From March 22 to April 2, one-hundred members of the Stephen Wise community are exploring Israel as part of our congregational mission. Led by Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch and joined by Rabbi Rena Rifkin, director of our Religious School, participants experience Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Eilat and Petra, Jordan, b’nai mitzvah on the ancient site of Gamla, Kibbutz Lotan, the Golan Heights, Masada and the Dead Sea, dialogue with journalists and political figures, and more.
Here, travelers Beth Gerson and M. David Isaak reflect on a day in Jerusalem filled with beauty, humility, and pride.
March 29, a day that has been both humbling and intense. From an early morning glimpse of the sun rising over the Old City to a late afternoon visit to Shiloh in the West Bank, that place where the Holy Tabernacle was erected by the Israelites 3,000 years ago, it has been a day of profound connection to a past that is our heritage. From the spot where we stood in Shiloh, located in Judea, a short distance from Jerusalem, we looked to the west and south at adjacent mountaintops where the Maccabees once fought. We looked down at the excavation site, where archeological evidence tells the story we read about in the Book of Judges — “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled at Shiloh and erected the tent of meeting there.” (Joshua, 18.1)
It has been a day of pride in Jewish values as exemplified by the work of IsraAID, an Israeli humanitarian organization dedicated to providing critical help to those in need, whenever and wherever it is needed in the aftermath of a crisis — most recently in Lesbos, Greece and Germany as refugees arrive from Syria. Navonel Glick, co-CEO of IsraAID, met with us to share highlights of the work being done by Israeli doctors and nurses speaking Hebrew and Arabic, who provide immediate and often ongoing medical and emotional assistance to those who have been forced by violence to flee their homeland. In all they do, IsraAID works to repair the world.
It has been a day of contrasting perspectives, with particular regard to views shared by members of the Knesset and the media. In the morning, we dialogued at the Israel Democracy Institute with MK Benny Begin from the Likud Party. Later, during a brief stop at the Knesset, we spoke with MK Michal Biran from the Zionist Union Party. In the evening, we met with Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Ha’aretz, who presented his assessment of life and politics in Israel today. Despite their differing perspectives on a variety of issues, the speakers were clearly united by a strong commitment to this remarkably pluralistic land that so many call home.