Daily Blog From My Journey to Israel

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Why am I traveling to Israel?

The watchword of the Jewish faith starts “Shema Yisrael” which means listen Israel, hear Israel, understand Israel.

I am traveling to Israel to cut through the noise that prevents me from hearing — the noise of social media and soundbites, 24-hour news cycles that all too often only skim the surface. I’m traveling to Israel to get the proximate (as Bryan Stevenson calls us to do).

I am traveling to Israel to help lighten the burden of pain and grief and worry my Israeli colleagues, family, and friends are feeling. Even if just for a moment, I pray my presence will provide the assurance that they are not alone.

I am traveling to Israel to listen and bring back narratives that I pray might open hearts and minds and deepen understanding and compassion.

I see and feel two worlds – – a pro-Israel camp and a pro-Palestinian camp. Each world is grieving and in pain and living in echo chambers of polarization where kind people can unknowingly be exposed to antisemitic rhetoric on one side and Islamophobic rhetoric on the other.

Imagine if we took all that energy and passion from both sides of this war and were able to birth out of this tragedy a pathway to peace.

Friday, November 17, 2023

With just minutes before landing in Israel my heart skips a beat and I can hardly contain myself. Words cannot capture my anticipation to be landing in Israel which is so much a part of who I am.

I have arrived!

Here are some of the photos that greeted me and affirmed why I have come.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

What did I hear today?

Fear… Israelis are traumatized by the October 7th barbaric attack. Can they be safe?

Concern… about the antisemitism being faced by Jews globally. Hamas has stated they aim to kill Jews. This isn’t just about Israelis.

Hopelessness – People who’ve spent years supporting their Arab and Palestinian neighbors now feel lost. What comes next?

Grief – We met with the parents of Lt. Yannai Kaminka, age 20, who was among the officers killed on October 7th. He defended his base while saving 90 new recruits.

Purpose – The outpouring of volunteerism is remarkable. Thousands upon thousands of volunteers are working in fields to support farmers, making meals and delivering them to soldiers and doing everything they can to make sure their neighbors are ok.

From praying with two of Israel’s Reform Congregations for Shabbat evening and morning, to making a condolence visit to the gracious and kind Kaminka family, to standing at a rally to free the hostages, there were far too many stories of pain and it will take me some time to process them.

The sign we are holding at the rally below is from the 11-12th century sage Maimonides, “There is no greater mitzvah (commandment) than to redeem the captive.”

Yannai’s father, Eyal, is a poet. He wrote,: “Rak b’lailah roim kochavim – only in the night can you see the stars.”

May the light continue to shine and expand during this devastating darkness.

Sunday, November 20, 2023

What’s on Israelis’ minds? Here’s what I saw and heard today.

#1. The hostage families. The signs with the hostages’ names, faces and ages are everywhere. Today we met with Lee Seigel at our Temple Beth El’s sister congregation Birkat Shalom. Lee’s brother Keith and sister-in-law Aviva have been held hostage by Hamas for 43 days.

#2. The war. Everyone has someone close to them serving on the border – often multiple relatives. Everyone is worried.

#3. Volunteering. Israel’s Southern region produces 80% of the vegetables for Israel. With half of the foreign workers having left Israel and many farmers called up to serve, creative leaders filled the void and invited volunteers to come and labor. Within days the Facebook group had 45,000. Thousands of Israelis have come down to help. We were among them as we spent the morning as American and Israeli Reform rabbis pruning tomatoes.

#4. Being broken hearted. We studied texts with our Israeli colleagues who are grieving and serving the bereft. We gleaned wisdom from our tradition about healing broken hearts and resilience.

#5. Antisemitism – As we worry about our colleagues, family and friends in Israel they worry about us and our safety outside the land. They worry about our kids on college campuses.

Did you know there’s an app that tells you how much time you have to enter a shelter in each city in case a siren goes off? When we were down South today working in the greenhouses, it said 45 seconds, but thankfully it wasn’t necessary.

And here are my thoughts as I end my day.

The Israeli Reform rabbinate is growing with more than 100 Israeli Reform Rabbis and they are dynamic, talented and inspiring. They are teaching and healing even as they are struggling and hurt themselves.

Lastly, Israeli breakfasts and Israeli hummus, falafel and chips still make the day complete.

Laila tov, good night, from Jerusalem.

Monday, November 21, 2023

My final day of visiting Israel included hearing stories of unfathomable trauma and tragedy.

We visited Kibbutz Shefayim where a significant numbers of victims and survivors of Kfar Azza are living for the time being. Nearly every home in this Kibbutz was either burned or brutally attacked by the gunfire of dozens upon dozens of terrorists. 62 members of the Kibbutz were murdered and 18 were kidnapped, among them 6 children. 8 were injured and all remain hospitalized.

Liora Eilon, a grandmother and peace activist, shared with us the harrowing 36 hour trauma in which her son, a first responder for the Kibbutz was one of the first to be murdered, and she hid in her safe room with another son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters. Even from their safe room, they used What’s App to try and save themselves and others.

We visited a main square in front of the Tel Aviv Museum where hostage families gather. A table is fully set for some 240 hostages. And a special play area is set with empty chairs and toys and teddy bears highlighting their excruciating absence of the child among them. I stopped to sit with two bereft parents of teenager held captive. They had tears streaming from their eye. 45 days now.

We heard from eight more Israeli rabbinic colleagues serving in areas across the country – the South, the North and around Tel Aviv. They are serving and serving — funerals, at shivas and leading Shabbat services that are disrupted as families must move to shelters as alarms sound signaling bombs are being launched from Gaza.

My colleagues are exhausted by a rabbinate that is beyond what they could ever have imagined. There was fatigue and fear and a commitment to care tirelessly and selflessly for the souls of their community members.

The Israeli Reform movement offers a Judaism that provides the answer Israeli society needs right now – one of spirituality, healing, and a commitment to justice. (Please support them – https://reform.org.il/en/).

We met with Noga Tarnopolsky, a freelance journalist, who clarified that there is so much blame to go around for where we are now – the current government whose focus on judicial reform endangered Israel. Netanyahu moved troops to the West Bank leaving Gaza unprotected. Netanyahu flaunted in elections a multi-billion dollar technological wall that was meant to protect Israel in the South. That wall failed.

And the blame for the tragedy beyond words at the Al-Shifa hospital spreads far and wide. Arab nations allowed Hamas to take root for 16 years. International doctors who served there knew what was below. Iran and Qatar funnelled billions and billions into the extensive central command base of Hamas underneath that medical facility. Egypt hasn’t and doesn’t let Palestinians inside their border. Israel becomes the easy and global scapegoat.

My cab driver on my way back to the airport seemed to have more faith than the rest. “The war will be over soon,” he told me, “perhaps next week. There will be trade and the hostages will come home.”

And my neighbor on the plane who went to help her daughter take care of their baby for a month while her son-in-law serves down South shared that her son-in-law predicts the war will last until Passover. It is impossible to imagine living in pain and grief and suffering for so long for so many.

And I come home, even more broken hearted than when I left. So sad for the tragedies on both sides and praying that my cab driver somehow might see more clearly than the rest.

May we be blessed soon to start the healing process – of rebuilding faith and trust in governments, in peoples, in interfaith partnerships, in the world and in peace. It will take all of us to make it happen.

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