this incredible program, I knew I would have a lot to learn and absorb.
This trip, expertly co-organized by our Missions and Spark planning teams, was set to be a whirlwind mini version of our Spark experience. The goal was to both see the sites, tours, and venues firsthand and to make lots of decisions about the upcoming events. No small task in just over four days, but we set our sights big here at CJP!
First off, I can say that Spark will be ah-mazing. Second, I came back with so much more than I had imagined. This experience had a huge impact on me in ways that were both expected and surprising. As I sit here today, back in my office in the Kraft Family Building, there are a few themes that I keep coming back to and wanted to share.
I went in expecting to be amazed at what I saw. I knew this place was going to be beautiful and filled with landmarks, vistas, and ancient sights. What I didn’t expect was just how close past and present would be to one another, the sensory experience of how so many religions converge in a single space, or how celebration and contemplation would bump up together. On one morning of our trip, we toured the Old City, touching the Western Wall and walking the Cardo literally surrounded by history. In the evening, we arrived in bustling, modern Tel Aviv for dinner. In less than an hour, we had traveled through time to a completely different Israel.
OK, everyone told me I would love the food in Israel, so my expectations were high. I was not disappointed. But food feels like an expression here—of the neighborhood, of the people, and of tradition. It’s fresh and on display on seemingly every corner. There’s always something new to try. And we sampled a lot! What came through on the market tours we took was the tradition of food as part of the culture, and how each generation is building on the dishes of the generations before them.
One of my favorite parts of our market tours (and there were many) was hearing the story from chef Elad Shore at Shlomo & Doron. He told us how four generations of his family had been making hummus at this restaurant. Despite this, he hates hummus. So, when the restaurant passed on to him, he remade it—modernizing it, using it as a base on which to place a mix of ingredients that take basic hummus to a new level. It was life-changing, as was this idea of being so deeply rooted in your past and carrying traditions forward in a new way. This will be one of the first places I go to eat when I return.
Of course, complexity. But being in Jerusalem where our tour guide brought us through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where different religions live side by side, and monks, nuns, and rabbis wander the halls was something I didn’t (or couldn’t) imagine—each finding their peace in this one ancient space. In Haifa and the northern region where the landscape spread out and each village was so different, we visited an entrepreneurial nonprofit called Moona, where Israeli Jews and Arabs learn and work together and find paths to a better economic future. During our visit, we met a young Israeli Arab woman who said that before she found Moona, she would have taken a local job in her city without a bachelor’s degree. Now she has a degree, and her newfound economic mobility will change her future and that of generations to come.
On our final day, we visited Tel Aviv, with its modern buildings and energetic feel. There, we met with the production and marketing vendors who will help us plan and execute the Spark experience, and in the evening, we walked the beautiful beach just hours before bombing started from Gaza. All of this complexity in such a small space is a lot to take in. And, frankly, I’m still processing it.
I end with beauty because this is what I carry with me—my strongest impression of this experience. I traveled with colleagues who are now friends for life. We shared an experience and grew together; some of us were first-time travelers, others had lost count of their visits. All of us saw something beautiful and new here. I can’t wait to return.