What I learned on this trip to Israel

By Bill Markson
Maimonides Society President

This was my third trip to Israel. The most recent was in 2005. Israel is the same place and yet so much has changed. This article highlights some lessons learned from our Maimonides trip.

Israel is a dynamic, booming place with interesting and intelligent people. Take the time to get to know folks. You will be well rewarded.

Traveling to Israel in late March and in the early post-COVID era has advantages.  Crowds at the usual tourist sites were never not a problem, although it helps to have a driver that can make pinpoint turns in heavy traffic to get to some of these sites. Despite most of us having been there multiple times, there are new places to visit.

Having a focus for part of the day, like cycling, can help shape the experience. Having great experiences for non-bikers like foraging and driving ATVs in the desert is also a good idea. The negative to this is that you may come out of such an experience with a new nickname such as “Dusty” Zimmerman.

For a small country, we experienced weather. In the Golan we had snow and hail.
The Negev was dry and warm but not hot. Tel Aviv was cool but not cold enough to stop some of us from swimming in the Mediterranean Sea alongside kite surfers.

Traveling as part of a curated first-class mission captained by Jeri and Aaron is a great choice. In addition to their being enthusiastic and bright, they work extremely hard prior to and during our trip to make sure the mission fulfills everyone’s expectations and to efficiently overcome inevitable glitches. Although they couldnt' intercede to stop two days of rain and snow for the beginning of our time in the Galilee/Golan, they arranged for perfect weather for the remainder. Watching them work quietly, efficiently, and persistently on our behalf whenever a snafu developed was reassuring and impressive.

Hotels in Israel, at least the ones selected for us, are terrific. In particular the Isrotel’s Mitzpe Hayamim in the north and Mitzpe Ramon next to the crater in the Negev are two of the nicest hotels I have every stayed in my life. The source of an active debate amongst us as which was better.

Light switches at these hotels can be challenging.

I am not sure I have ever had such consistently great/interesting/healthy/delicious food for 10 consecutive days.

I still love cheese.

Tehina needs to be an accessory at more meals.

Eating outside is wonderful, particularly if you listen to Vicki Wax layering admonitions. If you can, eat at the bottom of the crater in Mitzpe Ramon and then look at the stars and learn of the constellations guided by an animated Israeli astronomer, his telescopes, and powerful laser like pointer.

Cycling in Israel is great. Ascending in the Golan is hard, but the views are breathtaking. Using up the gained potential energy with a fast descent to the Kinneret or the Mitzpe Ramon crater is a bit terrifying. Keep your distance from other riders.

Bring a newbie to a mission by traveling with a sibling like Beth Kozinn/Ann Falchuk and Marty Katz/Lisa Koelewyn.

Other good choices to bring on a mission would be the greater Ufberg clan or a squash friend like Paul Oberbeck.

Everyone else will enjoy having them.

I thought that Houman Ahdieh and Marty Katz were the nicest people I knew.

While the trip confirmed their niceness, Eileen Ufberg and her adult children might surpass them.

Suzanne Katz can hear in her sleep and chime in with clarifications of conversations several rows away.

Vicki is the funniest Wax, even though she is considered an “outlaw” by her son.

Larry Levitt can headline in Las Vegas. He has an unlimited number of stories with professional delivery. In addition to telling jokes, he can fix someone else’s. I suppose that’s why they call him “Dr.” Levitt.

Eva is as sharp and wry as ever. You might just need to be next to her to know.

An ibex is not the Apple product version of my daughter but a wild goat ubiquitous in the Ramon Mitzpe region of the Negev. It likes 5-star hotels.

Don’t leave your terrace door open. An ibex will come inside and eat your COVID antigen test kits.

Have a birthday on a trip (Amy Morse), especially if you have a great spouse like Rich Morse and have the logistic help of Jeri “Dusty” Zimmerman and Aaron. The rest of the group will be even happier on that day to be part of the celebration.

Don’t try to keep up with the exercise level of Houman Ahdieh and Marc Berson. They are relentless.

If you want to see a smile, show Laurie Berson a Hebrew sign that is actually a transliteration of an English word.

If you need to crack the COVID test, ask Lori Ahdieh for a potion contained in her sartorially matching sanitizer container.

If you want to be reminded of being young and in love, bring Jon Markson and Julia Umansky.

Visit Yoav. They treat you like family.

Be part of giving back. The dedication of an ambucycle to honor Mickey Ufberg, z”l, was a demonstration of the principles of the Jewish Community of the Lehigh Valley. Connection to life, community, health, and Israel.

All of these lessons learned are critical to your happiness.

Study these lessons. 

There will be a test soon!

It has been said that money can’t buy happiness.

This may or may not be true.

I would counter that money spent developing deep friendships, love and appreciation of Israel, and a fantastic shared experience is a big exception to that rule.