One of the most popular T-shirts being sold on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem these days blasts: “Guns and Torah,” a play on the rock group “Guns and Roses.” People think that Israel is either guns for the army or Torah for the civilian population.
But Israel is a mixture of the secular and religious. The multidimensional nature of this incredible country was especially apparent during one day of my recent trip to Israel with the eighth-grade graduating class of Abrams Hebrew Academy.
One of the first things we did that day was travel to Tiberias and hold services at the grave of Maimonides, the prolific Torah scholar of the Middle Ages.
From the holy place of Rambam’s grave, we traveled to the port city of Haifa, where we visited the Technion-Israel’s Institute of Technology, the “MIT” of Israel.
Abrams has instituted a new science program in collaboration with the Technion, and we took this opportunity to meet with Professor Alon Wolf and the graduate students in his robotics lab.
It was truly inspiring to the 13 adults and 18 students on our trip to see that the Technion houses innovative, creative scientific thinkers that rival those at the world’s other prestigious academic institutions.
From these halls of science, we proceeded to the heights of Mount Carmel, where we marveled at the majesty of the Hanging Gardens and the beauty of Israel.
Moving on to Tel Aviv, our guide suggested that the students might want to swim in the Mediterranean, so we stopped at the beach and enjoyed the novelty of swimming at sunset in March.
That evening we attended a basketball game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Real Madrid. It was eye-opening for the students to feel the enthusiasm and passion that Israelis have for sports.
As 13,000 Israelis cheered for their team, which lost by one point in the final seconds, the students realized that Israelis are just as modern as American sports enthusiasts.
Finally, at the end of this long and varied day that included the sacred and the secular, we came full circle from our start at Rambam’s grave and arrived in Jerusalem at the Kotel at 1 a.m. It was a Thursday night, and despite the lateness of the hour, there were hundreds of people there.
Our tired travelers ended the day at their hotel at 3 a.m., both exhausted and exhilarated by everything that they experienced in 24 hours.
Throughout our journey, the students learned that Israel is so much more than guns and Torah.
It is a land where people both excel at science and technology and love sports and recreation, just like citizens of other countries.
It is living history, steeped in the past and firmly planted in the present.
It is also a land of spectacular beauty that has been extolled through the ages. And yes, it is the land of the Torah, our faith, our past and our future.
Rabbi Ira Budow is the director of Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley.