Before shaharit (the morning service) today, Marty asked me if I could identify the absolute highlight of the trip. After thinking about this throughout the tefillot, I decided that the high point for me was probably different from that of the teenage participants. They might pick the walk through Hezekiah's Tunnel or the climbing of Masada to see the sunrise over the mountains of Moab or the night in the Bedouin tent or the Dead Sea or maybe praying at the Kotel for the first time.
But I would pick the Shabbat we spent in Ashkelon at a Masorti/Conservative congregation, hosted by Israeli families with teenage peers of our participants. And all the more so because this was at the end of our trip, after we had experienced the history of Israel through ancient, medieval and modern lenses. The final stage, as it were, was to spend time with actual Israelis, in their homes, as a part of their contemporary existence. Because Israel is not just history, it is also modern, thriving, complicated society, an essential part of Jewish civilization, and (following Dr. Kenneth Stein) the last major development of Judaism. Most tourist experience the sites listed above; few spend time off the beaten path in Israeli living rooms. This is invaluable.