Next year in Jerusalem! How often have I repeated those words at the end of a High Holy Day service or a Passover Seder? How often have I dreamed of making “Aliyah” -a pilgrimage to the holy land in my lifetime, wondering if that dream might ever come true?

Now this Saturday, my wife and I will actually start to live the dream with our close friends Roberta and Bob as we leave for an 11-day trip to Israel. Over the months leading up to our journey, I’ve often pinched myself, wondering if this pilgrimage is still a dream. But now the packing is almost complete, the passports are in order and the reality check is complete.

The driver arrives at 2:15 p.m. tomorrow. Israel is happening!

We broached the idea of this trip to Israel with our friends over dinner a year ago, soon after our return from China where our daughter adopted our grandson Lucas. We’ve always traveled by ourselves, but our friends are great company and they were as psyched as we were about visiting Israel. We can’t wait.

I’m sure many of my well-traveled readers would have gladly recommended tour companies or upcoming synagogue and church trips, but I decided to try my own research first. I explored AAA and they do a terrific job, but I also identified 6 tour companies online. In the end, I couldn’t have been more fortunate. Among the tour companies I identified, I heard back from Linda, the representative of Tsurel Israel, a small company in Tel Aviv. She was so responsive and caring, I knew from our first conversation, that this tour would be terrific.

Linda explained that she travels back and forth to Israel and acts as the planner and coordinator of tours. She recommended that we travel in October, because the weather is supposed to be excellent—daytime temperatures in the 70s or 80s and cool nights.

We told Linda that we didn’t want a strictly Jewish tour and the itinerary Tsurel created for us sounds busy and exciting. We will be part of a group of about 19 and our tour will take us from Masada to Galilee and Haifa among other memorable places. And she has patiently answered the myriad of questions any first-time travelers to Israel would ask.

At the beginning, we’ll be doing a float in the Dead Sea and we’ll tour Masada. My wife originally said no to Masada because she’s petrified of heights and cable cars. But after some gentle prodding from our friends and me, my wife agreed to our surrounding her in the cable car for the ride up to Masada. My aunt in Chicago shared the same fears my wife has when she visited Israel, but explained to my wife that one cannot visit Israel without experiencing Masada.

Unfortunately, my wife will miss one of our last stops on the tour, Rosh-a-Nikra, an area with magnificent white rocks and grottoes and a lot of history. But we learned that the cable car ride is almost a sheer drop along the side of a cliff. We told Linda that the ride might be too unnerving, so my wife will sit out that part of the tour.

Many of our other stops will include the Wailing Wall, the ancient limestone wall considered a retaining wall of the second temple in Jerusalem and a place where people of all faiths can leave notes to God; Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial; Haifa, the hills of Galilee and Jaffa, an ancient city south of Tel Aviv. My wife also wanted to attend a Friday night Shabbat (Sabbath) service and we will probably go to a synagogue or temple in Tel Aviv.

Our tour will also include two free days - one in Jerusalem and the other in Tel Aviv. And since I now share my wife’s addiction to quilting, I have already identified a large quilt shop in each location. We’re leaving plenty of room in our suitcases for any new fabric additions to our stash.

And we were very fortunate to be flying on El Al, especially given the airline’s security practices. My understanding is that their check-in questions are intense and designed to identify any problem passengers. But I’m not surprised. I was told that they follow one’s eyes very carefully during the brief interview.

Wheels up for our pilgrimage will be about 9:30 on Saturday night, the 6th of October, and some 12 hours later, we’ll step into ancient history as the Bible comes to life. We can’t wait for this year in Jerusalem and Israel to come true.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at