Arts & Culture, People

My Israel Story #31- Mike McGee

by JCPConnect-

We’re marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel with a year-long celebration! Keep an eye out for “Memphis Celebrates Israel at 70” branding at your synagogue, at events around town, and online. In this series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell? 


“In a land far, far away.”

Isn’t that how fairy tales and great adventures start? Ten of us boarded a plane and left Memphis for a 10-day Memphis Jewish Community Center staff development seminar in Israel. To understand my perspective, it may help to know that I had never traveled outside the continental United States and had not flown further than regionally. My experience with international cuisine could be summed up within the Kroger international aisle. I was giddy and wide eyed with excitement when we landed, and the land I would soon see was beyond my imagination.

People ask, “What was your favorite part?” The modern favorite part? The ancient favorite part? The culinary favorite part? The meeting with families favorite part, or the seminars with educators and thinkers favorite part? For our learning, we covered such a wide array of experiences, it can’t be simplified into one favorite.

Our tour guide and educator, Julian, was an incredible asset to the trip. He briefly shared with us the education required in Israel for tour guides. His life colored his narrative for us – a man who grew up in Apartheid South Africa and raised his own family in a kibbutz would have strong ideas, which he shared with us, clearly stating the education he imparts is one thing, his opinion another, and our education and enjoyment his ultimate goal.

The Western Wall and the Davidson Center was an experience like no other. Julian said, “Archaeologists date this road, these stones, to the time of the First Temple. Those of us who are Jewish, our ancestors walked this road to the temple. For those of you Christian, that means your Jesus walked this road.” So long ago in this one spot where we were standing, on the same paved roads, so many people and so much religious foundation converged. It was a moment that took my breath away, thinking about it caused me to sit down and just imagine.

Only meters away was the hustle and bustle of a modern people living in a modern city, with ancient ruins everywhere, and we were there with them. I was there with them.

We walked Masada and looked down at the lines of rubble marking the Roman encampments, ate dinner in private homes, and listened to Israelis tell their stories of life, went to a place of higher learning to hear a scientist talk about her work to reclaim water, climbed into a cave and sifted soil to find pottery shards and remnants not used in a thousand years, hiked in the Negev, walked quietly through Yad Vashem, and swam joyously in the Dead Sea. Adjectives like “great” and “incredible” lose their meaning compared to the true experiences.

What advice would I give someone going to Israel? Long before you leave, put on your new walking shoes and leave your house to walk. Then walk some more. Walk through the city and through the neighborhoods. Israel is a walking journey and you’re better prepared with good shoes and stamina. When in Israel, eat and drink, and eat some more. The food has a freshness that is enjoyable and the trip can be physically demanding, so drink and eat. Wear clothes that are tough, that you wash out in the sink and wear again tomorrow. The best adventures in Israel can get a little dirty, be prepared to enjoy them to the fullest.

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