Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pesach 5772-2012

“In every generation we should see ourselves as if we had just come forth from Egypt.”

Rabbi Lee Diamond

We all love the song Dayanu. However I have always been troubled by the meaning of the words. Why should we be happy if we had only gotten to the shores of the Red Sea and not crossed it? Why should we be satisfied standing before Mt. Sinai and not receiving the Torah?  What is the value of wandering in the desert for 40 years and not entering Eretz Israel? None of these achievements have value without completion. Yet we say Dayeynu: “that would have been enough.”

Perhaps the meaning is to be humble and appreciative all of God’s efforts on our behalf? Perhaps this poem comes to teach us to see the good and the blessing in every act of God and of man. Perhaps these words come to teach us not to complain about what we didn’t receive and to appreciate the miracles that were given us.

To live the moment; to live the exodus; to live the moment of Sinai; to appreciate the exodus from Aushwitz is what we are called upon to do. But no less significant than exodus from Egypt or the moment of Sinai is the greatest miracle of our time: The fulfillment of the dream of Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel. Medinat Yisrael.

How short our memories! It is so easy to take things for granted; to forget and to have our vision blurred and even blinded.

Just as we are commanded to relive the Exodus so that we include it our personal identity, so too is it crucial for us to enter into the miracle of Statehood and to include it into our personal Jewish identity.

Just as at the Red Sea, there were those who preferred to return to Egypt; Just as at Sinai many of us danced before a Golden Calf; so too is the miracle of Israel, imperfect. To judge the Exodus by its blemishes or to judge Sinai by those who preferred an idol is to misjudge and miss the moment. To judge the miracle of Israel and Zionism by its many challenges is to miss the moment and blind one self to the miracle which is happening daily in our view.

Israel needs to be lived by all Jews; Israel needs to be appreciated for what it has achieved in our history for all Jews—right, left and center whether in the Diaspora or in Israel. Israel needs to be celebrated by all Jews no less than the miracle of Exodus or the Giving of the Torah.  This is required for the sake of Israel but even more so for our own Jewish souls and identity.

Just as the Exodus changed Jewish destiny for all times, so too does the State of Israel change us and the destiny of Jews for all time.

There is certainly place for self examination and improvement and things can, should and must improve, but we must learn to say: Dayeynu i.e. let’s appreciate the miracle for what it was; what it is and what it can be for all Jews in every generation.

In the closing words of the Hagada we declare: Next Year in Jerusalem. Let’s make this declaration this year with a full heart.

We look forward to living and reliving the miracle with you this year!

Rabbi Lee Diamond and Bob Cook
Israel Celebration Tours

Sunday, October 23, 2011

One moment of joy is worth a thousand moments of pain

By Rabbi Lee Diamond
Israel Celebration Tours
Why didn’t this happen 5 years ago when Gilad Shalit was first captured?

Why didn’t we release these Palestinian prisoners sooner in order to bring Gilad home sooner?”

Why pay the price of 1,000 murderers for one innocent prisoner of war?

What will happen once these released murderers and foresworn terrorists return to their murderous ways?

Isn’t Israel setting itself up for more damage to the entire population in order to save one individual?

Clearly Netanyahu did this for his own publicity!  Look at the pictures of him standing with Gilad.

The Shulchan Aruch states:
“Every moment that one delays in freeing captives, in cases where it is possible to expedite their freedom, is considered to be tantamount to murder.”
Maybe I can understand a harsh world view that does not understand the Jewish ethos of the importance of one son when asking the above questions!
Maybe I can understand Palestinian sympathizers who are overjoyed by Israel’s apparent weaknesses when they ask the above questions!
Maybe I can understand Anti Semites world over who take joy in criticizing Israel’s faults and glory in its so called weaknesses when they pronounce the above statements with pride!
However when these questions come from within; when they come from the Israeli political left and right; when they come from Jewish and non Jewish Israelis; when they come from fathers and mothers who have had and do have and/or will have children in the Israel Defense Force—I am bewildered and fear that we have lost our Jewish soul.
“He who saves one life in Israel saves an entire world” (Talmud: Sanhedrin 37a)
This statement reflects the Jewish soul. This statement is not qualified!  This statement declares to all, that there is no mitzvah as important that saving one soul
I have even heard Jews criticize the above statement as it refers only to Israel and not to all humanity.  Do we not have the right to focus on our values? Have we totally lost our sense of self?
Why can we not focus on the good?  Why can we not see the miraculous in our midst? Why can we not appreciate the wonders of life? Why can’t we see beauty and joy without subjecting them to a critical eye or fear of the results? Why can’t we live in a glorious moment and understand that “one moment of joy is worth a thousand moments of pain?”
The return of one of our sons from captivity is such a moment; such a miracle; such a joy; such a wonder; such beauty and as such is a gift of God. Yes I do mean a gift of God.
The only Jewish response to such a moment is to declare a bracha – a ברכה which is the Jewish way of expressing appreciation.
I know of no ברכה which is conditional
I know of no bracha which begins or ends with a prefix or suffix
There are no “ifs or howevers or buts” that accompany a bracha!
A ברכה is peculiar technology developed by our tradition to appreciate the moment; to step out of passing time and to observe what is happening at a moment and to allow us to be aware and inspired by wonder.
A ברכה  allows us  be in awe and splendor before the One, the Cause, the Redeemer of all and the Redeemer of captives...
 ברוך אתה ה' גאל ישראל.
Blessed are You Adonai the Redeemer of  Israel

Monday, August 29, 2011

Herodian Mansions and the Burnt House Jerusalem

Venues and Values
Israel Celebration Tours
By Rabbi Lee Diamond
Holiness of Beauty or Beauty of Holiness?

Herodian Mansions and Burnt House
In the heart of todays Jewish quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem and yet under its present surface is the Wohl Archeological Museum. Here we find the remains of homes of wealthy Jerusalemites from the time of Herod’s Second Temple. Within this vast underground complex we find beautiful mosaic floors, mikvaot (ritual baths), storage rooms, ovens, pottery, coins, wall frescos, furniture, a carved Menorah of the period and much more. All of these exhibitions allow us a glimpse into the life of the Sadducee community of Jerusalem Jews of the time.

An ICT Values discussion:
Our value question has to do with the challenges of this period.  These are the homes of a Jewish social strata affected and clearly influenced by Roman culture.  Yet they were part of the Jewish leadership of Jerusalem of the time including the Priests, the political leadership and the rich and powerful. To what extent were they assimilated into the surrounding Roman culture?  To what extent did they maintain their loyalty to Jewish culture and Jewish autonomy in the land?  Is it possible to be a loyal Jew or a Jewish leader and yet be profoundly influenced by the dominant world culture of the time?
A set table in this home of the Kohanim
As we examine the artifacts of these amazing homes, these questions become urgent.  But no less urgent is the question for our own time. How do we relate to our own dominant culture? Can we be Jewish or Jewish leaders surrounded by and influenced by an equally powerful culture and yet maintain a strong sense of our identity and connection to Jewish life?  Need we be corrupted by the dominant culture?  What is "Judaization?"  Can we expand our own Judaism from this exposure?  As we examine the “Jewish ness or “Roman ness” of this home, one may well ask the following question:  “If our homes were to be unearthed 2,000 years from now, would the archeologists know that we were Jews? How would they know this” What would they know about our Judaism and our integration into our society? Have we accepted the Roman or Western world’s view of the holiness of beauty? Have we maintained an unchallenged commitment to the Jewish concept of the beauty of holiness? Or have we discovered the way of integration between these to world views?
In one corner, close to the exit of this underground complex is a burnt section of floor, attesting to the destruction that took place here when Jerusalem was razed by the Roman forces.  Here one can discuss the loss symbolized by this destruction, the causes and ultimate affects of this loss to the continuity of Jewish life.  Here one can discuss the Jewish concept of self blame for own tragedies rather than blaming an enemy.  Here the concept of Sinat Hinam (baseless hatred) which is cited as the cause of destruction can be discussed.  Here too we can discuss the reverse concept of “Ahavat Hinam” or the “I-Thou” relationship which perhaps is the way to “right the wrong” of destruction.
A spear used by one of Priestly family defenders against the Roman destruction of Jerusalem
Our future depends on how we choose to live in our present and our present is determined by our understanding of and learning from our past.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Havat Kineret and Rothschild Blvd.

Venues and Values
Israel Celebration Tours
Changing Destiny
By Lee Diamond, rabbi

Havat Kineret

Located near the south western shores of the Sea of Galilee one can find a living replica of one of the first pioneering efforts in re creating Israel: Havat Kineret. This site served as the training ground for young "chalutzim" of the early 20th century as they first arrived in the land. The farm became the focal point for many of these pioneers who were eager to work the land. Here they assembled, gaining inspiration from the land and drawing strength from each other and from their common ideas and hopes.  The simplicity of this site and its buildings till this very day in itself, tells this unique story.  These young people were seeking to leave a life style that they had known in Eastern Europe and were seeking the simplicity in life that was and is reflected here.
The old world that they had grown up in; the old values that they had known; the language that they had spoken; the education that they had received; the social and political notions that they had been exposed to; the Judaism that they had known –all of these values needed to be reevaluated and readjusted.  This generation of young Jews wanted to build a better world, a better society, a better Jew and a better country. Here at Hatzer or Havat Kineret they began the process of "Re Jew vi Nation" 
Here we see how small numbers of young people with a strong will and unmatched commitment were able to change the destiny of the Jewish nation. With their own hands; with their own spirits; and with their own minds they created the infrastructure of all that is Israel today. 
Values reign supreme at this site. In its simplicity is a richness that is waiting to be discovered captured and understood.  Some examples of potential values to be discussed are as follows:
Youth and idealism
Nothing can stop a strong willed person: אם תרצו אין זו אגדה
A human can change his and his nation's destiny.
Taking on responsibility for one's national future
Tikun Olam is possible
Jewish identity, beliefs and understanding can and do change.
Judaism is a national civilization, with a language, literature, music, art form and religious and moral way that is unique and develops as the civilization evolv
One important insight or question worth discussing at this site is:  The Cabbalists of Safed, a few hundred years earlier, attempted to achieve the same goal of changing the destiny of the Jewish people in their time.. They too left their Diaspora homes and environments behind.  They too attempted to build a new way for the Jewish people.   Why is it that the Chalutzim succeeded in ways that the Cabbalists did not?
And one more very important value question for our times
מה טובו אוהליך יעקב
משכנותיך ישראל
How Goodly Are Your Tents O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel
A contemporary venue and reaffirming our values

Rothschild Blvd Tel Aviv: August 6, 2011

Is this  pioneering spirit is alive today 62 years after the founding of Israel?  Is this the very same pioneering spirit that characterized the Cabbalists of Safed and the Chaluzim of Havat Kineret!
Tens of thousands of young Israelis have decided to change the destiny of Israel. All the efforts of the Cabbalists and the Chautzim are alive throughout Israel today.
Israel Celebration Tours
 Wishes to join force with 85 % of Israel’s population who have returned to the values that created and characterized Israel from its very essence.
This is a value revolution no less significant than the revolution of the Cabbalists of Safed who sought to change Jewish destiny
This is a value revolution no less significant than the revolutionary Chalutzim of late 19th century and the early 20th century.
This grass roots revolutionary protest reflects the very values upon which Israel was founded.
A better society
A value based society.
A society that cares for all of its members and not just its wealthy
A society based on the highest values of quality education
A society based on social justice
A society based upon passion and compassion
A society which reflects the idea of Zion being a model society for all mankind
כי מציון תצא תורה
ודבר ה מירושלים
For Out of Zion Shall Go Forth the Values of Torah and the Word of God from Jerusalem

 Every day of an Israel Celebration Tours is a dialogue with Jewish Israeli values

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Where Else but Israel

By Rabbi Lee Diamond
 “What an amazing place! Everyone is Jewish! Even the taxi drivers are Jewish! Even young children speak Hebrew!”
While clearly not all of the taxi drivers are Jewish, one of the most overwhelming experiences for a Diaspora Jew visiting Israel is the sense of being in a Jewish majority in Jewish space and in the total Jewish environment which is Israel. And yes, children of all ages do speak Hebrew!

While it is somewhat inconvenient for some tourists that shops are closed on Shabbat or holidays, this too is a powerful statement to the Diaspora Jew. Here there is Jewish time as well as Jewish space. Sure, many Israelis are on the beach on Shabbat and holidays. Sure, other Israelis are hiking or traveling on these days! Sure, many Israelis are observing and celebrating the Shabbat and holidays by praying in Synagogues or celebrating at home. But the overall statement is that this is Jewish space and time. “Even our hotel is Kosher and observes the rules of Shabbat! Wow, this is clearly Jewish space and time.”

‘The calendar is Jewish.” Time is measured not only by the weekly Shabbat but by the High Holidays and Succot, and Chanukah, and Purim and Pesach and more and more.
The Israel experience for most Diaspora Jews is not about another tour somewhere in the world or another holiday. The Israel experience is about exploring and discovering personal identity. When we hear the oft repeated words, “this was a transformative experience for me” the words refer to the power of the Jewish environment and sense of enfranchisement that Israel provides even the most casual visitor.

Strangely enough, the Diaspora Jew often sees the “Jewishness” of Israel more clearly than the average Israeli. To the average “secular” Israeli it is only natural to live in Jewish time and space. There is nothing unique about this. “Well of course I speak Hebrew with my kids. What language would you have me speak? Of course my life cycle is governed by the Jewish calendar and holidays. This is my culture! Of course my child will marry a Jewish partner! Who else do you expect him/her to marry?” What is natural and so taken for granted by the average Israeli is so obviously Jewish and unique to many Diaspora Jews visiting Israel.

For the Diaspora Jew the Israel experience is about his/her Jewish identity. Israel serves as the environment or if you will, the laboratory, in which the Diaspora Jew explores personal Jewish identity and or growth. The Israel experience is less about Israel per se and more about feeling more strongly identified as a Jew.

Some have said that if you were to simply “drop” a Jewish tourist in Israel for two weeks or so without any tour program, itinerary or plan, the overwhelming message of Israel and of Jewish identity would make its natural impact.

Though there may be some truth in the above statement, there would also be, without a doubt, a major “missed opportunity.” In such a charged environment; at a moment of such high potential impact and motivation; at a moment so open for a life changing experience; at a moment of potential identity transformation, we must be ready to engage the moment and to engage the visitor by focusing on and entering into the a dialogue of heightened sensitivity related to Jewish identity. Potential moments like this are rare and unique and must be transformed into educational opportunities.

Rabbi Lee Diamond of Israel Celebration Tours, accepts this as the basis of all Israel tourism and experience. An Israel experience for Jews or Jews by choice has only one purpose: to link Jews to Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael and to maximize this unique opportunity.

Israel Celebration Tours
Contact Us - In the US : 786 284 8413
                       In ISRAEL :+972 54 800 6820

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tel Chai

Venues and Values  Israel
By Rabbi Lee Diamond
Tel Chai

“It is worthwhile to die for our country”: Yosef Trumpledor
Tel Chai is located in the "finger of the Galilee" at Israel's very northern tip, between Kiryat Shmona and Metulla, (Israel's northern most town) overlooking the Hula Valley. If the chalutzim at the beginning of the last century had not had the fortitude to withstand the battles and hardships of the day, the Galilee as we know it today, would never have become part of modern day Israel. This is unfortunately an ongoing story in our day.
Tel Chai's history is deeply entwined with the subject of Jewish self defense. Throughout many years, the Jewish people had depended upon others to defend them or had simply not taken on responsibility in this sphere.  The famous poem of Bialik entitled City of Slaughter refers to the fact the Jews had ceased to be the "children of the Macabees" allowing themselves to be attacked and not defending themselves.  Part of the Jewish transformation that took place in the early aliyot to Israel had to do with:
Jews taking responsibility for themselves..
Yosef Trumpeldor
Tel Chai represents the beginning of Jewish self defense in Israel. Yosef Trumpledor represents this in human form. 
The values discussion here has everything to do with self defense, self responsibility as it applies to the emergence of the new Jew and what will ultimately become the State of Israel and the I.D.F. This discussion should be the first of many such discussions which deal with defense, war, military, armies, morality and war, power and limits of power and land and peace.
This values discussion should deal with Jewish responsibility, self pride as well as Jewish morality, all of which values are most relevant to the contemporary Jew and the contemporary Israeli.

Israel Celebration Tours
Contact Us - In the US : 786 284 8413
                          In ISRAEL :+972 54 800 6820

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Israel Wine and Dine Tour


Dates               6 – 12 March 2011                
                        6 Nights/7 Days
Tel Aviv          David Intercontinental           1 Night
Rosh Pina        Mizpe Hayamim                     2 Nights
Jerusalem         Mamilla                                 3 Nights
(Above hotels are upon availability only. Similar hotels will be provide in case of overbooking)

Sunday 6 March                     Ben Gurion/ Tel Aviv
Arrival in Ben Gurion Airport.
Assistance and meeting with an ICT VIP representative at the airport.
Transfer from the airport to Tel Aviv.
Short overview of the city, including the Neve Tzedek neighborhood. This neighborhood was founded in 1887 by Aharon Shlush, 22 years before Tel Aviv was founded.
Enjoy of the Bauhaus architecture that makes Tel Aviv a so special city, and visit its port.
Welcome dinner at the Lilith restaurant in Tel Aviv
Overnight in Tel Aviv.
Monday                       Galil Wineries            
After breakfast in the hotel, drive north along the Mediterranean Coast.
Stop at the Binyamina Winery and taste from its cave wine.
Then, drive north to Galilee hills. There, tour and Lunch at the Cheese Farm in Ein Kamonim, the location of the largest alpine goat herd in Israel. In the hills of the Galilee lies a small farm which raise goat that graze in the nearby pasture. The restaurant offers a dairy meal that includes a rich dish of goat’s milk cheese and other dairy delight.
Then, stop at the Rimon Winery, a truly one-of-a-kind winery, that use pomegranate for the production of their wine (rimon is the Hebrew word for pomegranate). This is the place for gourmets seeking a new and different experience, a good quality, elegant wine that also contains all the healthful properties of the pomegranate fruit even when the natural juice is transformed into wine.
Then, visit the Dalton Winery, that is set in the beautiful green, mountainous country of the Upper Galilee, overlooking the Hermon Mountain.
Drive to Rosh Pina to Mitzpe Hayamim Hotel.  The Mitzpe Hayamim is part of the famous and international Relais & Chateaux” Chain Hotels
In the hotel, enjoy the facilities of the Spa and its treatments (treatments are not including in the price)
Dinner and Overnight in Mitzpe Hayamim

Tuesday                      Golan Heights Wineries                    
Have a breakfast in the hotel. In the hotel, enjoy the facilities of the Spa and its treatments (treatments are not including in the price). Morning of leisure and relaxation.
Drive to the Golan Heights and visit the Odem Mountains Winery. Taste its wine and enjoy of a Lunch in the winery.
Then, drive to Ein Zivan in the Golan Heights to enjoy the aromas and flavors of the De Karina Chocolate House, a small Chocolate House that produces hand made mountainous chocolate, liqueur and jam. The chocolate is made with the high quality ingredients, the knowledge and the experience past on for generations, beginning in south America- the source of the chocolate. 
Then, back to the hotel for a Gourmet vegetarian cooking demonstration.
Dinner and overnight in Mizpe Hayamim.

Wednesday                  Tulip and Tishbi Wineries/ Jerusalem
After breakfast, start the day at the magnificent Hula Valley Reserve. Located between the Galilee Mountains and the Golan Heights, the Hula Valley serves as one of the prime wintering sites in the Middle East for a wide variety of birds. 
Then, drive and stop at the Tulip Winery, located in Kfar Tikva ("Village of hope"), one of the most unique and exciting projects in Israel has been developed where an exclusive family owned winery that specializes in producing premium wines while at the same time contributing to the community. In 2003 the Itzhaki family decided to establish Tulip Winery.
Lunch in the Tishbi Winery. Set near Zichron Yaacov, at the foot of the Carmel mountain ridge near the coast, the Tishbi Estate is surrounded by its home vineyards which enjoy the cooling breezes of the Mediterranean Sea. The Tishbi family also plants, grows and harvests premium grapes at higher elevations to the North, to take full advantage of the cool mountain night air and the long sunny Mediterranean growing season, and in the Negev Desert to the South, where hot arid days and cool windy nights combine with sandy soils to yield superior grapes.
Drive to Jerusalem and entrance through the mount Scopus for panoramic View of the Old City.
Check-in in the newest of luxury Hotels in Jerusalem, located in the new shopping Avenue, Mamilla Avenue.
Dinner at the well know Eucalyptus Restaurant, one of the most interesting restaurants in the country. Excellent dishes enhanced by masterful use of herbs and not a little soul.
Eucalyptus is a spacious restaurant with a rustic decor that includes 19th century agricultural implements and friendly, efficient service. The renowned chef Moshe Basson owns this restaurant.
Overnight in Mamilla Hotel

Thursday 10               Ella valley
After breakfast, drive to the Ella Valley Winery. The Ella Valley Wineries are considered one of the best and most advanced in Israel, with a production of over 200,000 bottles a year, all of

which are premium quality wines. Approximately 40% of the production is exported, which is unprecedented in Israel's wine industry.
Then, explore the Tzuba Winery, a winery located in the Judean Hills, an area historically recognized as a major wine-producing region since Biblical times.
The local topography of the Tzuba hillside vineyard and climate provide ideal conditions to cultivate the vineyards and produce a variety of prize-winning boutique wines.
Enjoy there light lunch.
Then, have a cooking demonstration by the world famous chef Shalom Kadosh. Dinner is included and we will enjoy what we prepared.
After dinner, visit of the Angel Bakery where hallah is made for the Shabbath.
Overnight in Mamilla Hotel.

Friday             Mony Winery/ Shabbath in Jerusalem
After breakfast, drive to the Mony Winery, a winery located 20 minutes from Jerusalem. This place was founded by a Christian Arabic family in 2002, in the Monastery of Dir Rafat. They prepare their wine in caves.
Enjoy from Moroccan delicacies for lunch at Beit Morocco.
Drive back to Jerusalem to prepare for Shabbath.
Friday night dinner at the hotel.
Overnight in Mamilla Hotel

Saturday                     Shabbath in Jerusalem
Enjoy Shabbat at leisure.
The proximity of the hotel to the Old City allows you to take an optional walk tour to the 4 Quarters of the Old City and to the Kotel (Wailing Wall/ Western Wall). This tour will be on your own.
In the evening, after a Havdalah service, check out and have a festive farewell dinner at the well-known eatery, Olives and Fish before the flight.
Transfer from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport
Arrive in USA.
                                                6 Nights/7 Days
Tel Aviv          David Intercontinental           1 Night
Rosh Pina        Mizpe Hayamim                     2 Nights
Jerusalem         Mamilla                                 3 Nights
(Above hotels are upon availability only. Similar hotels will be provide in case of overbooking)

For Group of  25 + 
Rate per person in Double room from $ 2,000                                 
Single Supplement                              from $  885

These rates are in US Dollars, per person for the whole trip.
The price includes the following points
·         6 Nights in 5 stars Deluxe Hotels.
·         Bed & Breakfast Basis in Hotel, except in Mizpe Hayamim Hotel and the dinner of Friday
·         3 Dinners in famous restaurants including a Final Banquet Dinner on the last day
·          5 Lunches on the road
·         Cooking demonstration and dinner
·         Assistance in Airport, meeting with the guide
·         Hotel and airport porterage.
·         Transfers from and to Ben Gurion airport
·         6 days of Sightseeing with a private English speaker guide and private Luxury air-conditioned bus.
·         Entrance fees as per program (for all the sites and museums mentioned on above program)

Please also note that we will offer to each of your clients:
·         Map of Israel
·         Hat
·         Certificate from the Tourist Ministry
·         Special gift from ICT
They do not include
·         Extras meals
·         Drinks at meals
·         Tips to the guide, driver, hotel and restaurant staff.
·         Flight Ticket (can be arranged for you)
·         Travel insurance
·         Personal expenses
·         Spa services and treatments
·         Outside guests for meals
Please note that the mentioned hotels are upon availability. In case of over occupancy or any other reasons, we will provide similar hotels.

For any further information or requests, do not hesitate to contact us.
Thank you

Lee Diamond, rabbi