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.
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM, every Sunday at 6:45 a.m. CT, and is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights 2011) available on Amazon.com.