In stories, travel

From Darkness to Freedom & Independence

By Cantor Benjamin Maissner.

It is hard to believe that the long anticipated dream of celebrating Israel’s 65th birthday is over so.

Israel and the Arts Through the Eyes of a Sabra (that’s me) was an incredible experience for all participants.

You can read the reflections for yourself and the deep impact the mission had on all participants.  I am proud of my troopers who went along with every aspect of my initiative, mainly to show, experience, learn and live with the people of Israel at the heights of national moments in the lives of its citizens.

Highlights of the trip were the national ceremonies of Yom Hashoa in Kibbutz Lochamey Hagetaot (the Ghetto fighters). The dress rehearsal for Yom Ha’atzmaut at Har Herzel in the midst of 35,000 guests.

The ceremony for the 23,085 fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism at the Western Wall on Yom Hazikaron evening and at the Armored Corps’ Memorial Site at Latrun on Yom Hazikaron during the day. Street celebrations, mingling with thousands of Israelis on Yom Ha’atzmaut and so many more monumental experiences.


Read for yourself and come join us next time.

By Alan and Phyllis Wintraub.

We have recently returned from the Maissner’s tour to Israel. I was fortunately also a participant in their tour 5 year’s ago.

What makes their tours so different than any other?

First, and probably most important, is the time it takes place. To be in  Israel over the period from Yom Ha’shoah, Yom Ha Zikaron and then Yom Ha’atz’ma-ut is a unique experience for those of us in the Diaspora. It is perhaps the only time one can truly feel like an Israeli.

During those two weeks, our fantastic group, our leaders and guide experienced together the complete range of emotions—from sorrow to ecstatic celebration along with the Israeli people. We cried with them, sang, danced and laughed with them—sometimes all in one day, hour even minutes.

At the end of Yom Hazikaron, we attended services at the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem.  We heard the mournful prayers of their wonderful Cantor,  Chaim Adler and his choir. We shared the memory of the lives lost in too many wars in a 65-year span.

At the end of the service, we made our way mournfully into the synagogue’s foyer. We were overwhelmed at the
sight of many soldiers (realistically boys and girls), men and women, dancing and singing madly (and separately, of course). In vigorous horas, waving Israeli flags,  the celebration of the beginning of the joyous anniversary of Israel’s founding began.

Nearby, Beny, Cantor Adler and other men were also dancing, and many of us shared Beny’s happy/sad tears at this special moment. So in less than five minutes we went from the depths of sadness to the heights of happiness—a feeling we experienced many times in our jam-packed two weeks.

If you want to really experience Israel, go on Beny and Hope’s next congregational trip there. You will never forget it.

By Ruth Ellen Greenwood.

Our trip to Israel to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut with Hope and Beny Maissner was unique and very special. To go from commemorating the victims of the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah, to honouring the soldiers on Yom Hazikaron to celebrating with the entire country of Israel on Yom Haatzmaut was an amazing experience I will never forget. We paid tribute at Yad Vashem and said Kaddish for those of our family we lost and for those who have no one to say it for them. We learned about Joseph Trumpledor, Theodore Herzel, and David Ben Gurion.  We walked the streets of Jerusalem on Shabbat where all was quiet as everything came to a halt for the Sabbath; the greeting was repeatedly, “Shabbat Shalom  . . . good Shabbos.” I felt I was truly home at last.

We learned about the Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv, the heroic actions of the brave fighters at La Trun, and the most recent discoveries under the ancient walls of the old city of Jerusalem. We went to Tefen Park, to Milbat, and to the Gilboa to see the trees Beny planted and the water tower he built when he was a soldier 50 years ago. Everything we saw and did was unique because we experienced it all through Beny’s eyes, words, and feelings. We laughed, we cried, we danced, and we sang. We did more in two weeks than most people do in a month! Thank you, Beny and Hope, for a truly memorable experience I will never forget.

By Steve and Gail Rosenblum.

Thanks again to Hope and Beny for a memorable Israel experience. We were quite taken with the balance between history and the arts; there was something for everyone. The size of the group was ideal and our fellow travellers were good company. Beny’s passion was contagious, making sure we all got to attend behind-the-scenes programming, such as the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration rehearsal on Mt Herzl. He was always ready to do just one more thing after even the busiest of days, such as the Sh’hekiyanu blessing on MountScopus as we entered Jerusalem, seeing Herod’s palace on Masada and investigating the Judaica Exhibit at the IsraelMuseum. We were glad we went and will urge others to visit Israel too.

By Anne Dublin.

Although this was my third trip to Israel, the recent one with Beny and Hope Maissner was the most memorable. I decided at only the last minute to go, so I had very little time to prepare. Passport? Check. Suitcase? Check. Itinerary? Who had time to look? I was off! The trip encompassed a range of historical sites, arts activities, “standard” tourist fare along with some not-so-standard ones. A few were especially memorable to me: a fascinating backstage tour of the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv; “Ghetto”, the powerful play about the Vilna Ghetto by Joshua Sobol, presented by the Cameri Theatre; the moving program on Yom Hashoah at Lochamei Hagetaot near Nahariya; the home of Israeli artist, Avner Moriah, where he showed us his work and talked about his creative process. We visited museums devoted to telling the stories about famous people: David Ben Gurion, Theodor Herzl, the Aaronson family, Menachem Begin, and Yitzhak Rabin. We attended synagogue services–each one unique and different, giving a taste of Jewish liturgy and music. Enough said. I’ve already asked Beny if I can participate in his next trip to Israel.

By Joan Moses.

It was brilliant to start our trip with a visit to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence by Ben Gurion in 1948.  As that was happening way back then, I was speaking during my Confirmation at HBT on Yehuda Halevi and his longing for Zion!  Is it possible that 65 years have passed since then and this was my 10th trip to this amazing country?  Being in this very place brought tears to my eyes.

I found the various ceremonies of remembrance and celebration (that we were lucky enough to have tickets for) both moving and joyous and some exceptional dancing by youngsters left me breathless.  Almost everything left me breathless, particularly going uphill throughout Jerusalem – but that’s another story.

Israel is blessed with wonderful, imaginative museums and very informative guides. We saw and heard many.  Their pride and joy were contagious and I marveled at the variety and beauty everywhere.  I was particularly impressed with the agriculture in the Galilee – vineyards, palm groves, wheat, green vegetables, orchards as far as the eye could see.  And the food they produced was so fresh and delicious.  Two of the most interesting were the chocolate factory and the winery where we happily sampled whatever they gave us.  How proud they were of their products and my heart swelled to see their wonderful use of this fertile land which also attracts migrating birds. I was thrilled to see about 100 storks happily feeding and resting on a suitable spot – huge white birds with black tipped wings on their way to Europe.

I loved seeing ancient places newly opened to tourists such as Nimrod’s Castle with a 360° view to Mount Hermon to the north and overlooking planted valleys and mountains everywhere else.  I loved sharing Beny’s joy at showing us his army base on Mount Gilboa and the 200 trees that he planted while there.  What a winding road to get up there and what a view when we arrived.

We attended several Shabbat services both Reform and Orthodox and I enjoyed being part of the Israeli congregations.  Later visits with several of my friends and my dear family who have made aliyah brought me particular pleasure and a sense of belonging.  I am so amazed by the growth and development throughout the country since I first visited 45 years ago when I witnessed Jerusalem’s reunification and saw the captured equipment from the 6-day War that was being driven to the parade grounds by beaming young soldiers at 5:00 a.m.

We were at Tel Chai, Latrun and Ammunition Hill – all sites of historic battles in our time.  I was so glad that we were able to look down to Lebanon from Misgav Am and to the hills of Syria from Mount Bental and see only peaceful, green views even though we knew it is not always so.  Being free to visit these places, seeing and feeling the vibrancy of the people and marveling at their energy and ingenuity was all the reward we needed and it was a memorable trip.  Thanks to Beny and Hope for all their good planning and care.


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