It’s true! Just as it is written on page 1 of the PJ Library book “Everybody Says Shalom” by Leslie Kimmelman, “When in Israel…everybody says shalom!” Since boarding El Al for our flight to Israel, we have been warmly greeted with big smiles and heartfelt expressions of shalom! It already feels like family.

How emotional it was when we touched down in Israel. I am often amused by first impressions of first-time visitors to Israel. How astonished they are to be in magnificent Ben Gurion Airport (rated among the five best airports in the Middle East), and no camels running across the runways! I have to remember that for many people, pictures of ancient Israel from their Hebrew school textbooks are their frame of reference. Ben Gurion Airport, amongst the finest in Europe, is full of activity. Lots of people, planes, stores, beautiful art, and a feeling of excitement fill the air.

As everyone in our group exited Passport Control, each was warmly greeted by Amnon Weigler, our tour organizer, with a welcoming smile, reassuring handshake, and two words that may have seemed strange to some at the time: Welcome home. But, I am sure by the time we leave Israel, everyone will come to know and love Israel as home.

For the next eight days, we are in the caring hands of Yariv, our tour guide, and Shimshon, our bus driver. We boarded the bus and headed for Jerusalem, about an hour drive from the airport. Jerusalem is our home-base for four days. Being transported from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is more than moving from one city to another. We are literally going back in time; not hundreds of years, but thousands. This is part of the mystery, beauty, appeal, allure and awe of Jerusalem. And we will spend days exploring as much as we can.

TEKIAH! SHEVARIM! TERUAH! The sounds of the shofar and beats of the drums welcomed us to Jerusalem! After the initial surprise of what was happening, our hearts and our feet told us what to do—DANCE! We danced the hora against the backdrop of beautiful Old Jerusalem. Then, together, we enjoyed our sheh-heh-cheh-yanu moment, thanking God for this most special time in our lives.

And then there was dinner! We enjoyed a delicious dinner buffet of beautifully prepared foods. Cucumbers and watermelons taste as they should…fresh and delicious! I was happy that many people opted for the Israeli cuisine, rather than the fired fish and French fries. Many of us are eagerly looking forward to tomorrow morning’s breakfast buffet!

Tomorrow is an intense day, beginning with a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum and Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, the final resting place of some of Israel’s leaders, heroes and brave soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to Israel.

In the afternoon we are planning to meet Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem, at his office. This should be a very special and memorable meeting.

Tomorrow evening we will meet two IDF soldiers, Ilana and Itay, who fought in Operation Protective Edge. They will talk about serving in the IDF and about fighting in Gaza.

While some of us are off to bed, others are wide awake and out exploring. It’s nice to see new friendships forming.

It’s been a long couple of days, but we are happy and very excited to be in Israel. Your moms and dads, sons and daughters, and friends are all well and eagerly looking forward to what lies ahead.

Until next time, with love from PJ Library Parents to Israel in Jerusalem.

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