I write this from Ben Gurion airport, the Dan lounge to be exact, a perk left over from my pre-B’nai Abraham frequent flyer days. It’s late Thursday evening, boarding begins in an hour or so, and it’s nice to sit comfortably and relax.
I’ve been in Israel for almost two full weeks, perhaps my longest stay since student days thirty-five years ago. The visit has been energizing. Robin and I arrived with a wonderful group of thirty from TBA, all adults, all eager to see the land, in some cases for the first time, in others for the first time in a long while. It was a congenial, fun group, and delightfully prompt, even with a few early morning departures.
Some of what we did together was similar to the itinerary of the family group in December. We visited Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, drove along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, climbed or cablecarred up Masada and took a dip in the Dead Sea. Along with visits to Yad Vashem, the Old City, and of course the Wall. We also visited Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu and got grossed out by the Bio Bees. (Google it up if you are curious!)
Some of what we did was different. For example, no zip lining down the Manara Cliffs this time…though I bet these folks would have been up to it! But there were other, more important differences as well.
I kept reminding my companions that Israel was complicated…and they saw this for themselves. A number of speakers shared their views with us: a much decorated army colonel, a center right journalist and a center left Tel Aviv University professor among them. We worked hard to learn about and understand the many views on the international and domestic challenges Israel faces, like Iran, the West Bank, economic disparity and women’s rights.
Friday night Robin and I went to Kibbutz Tzuba, near Jerusalem. Robin directs admissions for a high school semester-in-Israel program and we had Shabbat dinner with “her” kids. That was fun. The rest of the group attended services at a local Reform synagogue and were hosted for dinner by member families. The next morning on the bus, everybody had stories to tell and it appears lots of email addresses were exchanged. We also heard that lots of delicious food got served…though not, it appears, in every house!
Last Sunday was, to be sure, our most serious day, and perhaps the most memorable. A remarkable young man named Avner, from a group called Breaking the Silence, led us on a tour of Hebron, in the heart of the West Bank. Few Jews go there and the city center, where a small group of right wing settlers have been ensconced for years, is incredibly heavily guarded. It was impossible to avoid seeing the impact of this presence and to say we were all uncomfortable is an understatement.
Later, we visited a wonderful woman named Barbara who lives in Gush Etzion, surely the least controversial part of the West Bank. While we may not have agreed with everything she said, we could not help but admire her commitment to her community, and especially, her affirmation that if real peace could be achieved, and her moving would make the difference, she would.
These two worlds were new to all of us, but helped us understand the Israel of today better.
I cannot write even an incomplete account of our journey without mentioning dinner on February 12. Somehow or other – I truly have no idea how! – the restaurant where we ate dinner learned that it was both Robin and Nancy Bernstein’s birthday. We had a wonderful meal right on Lake Kinneret (aka the Sea of Galilee) when suddenly the lights went off, the boat on which we had earlier briefly cruised pulled away from shore, and in the celebrants’ honor we witnessed an amazing fireworks display. And that was only the beginning.
Needless to say, Robin and Nancy asked Ken and me what we have planned for next year!
At times it felt like we were on information overload as the experiences and the conversations and the new sights and new people got to be…well, a lot. But we were all sad to leave one another and I know that ties to Israel have been strengthened and all of us have a better grasp of Israel than we did before…and are glad of it. And we are also glad of the strong ties all of us now share.
So everybody else left and I (literally) wheeled my suitcase across the street from the Dan Panorama Jerusalem to the Hotel Prima Royale (which for the record is neither). I joined an already in progress rabbinic mission from our Greater Metrowest Federation. For the last three days, ten of us rabbis (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and me) met and toured with academics and tour guides and officials from the World Zionist Organization and the Foreign Ministry, in effect receiving a crash course in Israeli politics and foreign affairs. This was unquestionably a case of information overload, thought it was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had.
I’ll need some time to process all we learned but perhaps the neatest part of the experience – and one I didn’t even think about previously – was being with such a diverse and wonderful group. The ten of us became fast friends, sharing thoughts and dreams, concerns and worries. We found that though we represented a quite diverse ideological spectrum, our lives were more similar than we would have imagined. Happily, the date for a reunion lunch has already been marked.
So now it’s time to come home, and I m excited about that…yes, to see Robin, and also because I know it will be warm and I assume our driveway will have been shoveled! More seriously, I miss Temple B’nai Abraham and knowing what has gone on in the lives of our extended family. I look forward to being on the pulpit at tomorrow’s early service, and hope I will be forgiven for the occasional yawn.
As always when leaving Israel, I recite a silent prayer for peace. May we be privileged to witness it ourselves, and may that happen soon.
Affectionately and b’shalom,