The author, a professional on February's We Stand with Israel Mission, underscores the powerful impact that being in Israel with a UJC Mission has on participants -- and Israelis.
Days 1 and 2: Our mission has had a remarkable two days! We spent the better part of both days in our Partnership community of Netanya where we experienced a remarkable time. Our friends provided us with so many wonderful opportunities to meet, greet and spend time with our friends. We were hosted by Mayor Miriam Fierberg and members of the Netanya steering committee...and their hospitality was warm, gracious and extraordinary.
We visited several schools where the students welcomed us with open hearts. They shared with us their achievements and expressed heartfelt thanks for all the support we have provided as well as their admiration for our community's efforts and our presence in both Netanya and Israel. Several of the students had visited Cincinnati and spent last summer at Camp Livingston, which they still remember vividly as the time of their lives.
Our group was fortunate to spend several hours in homes of families where we shared our lives, hopes and aspirations. Everyone was humbled by the sincere bonds of friendship established and the desire to see many more missions visit Israel...and for our Netanya friends to plan similar visits to Cincinnati. In fact, we discussed the potential for several groups to visit our community in the coming year: teachers, physicians and others to make exchange missions in order to see what our Jewish community is like, to share ideas and offer expertise which will benefit both our communities.
Our support of projects in Netanya has had a real and tangible impact. Our community funds, whether from the annual Jewish Federation Campaign or the Israel Emergency Campaign has provided security for public schools, support and training for Netanya's emergency/first responders and new immigrants; as well as services for the elderly.
We also had a very meaningful visit to the IDF Women's Corps Training Base, which was the IDF unit our community Shlicha, Noga Maliniak, served. We were treated to a delicious lunch...but we were nourished by the vitality and spirit of the young women officers who not only demonstrated their dedication and commitment to Israel, but their appreciation, understanding and affection for our group and world Jewry, too. These young cadets impressed us with a vision that we share: that each of us has a responsibility to one another.
We also had ample time today to help Israel and her struggling economy by spending several hours in Jerusalem up and down Ben Yehuda Street, Jaffa Road and King George Street. Regrettably the streets are empty, for the most part, of tourists, but nonetheless we were welcomed warmly by shopkeepers and merchants as we walked, shopped and spoke with many, even receiving the blessings of several and all the while feeling very safe, secure and confident that our presence here was vital, important and necessary.
Our group has had a lot of time to pause and reflect on our mission to Israel, what it has meant to each of us personally and what we hope we have accomplished as a result of coming to Israel. I think it is fair to say that we each feel that our mission has been an important expression of solidarity and unity with the people of Israel.
I think that we each feel that we have absolutely done the right thing by coming here and that we hope many, many more of our family, friends and neighbors will do the same in the very near future, that our children and grandchildren should do the same. We also feel that we must also do all we can to continue to keep the message of Israel alive back home -- through education and awareness -- and that by doing so we not only strengthen Israel but ourselves and our Jewish community.
Everywhere we have gone, whether in Jerusalem, Netanya and elsewhere, there is concern as to what tomorrow and the days after will bring. There is real concern about the ongoing Intifada and the "matzav," or situation, and the situation in Iraq and the threat of world terrorism.
But throughout there is also positive concern for the kesher, or connection, between Klal Israel, between world Jewry and Israel. There is no doubt that the bond of family and mishpocha is strong, that together we will continue to not just survive but thrive and that in fact the Jewish people are "Am Echad B'Lev Echad, One People with One Heart." That each of us in our own way can make a contribution to that: by visiting Israel, by becoming active in our Jewish community, by celebrating our Jewishness in whatever ways we choose to celebrate it.
The winter clouds here in Israel appear to be dark, gray and ominous. As I write these words the wind in Jerusalem is howling, bringing an amazingly blessed amount of rain. But despite the gloomy appearance there is a reality, appreciation and understanding that while the environment may not be hospitable, that in fact the future of the Jewish people is bright, full of sunshine and hope. That is the message that our mission has brought to Israel. That is the message that I am confident our group will bring back home to Cincinnati. Am Israel Chai!
Erev Shabbat: Our mission is beginning to wind down as Shabbat approaches. This morning we were treated to a special briefing by Rabbi Michael Melchior, a Member of Knesset who is was also Prime Minister Sharon's Deputy Foreign Minister and Minister for Diaspora Relations. Rabbi Melchior was re-elected to the Knesset in the recent elections and is awaiting the formation of the new government to see whether he is part of the new cabinet or a member of the opposition.
He presented an informative perspective on Israel's foreign policy but was even more inspiring about his vision of the future of the Israeli people and the worldwide Jewish community. Rabbi Melchior emphasized his hope that the Jewish community worldwide will increase our commitment to Jewish education and awareness, and that this in turn will lead to greater commitment to Judaism, Jewish life and Israel.
Following Melchior's briefing our group helped to assemble "goodie" bags for soldiers and border police staffing the various checkpoints at the entrance ways to the city of Jerusalem. We brought T-shirts from Cincinnati, Reds baseball caps, music CDs generously donated by the Mayerson Foundation and sweatshirts, pins and many other items as well as candy, cookies, toothpaste and other personal products. Then, escorted by Lt. Kfir of the Israel Border Patrol our group went to three checkpoints: on the road to Bethlehem, the road to Nablus and the road to Jericho.
At each checkpoint we gave a soldier a goodie bag, wished them Shabbat Shalom and offered our Todah Rabah for all that they do protecting Israel and her people. Lt. Kfir told our group that the job of the soldiers at each checkpoint is vital to the safety and security of the city. It is very important work but nonetheless very repetitive and tedious. It is also lonely and an amazingly long amount of time to be outside, in the elements and away from home, family and loved ones.
And still...the soldiers greeted us with warm smiles, open hands and full hearts. Lt. Kfir told us that the soldiers under his command were amazed that a group from America would come out to spend just a few minutes with them, present gifts and thank them! If anything humbled us, it was this experience, being thanked by these brave, courageous heroes of Israel.
A song in Hebrew says: Guardians of Israel, guard the gates of Israel. These young men are indeed the shomrim and guardians of modern day Israel together with the IDF soldiers along all of Israel's borders, in her cities and across the nation. And they are joined by all the citizens of Israel --- the men, women and children --- who in and of their own provide the protection to the Jewish nation.
And our group is no less amongst the guardian of Israel --- coming to Israel, crisscrossing the land, extending our hands and hearts of friendship and demonstrating our care, concern and commitment through our community's Solidarity Mission.
And you, reading this message, are also a shomer of Israel, a guardian of Israel -- because you care about Israel. Your care is evident in all that you do: your advocacy, your financial support and your visits in the past as well as what I (and all the members of our mission hope) will be your future visit to Israel very soon.
Tonight our group will join students and faculty at Hebrew Union College on the campus here in Jerusalem for our festive Shabbat dinner. As we celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem, Yerushalayim -- the unified and eternal capitol of both Israel and the Jewish people -- we will undoubtedly sing a Shabbat song of Oseh Shalom. May this Shabbat be the Shabbat in which the words of that song ring true: May Peace soon envelop all of Israel, all of the Jewish people and indeed the entire world.