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 My Israel Story series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell?
Rabbi Levi Klein, Rabbi and Executive Director of Chabad of Tennessee
My family connection with Israel goes back many generations. My father was born in Israel, as was his father, and his mother was the 7th generation born in the holy city of Tzfat. The first time I went to Israel was in the summer of 1981 when I was 14 years old to visit my grandfather. My Grandfather, o.b.m., lived in Israel and that was the first time that I was able to meet him, being that he never left Israel his entire life (as some have a custom of not leaving Israel due to the holiness of the land). I spent 2 months in Israel visiting many relatives and sites across the entire land from the Golan Heights in the north to Eilat in the south. It was an amazing experience that is quite difficult to describe. Anyone who has visited Israel knows the amazing feeling of what it is like to visit Israel for the first time.
I spent some time learning in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem and attended a summer camp there as well. Until today I have friends that I am still in touch with from that summer. I vividly remember the dreading feeling I had on the flight back to the United States of leaving Israel and thinking of when will be the next time that I can visit Israel.
Since then I have been back to Israel many times and on many different types of trips. I have visited with my wife Rivky and our children several times and I have traveled with families from Memphis to celebrate Bar Mitzvahs and weddings. I have visited with communal solidarity missions and with the many trips that I have led over the years on our JLI Land Spirit Trips as we took many participants from Memphis to visit the Holy Land.
One trip to Israel that stands out from the rest was a trip I took in the summer of 1999. I went to Israel with my wife Rivky and our three small children that we had at the time. I went to become certified as a Mohel, and was privileged to apprentice with the prestigious, world-renowned late chief Mohel of Israel Rabbi Yosef Weisberg, at Jerusalem’s Shaarei Tzedek and Haddasah Hospitals. Various things made that summer unique. We rented an apartment and we lived there for that summer rather than just visiting as tourists, I went to work each day and we shopped in the local stores for food to cook and we hosted friends in our apartment. We enrolled our children in camp and got to experience what it was like to live in Israel. Rabbi Weisberg was a very sought after Mohel by people of all backgrounds, both religious and non-religious, and many of the ‘who’s who’ in Israeli society desired Rabbi Weisberg to be the Mohel for their children and grandchildren. This gave me the opportunity to meet many of the greats of Israel that summer, from great Rabbis to high government officials, Chassidic Rebbes to heads of the many Yeshivot, Sephardic Rabbis to community leaders, and many people from all segments of Israel. It was amazing to see and interact with the many types of Jews that make up the beautiful tapestry of the people of Israel.
I have thankfully lost count of how many times I have visited Israel. In the last 17 years I have visited at least once a year. One of the things I love the most about visiting Israel is going on a trip with first-timers, as I get to relive that special “First Timer Experience” through them. I cannot ever get enough of Israel.