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Dear Friends,
 
Ettie and I were privileged to travel to the Holy Land of Israel with our family. We were fortunate to be sharing a very rare family break between summer camp and the school year, traveling with the children to explore and enjoy the treasures of our Jewish homeland.  As a family with young children it has been so special and such a memorable experience to visit the holy sites and watch them come to life before their eyes, sites which back home they knew as stories and history lessons.
 
In last week's Torah portion, we find our greatest Jewish leader, Moshe, begging God to allow him to enter the land, a privilege that he was ultimately denied. Reflecting on this idea, of how long and deeply our people have been connected to this land and how many thousands of years we have yearned and prayed for our return, we feel so thankful to be alive at a time when we can walk the streets of Jerusalem freely with our family as proud Jews in a Jewish homeland. We feel blessed beyond measure to have walked the same soil of our ancestors and visiting the places where Biblical Jewish leaders once led our people in ancient times.
 
We soaked up the one place in the world that connects our past and present history like no other.

Especially now, as the challenges in Israel make headline news, with fires burning in the south and tensions at the border, Israel needs us to show our support more than ever. I am still digesting my experience of visiting this oasis of Judaism during such turbulent times but, I want to share with you some of our exciting highlights from this amazing trip.

The first destination was the Western Wall where throughout our history it has been our special place, sacred for prayer. We requested special blessings for our special Naples community. Just touching those ancient stones and seeing Jews from every corner of the world was moving, but watching our children absorb the moment was the best, and will remain with us and them. What a nation —what a history! In just one day we were able to give them a ‘ crash course’,  by going to the Kotel. The first thing we did was pray with the kids, then we went to the tunnels where you can realize how magnificent the Western Wall really is. Then we went to pray at the graves of King David and Samuel. From these places you can see almost all of Jerusalem-- what an incredible sight! As it says in Psalms, Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains and is simply powerful in its magnificence. Jerusalem was and is the symbol of unity, hope, and love.

In addition to some crazy fun kid-centric activities like zip-lining and jeeping (what were we thinking! 😊 ), we also spent an incredible day together in the holy city of Chevron. We connected with the local Jewish population – an amazing, resilient community, as well as the inspiring Chabad Rabbi in Chevron, Rabbi Danny Cohen. We were blessed to speak to the IDF soldiers stationed in the city, bring them some food and words of support, and thank them for protecting Israel. Another one-of-a-kind highlight was being in Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, when we were able to go to the Kotel, the lasting remnant of the destroyed Temple that we were mourning, and witness tens of thousands of people coming together to sing songs of hope and redemption. The Israel that we are experiencing here is one that is glowing with life and shining with spirituality and meaning. We are completely filled with awe and respect for these incredible people who, in spite of the odds, have such determination, hope and resilience.

While we were away we were thinking of our community and praying for all of you. We know that many of our families are facing various challenges and tests and we want you to know that we have davened for you for strength and blessings.

As wonderful as our trip was, it’s always good to be again surrounded by our Naples family, planning and preparing for another amazing year together. We hope you are enjoying a safe and healthy summer wherever you may be spending it.

Wishing you all a beautiful family Shabbat!

Rabbi Fishel & Ettie Zaklos

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