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Could you pinch me please? I am having a hard time believing it, but we are here—we are all here—in Israel, ready to embark on a new journey of self-discovery through the landscape and the people of this magical land.

I took a taxi from the airport to Jerusalem on Tuesday just as the sun was setting. It was one of these minibus cabs that sit 10 people. It’s cheaper to take those because all 10 passengers are sharing the costs, but it also means that, unless you are the first one on the route to be dropped off, you could be in for a long ride. I was the seventh. I could easily have been upset—exhausted as I was after a 20 hour flight—about the fact that it took me another two hours to get to my friends’ place instead of the normal 45 minutes it would have usually taken. But how could I be when I was treated to the most gorgeous lightshow. Dropping off one passenger at a time, the cab crisscrossed the many neighborhoods of North Jerusalem and I got to witness the thousands of Chanukah menorahs (or chanukiot) lit in the countless windows of hundreds of apartment buildings one street after another. What a sight! And if you missed the ones in the apartments’ windows, you could see the giant electric chanukiot at every street corner, every city square, every park, and on the roofs of government buildings and hotels, as well as in every little store on the street, from the wine shop to the mini mart, from the hairdresser to the falafel stand. Flickering candles everywhere.

Ahl ha-nisim v’al ha-nifla’ot” they sing here; dedicating their candles “for the miracles and the awe filled times.” And so our trip begins, with the keen awareness of the miracle of this and every moment, the miracle that Israel even exists, the miracle that we are here, the miracle of each day we wake up to no matter where we are on the planet. It begins with a sense of awe; a sense of gratitude and deep appreciation.

The very first stop of our trip, tomorrow morning, comes from a response to an invitation that came through Jana of a woodworker who builds the most amazing Arks, Torah reading tables and other religious artifacts out of wood. I shared with our group how perfect I thought it was that we get to start our journey here visiting with a Jewish carpenter!

Ahl ha-nisim v’al ha-nifla’ot… Hineini – I am here.