Heartbeats: We All Left Egypt Together
It was Tuesday 28 April, 2020. It was also Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Ya’acov Fried, founder and president of Da’at Educational Travels and lifelong educator, found himself driving on empty and eerily quiet streets, bereft of tourists and Israelis. This was usually his favorite evening of the year; the streets are typically jampacked with Israelis and tourists who celebrate Israel’s independence with firework displays and non-stop singing, partying, and dancing. In particular he loved facilitating groups of American Jews getting to celebrate the significance of the Israeli story through their trips. But this year, COVID-19 lockdowns meant that the streets were barren. Israelis were spending the evening inside their homes. The very day when independence is celebrated, it felt as if there was no freedom at all.
As Ya’acov drove down the highway, contemplating what it means to have one’s personal liberty taken away with government-mandated restrictions, it suddenly struck him. Perhaps the uncomfortable silence of the day would allow him to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut in a completely different way; it allowed him to be present in the moment without external sources such as ceremonies and parties. That night, Ya’acov felt an even stronger bond to his fellow Israelis who were also spending the evening indoors. That heightened awareness of what it means to be mindful and present stayed with Ya’acov past Yom Ha’atzmaut, and sparked within him ideas of what it means to experience a journey of inner discovery.
Concurrently, a long-time dream to compile an anthology of essential insights about life in Israel started to take shape, at the initiative of Gilad Peled and Yishay Shavit, two leading educators. This was exactly what Yaakov was looking for. That lonely Yom Ha’atzmaut inspired him to approach Gilad and Yishay and co-author a book about Israel which shows how each tour is not just a gateway to a country but a catalyst for self-exploration and impact. During that complete journey, you are opening yourself up to the many faces of Israel. And what better way to author such a book than have Israel’s leading tour educators reveal a side of Israel unknown to many.
Their epiphany has resulted in the newly-published Heartbeats: The Insider’s Guide to Israel, a non-conventional travel guide that invites readers who have not yet visited Israel to delve deeper – not just into the sites but into the heart of the issue and the fabric of Israeli society. The reader thus experiences a journey and not just a tour. Each piece is written by a different tour educator, honing in on their own vision, perspective, and experience of Israel while raising questions and dilemmas that are connected both to history and to the complex realities in Israel today.
The common denominator between all the pieces in this dazzling anthology is the love and passion each tour educator shares for their homeland. But each article offers surprisingly different, authentic, and refreshing viewpoints – representing the mosaic of Israeli culture. Ya’acov Fried takes us on a journey to Israel through the prism of the Israeli kitchen and explores how food has evolved from a survival mentality to a celebration of creativity and diversity. In a chapter called “Biography is a Matter of Geography,” Gilad Peled delves into the huge impact geographically small Israel has on the Israeli psyche. Yishay Shavit talks about the imprint the IDF has on the Israel soul. In a piece entitled “Jewish Time and Jewish Space,” Muki Jankelowitz explains how the Jewish calendar influences Israeli culture.
Raz Shmilovich, who lives in a moshav near the Gaza Strip, describes poignantly how “living next to the border is the modern Israeli version of living in the crater of a volcano.” Nadia Mahmood Giol, an Israeli Palestinian living in the Galilee, writes about what it is like to be a woman and Arab living in Israel.
Each article is a personal invitation into the inner world of the nineteen tour educators, and there is no doubt that you will leave the experience with new questions about, and insights, into your own identity.
Heartbeats – which has received acclaim from former Israeli president Ruvi Rivlin – is available for purchase on Amazon and in all major bookstores.
Heartbeats on Amazon
Ya’acov’s interview with i24 News
Ya’acov’s interview with i24 News: Part Two