From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
June 8, 2018
The Beth Israel travelers returned home from Israel this week. They learned many new Hebrew words, like "arba” (four), "boker tov” (good morning), and "todah rabbah,” (thank you). But, they never needed to use words like fear, hate, or anti-Semitism. Their vocabulary was shaped around the experiences they had and the ones they opened themselves up to feeling.
We didn’t deny them access to facts on the ground. We met with Danny Tirza, the architect of the "separation wall.” In three places, including a checkpoint where Palestinians came and went from Israel to the West Bank, Danny explained and showed us how less than 10% of the fence is actually a wall. The majority of it, by far, is a see-through, though impassable, fence. We felt the angst of those at the checkpoint, but we didn’t see the fence as anything but a security fence that has safeguarded Israel.
We met with Gadi Taub, a brilliant scholar with a PhD from Rutgers University. In addition to being a prolific author, he is a writer for Ha’aretz, even though he doesn’t share the newspaper’s left-wing positions. His insights into Israeli politics and issues were a highlight for the group for the depth and breadth of information that Gadi delivered in 90 minutes talk and discussion.
Near the end of the trip, we visited the Ayalon Institute, better known as the Bullet Factory. Long before high-tech innovation in Israel, there was ingenuity and resourcefulness that provided thousands of rounds of bullets to fighters in 1948. Hidden below a kibbutz, they managed to outwit the British, and even their own kibbutzniks, for the sake of serving the cause of independence and survival. You’ll have to see it for yourself to understand it.
The farewell dinner was special. Almost everyone shared a special moment, enduring memory, and lesson learned about the trip. What stood out to me about this group was the enormous amount of new understanding that each traveler absorbed and appreciated. The journey is far from over. In some ways, it’s just begun. But, now, with a deeper love for Israel, the land and the people, each new step will be a contribution of self for a cause and a purpose that is larger than ourselves and one that must endure long beyond us.
Today, I’m in Paris. We had a very special tour of the Marais, the Jewish quarter of Paris, with Rabbi Tom Cohen. His generosity of time and spirit made it clear that the relationship between world Jewry and Israel is seamless. Jews in Paris are doing well, and their community is thriving. I also met with Stéphane Beder, Senior Vice-Chair of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), over coffee and French macaroons. From Stéphane, I learned much about the realities on the ground for European and Asian Jewish communities. It’s a subject that we don’t know enough about in America. More about this subject, and the macaroons, later.
Shabbat is coming. I miss being with you, but I’m grateful for the time to be where I can learn, absorb, and appreciate what is beyond home and also what is waiting for me when I return. Lisa joins me in wishing you a restful and joyful Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
June 14, 2018
I’m in Israel. More than that, I’m breathing the air, eating the food, speaking the language, and watching our group experience the land and people for the first time or the first time in a long time.
The Torah portion that accompanies us this week comes from the book of Numbers. In Sh’lach Lecha, twelve spies scout out the land that God brought the Israelites to enter. The spies saw the people of the land, and they were strong and mighty. They saw the fruits of the land, and they were abundant and large. They saw themselves and said, "We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” Ten spies shared this ominous report when they returned to their fellow Israelites. Only Joshua and Caleb saw what was possible.
Joshua and Caleb reported that everything was possible if they brought God with them into the land God promised their forefathers and foremothers as an inheritance. They said, "Let us surely go up!” God blessed Joshua and Caleb. They’re remembered for their optimism and faith.
In Israel, today, there is also remarkable optimism and faith. Lyana Rotstein, our amazing guide, reminded us that Israelis have no time to ask "What if?” In the face of constant complexities and challenges, they persist and overcome. Some do it with Israeli-brand chutzpah, others do it with faith, and still others do it with both.
For sure, the media get only a fraction of the story. The larger truth is found on the ground and in the streets of every city in Israel. The larger truth is also found on nearly every border or cease-fire line that Israel defends. There is no other nation that would be held up to the scrutiny that Israel is every time it pushes back its foes and defends its people. Who could ask Israel to do anything less than any other country whose borders are invaded by terrorists and enemies?
We’ve seen and learned about history, innovation, security, defense, and politics. We’ve met with an expert in military strategy and preparation, visited an army base to see the Merkavah tank, walked the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, learned with the CEO of the Israeli Reform Jewish movement, and still left time for eating delicious food, Israeli dancing, and swimming. There’s nothing we can’t do in Israel. In a land of complexities, Israel, second only to Silicon Valley in technology, makes it look so easy. Though we know it isn’t easy, we’re grateful and dedicated.
Shabbat is coming. Like you, we’ll pause from our schedule to welcome Shabbat in Jerusalem. It will be a refreshing and moving moment for all of us. It will be a time to give personal thanks for the blessings we’ve come to know and to prepare for the rest of our journey into the heart and soul of Israel.
This report is filled with optimism and faith. I have no doubt that Israel will thrive and every confidence that Congregation Beth Israel will be part of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s future. From Rabbi Scott and all who are here with us, Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
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