57 Hours in Israel

June 4, 2021 in Rabbi Greg Harris, Reflections Off the Bimah

If we are ‘friends’ on Facebook, you have seen my video updates from Israel.  (Click here to get to my FB page for the messages.) This week, I participated in a solidarity mission to Israel led by Gil Preuss, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.  Eight rabbis from the area cleared our schedules and arrived in Israel Tuesday evening.  Between Tuesday to Thursday evenings when we flew back, every minute was packed with important, thoughtful, and complicated conversations.

“Standing with Israel” is a slogan.  Moving beyond a slogan though and into the complexities of Israel’s social fabric, security issues, and diverse national interests was the focus of this trip.  We brought our love of Israel to Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Druze, and Palestinians of East Jerusalem.  We listened and were each pushed in new ways. 

At Netiv HaAsarah, a moshav directly adjacent to the Israel / Gaza border, we encountered Israel’s security issues with Hamas.  In Ashkelon, we met with the Israel Trauma Coalition to understand the mental health response Israel has developed through the creation of ‘resilience centers’ rather than ‘trauma centers’ across the country.

The part most challenging for me was digging into Israel’s internal struggles.  Gil described these conversations in his message to the Federation (click here for the full post):

On Thursday, we visited Lod, a city that is home to both Jewish and Arab residents. During the recent conflict, Lod became a flashpoint for Jewish and Arab tensions in Israel. Angry mobs targeted the other, destroying synagogues and houses. And two people, one Jewish and one Arab, were killed. It took days for the violence to settle down and it is clear the city is still reeling from what happened—we spoke with Jewish and Arab community leaders each struggling with what caused the tragic breakdown.

There was, however, a common thread that ran through our many conversations. Whether implied or articulated, the question on everyone’s mind was what does it look like for Israel to be both a Jewish and a democratic state? Israel’s declaration of independence defines the country as such, but how do you take that tension and make it a reality? How do you recognize Israel’s unique Jewish character while ensuring full democratic processes for all of its citizens? Former Member of Knesset Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, the first Druze woman to be elected to Israel’s parliament, thought that perhaps the country should separate civil rights from national rights. Israel can play a role as the homeland for the Jewish people while also upholding a full slate of civil rights for all its citizens.

Whatever the answers, the successful reconciliation of Israel’s dual nature is vital to the country’s future. 

During these 57 hours, I brought our support and concerns directly to Israel.  I shared our embrace and fears.  I listened and learned.  This is the only way that “Standing with Israel” can be transformed into more than a slogan.  “Standing with Israel” means I am willing to stand with Israel as the country continues to find its way with external enemies as well as aspects of its own internal character.

I appreciated that in new ways from this trip.  I hope you will continue to stand with Israel alongside me – with the nuances, complexities, and love we have for her.  And, I’m ready to plan our next trip to Israel together.

Who is interested?!

PS – I will be speaking more about my experiences this Shabbat.  Click here for the livestream.