April 21, 2019
For their 55th anniversary, my parents took my family of five and my sister's family of four to Israel for just over a week. My mother's grandparents were Zionists, escaping the pogroms in Bialystok for religious freedom. As they had attained their freedom, any little bit of extra money they collected, they send to Israel to resettle immigrants. It was their ultimate desire to go to Israel but they were not able to during the course of their lifetime. They taught my mother to always support Israel and to find a way to go to the Holy Land of our people.
My father's parents visited Israel in the early 60's. I remember seeing their slide show on the land of Israel often. The joke was behind that pile of sand was... anything you could imagine. They rode camels but the majority of their hundreds of slides were endless photos of sand.
When my sister and I were young, my parents took us on our first trip to Israel. My mother, so overwhelmed with the power of the land and the moment stepped off the tarmac and kissed the ground. Tears belonging to her parents and grandparents flowed freely from her eyes. Rather than hold her, my sister and I ran away. What child wants to see that deep emotion from their parents. We traveled throughout the country, visiting future Rabbis and Cantors and dear friends.
I returned at 16 with NFTY and had a wonderful time with my peers, many of whom became Rabbis or work today in the Jewish world. After college, I spent a year in Jerusalem with HUC-JIR and men and women working to serve the Jewish community as Rabbis, Cantors, Educators and communal service workers. During that year, my attachment to Israel was strengthened. I learned to speak Hebrew. I fell in love for the first time. I made Israeli friends and saw many of my colleagues decide to make their lives in Israel. I was jealous of their certainty, but my love for my family in Boston was too deep. My parents and sister came to Israel several times when I was living there. They met my friends and made their own connections with the land. My sister studying the architect Moshe Safti who still influences her career today. The past and the present came together in so many different ways.
Over the years, I led trips to Israel with many different congregations and watched the land expand as different layers of civilizations were revealed. Israel is always changing and evolving. I just loved walking the streets of Jerusalem by myself, seeing the past and the present intermingling.
Upon our return from this past trip, I am overwhelmed. I spent most of the trip shedding tears for many reasons; watching my parents in their joy, seeing my husband, brother and nephew take in the history of the land past and present. Watching my own children feel comfortable without the fear that they had arrived in Israel with and sharing memories with my sister of our many trips to this country together.
Here are five major take aways from this visit.
1) We arrived the day after the election. There was no indication that there was any change. The posters were cleaned up and there was no discussion of what could have been. It just was. I learned that, as we traveled though the land that history and politics have always changed and will always change. I breathed and took a break from American politics. In this country, although we are so young, there have been ups and down. Personally, I feel that America is at a downturn; but I know from studying history that this will change before we know it.
2) We know that the people Israel are divisive. Each group has their own political agenda. Some agendas are religious and others are related to land. We listened to different people and although we knew that each person had a perspective, land and religious politics were not discussed. Israelis both Jew and Arabs, agree to disagree quietly. They do not have the violence that rocks the United States. For thousands of years, Jerusalem has been conquered and taken back and conquered again. While we were there, we did not hear of acts of violence. No mosques or synagogues or churches are bombed or burned. In fact, the El Asqa Mosque in Jerusalem stands where the first and second temple stood. I have been allowed to enter the mosque twice and it is stunning. Modern law does not allow Jews to enter Arab territory and so we can no longer enter the mosque. In America, I cannot begin to count the number of churches, mosques and synagogues that have been attacked in the past three years. Why does our hatred take the form of murder, of destruction?
3) Safety. I have always felt safe walking the streets of Jerusalem. There is no domestic crime. People are not attacked for the color of their skin. Domestic violence does exist, especially in the Haredi community. When you enter marriage believing that your wife is your property, violence and rape can occur. The year that I lived in Israel, I worked in a domestic violence shelter where we would move our guests and their children daily. If their husbands, friends or Rebbe found out where they were, they would be returned to the circumstances that led them to flee.
4) Respect. Wherever you are in Israel, you are acknowledged. People say hello to each other. During the chag, we were greeted with Chag Samayach and Shabbat Shalom. It's a part of life in Israel. Even those working on Shabbat greeted others with Shabbat Shalom. There was no judgement, just respect for people.
5) Kindness and love. We ran into many friends in Israel. It is a place where you make friends easily. I went into a store that belonged to an Orthodox Jew. I was speaking Hebrew and my old school, Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion was just down the road. The man assumed that I was studying there and when I told him how many years it had been. He wanted to know about my career and shared his own experiences with the students, including going to services there. We spoke for over an hour until my family, who had been waiting outside came in to find me. Although we were in his store, he did not try to sell us anything. Rather he wanted to know about the role of women in religion, in politics and in business in the United States.
I went to Israel with excitement but also fear of what I heard about attacks from the Hasidim against women and tourists at the wall. I saw none. I went with fear about the results of the election- life was as usual. As Americans there is much we can learn from Israel. We do not need to live in fear. Politics changes quickly. Although dissention is a part of the society, people do not act with violence against each other. People see each other and do not dehumanize them. There is true color blindness. Although we know that Netanyanu has been influenced by our President, the concept of a two-state solution will remain in limbo as there are too many factors involved.
Rabbi Renee Edelman