Walker Sanders, President of The Community Foundation, will be posting updates during and after the Greensboro Interfaith Mission To Israel. Check in here regularly to follow along as their adventure unfolds.
March 18: Departing Greensboro. I have never been on a trip that began with so much excitement and anticipation. It was wonderful to be greeted at the airport from a diverse group of community leaders, including some members from the City Council. Someone told me early not to go into this trip with any expectations, but it is hard not to let your mind wander when you are with so many people from different backgrounds all embarking on a journey with different expectations. However, the journey hasn't begun when most of the participants are in the airport bar, watching basketball, cheering on our ACC teams. Israel seems a far way away...
March 19: We arrived in Israel a little delayed but otherwise a very easy flight. However, we had our first issue in getting through customs, as one of our participants, a Muslim, was detained. This was the first reality of the serious security concerns. It is something we all know but rarely fully understand in our culture. Despite our efforts with the U.S. consulate prior to our departure – as we anticipated this may create an issue – we quickly learned that there are few, if any, exceptions to security. It also introduces an interesting topic for this trip: We may think we have our own diversity and inclusion issue in our community, but this pales in comparison to the reality over here.
Israel is an amazing country. It struck me as odd that it is approximately the same geographic size of the Piedmont Triad, yet it has more than seven times the population. It also represents the major holy land for more than half of all humanity, which is somewhat daunting when put in that perspective.
Word of the day: Shalom (“peace,” “hello,” “goodbye”). Taste of the day: Red Cow, a milk chocolate bar with a pop rocks finish! Pretty tasty, and a cool sensation in your mouth!
March 20: We started the day the same we ended it: Eating! I have quickly learned that breakfast is the one meal not to miss (not that there is any meal I think one should miss). Huge spread of fruits, breads, cheeses and fish including an assortment of olives; on the next table was a spread of different yogurts and spreads - needless to say, I was already on my second plate before I made it to the omelet station, hard boiled eggs and some "poached egg casserole" that was over the top. I was ready for a nap by the time we boarded the bus at 8 a.m.
The first stop was Yemen Orde Wingate Youth Village, home to more than 500 immigrant, disadvantaged and at-risk children and youth from 20 countries around the world. Primarily, the children were from Ethiopia, Russia and Brazil. Two-thirds of this is funded by the government, and the remainder is privately raised. It was founded in 1953 as Jews were coming back after the war and the huge need for children to become acclimated to society outside the concentration, followed by the refugee camps. I had to admit, it was something that had never occurred to me; and I was inspired by the vision of the founders. I have to think the vision of integrating all children from all cultures in a manner that focused on the aspiration of each person had to be a direct result of persecution Jews had and were experiencing. It was interesting to realize their goal was not end of grade achievement but rather for all children to realize they are safe, they are home and there is hope. Their focus is on getting the child to understand who they are, develop a sense of an empowered narrative of their past (use it as a foundation on which to build your future, not a past that prevents you from moving forward). Basically, the school's objective was for every child to graduate with a strong sense of self, so they have the courage to give back to others, grow personally and to make a difference. It is hard not to contrast this to our culture of performance first (grades, test) and self-esteem second. Where we expel a child for behavior they embrace them in order to understand the root cause.
As we were driving to our next location, we passed a series of what we refer to as "public housing." I learned that from 1948 to the early 1950s, the population of what we know as Israel grew from 600,000 to 1.2 million, creating major assimilation issues. It would be interesting to learn from them how they managed this process and challenges it still presents to this day. Could we learn for our own refugee/immigration issues that hardly seem a blink on the screen when put in contrast what this country has dealt with
We spent the remainder of the day in AKKO (or modernly know as Acre), touring the city, exploring the historic markets and (finally) getting to sample some Israeli beer. (This is an area that America clearly has an advantage). Lunch was a very traditional meal we had at an outdoor market and the food was excellent, consisting of fantastic falafel, awesome hummus, chicken and lamb that you couldn't get in the States. It is too hard to describe all the flavors.
Touring the ancient city was amazing and to walk through the excavated sites is hard to describe. It is not every day that you get to wander through sewage cannels that are 900 years old!
We next had the opportunity to tour one of the three holiest mosques in the world (due to the fact they house a piece of prophet Mohammad's beard) It was a beautiful place with plenty of historical references, as you can imagine. While there, we questioned one of the tour guides who had let us in about his thoughts if Arabs, Jews and Christians could ever live in peace. His response was somewhat surprising: "It is not religion that presents us from living in peace." Interesting. I guess he is implying it is all politics. An obvious over-simplification.
We also visited a local synagogue and spoke to the local Rabbi, but due to getting lost on the way there, I wasn't able to participate much in the discussion. It was quite an experience to wander the neighborhood, watching kids playing, people working and laundry hanging on the lines to dry in an area that was thousands of years old.
It’s late in the day but we had one more stop on the way back to the hotel: Dinner! The spot where we dined was fantastic. It was a 100-year-old organic farm. We ate family style, which only encouraged more discussion about the events of the day. Despite the unbelievable humus, salads, unique pita breads, pheasant, and beef and lamb sausage, the best part of the dinner was the remarks. Our speaker was Mohammad Darawshe. co-executive director of the Abraham Fund. The Abraham Fund is, in essence, a community foundation, from an international perspective – and on steroids. Established in 1989 to promote coexistence and equality among Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens. I could write for hours on his remarks but to sum it up, he was basically saying there needs to be a two-state solution that is founded on mutual respect. Additionally, both need to understand the importance of models founded on creating a unified country culture, such as combined schools, rather than one that separates Arab and Jewish children. Obviously, there is much more to this topic, and I look forward to jumping into it in more detail.
Looking forward to tomorrow!!
March 21: We departed the hotel again this morning at 8:00 but not until another over the top breakfast. I have to admit, I may have to change my morning routine to fresh fish, vegetables, cheeses, yogurts, eggs and wash down with four or five cups of coffee! I will just have to get Dabney to wake early to begin all the prep!
As we left our hotel in Tiberius, we headed north to the Sea of Galilee. I remember having several faith leaders return from a similar trip a few years ago and say how the trip really puts pictures in the bible. Today, I realized what they meant.
Israel is 60% desert and the Sea of Galilee accounts for 25% of the total drinking water for the country. According to our guide, locals ask about the level of the Sea of Galilee like we ask about the weather.
Our first stop was the location where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, Mount of Beatitudes. We would spend the day literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus. The Mount of Beatitudes is the approximate location from where Jesus delivered his five sermons, and some late traditions of Christianity say this is the area Jesus picked his 12 apostles. It was quite a site to look out over the valley imagining what is now planted with banana trees, filled with people listening to the sermons. Obviously, I am not going to wax eloquently about the content of the speeches, as most could do a much more intellectual job of it, but it was interesting to me to note that the core messages of his sermons dealt with the moral and ethical principles Christians, Jews, and Muslims should all follow; however, in time, we are reminded of how far some have drifted from these central elements.
We left for Taiga, to visit an old church dating back to 4th century BC. It was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and the historic steps leading into the sea are noted in biblical verses. We had a reading of John:21. I can't quote the entire reading, but the gist of it dealt with challenges the fishermen were having after a night of fishing and after seeing and hearing from Jesus changed the location of their efforts and they caught 153 fish. Despite the very full net, it did not break while hauling to shore, which is noted by scholars to symbolize how all people are supported and enabled through their faith. As you can see, not a scholarly interpretation, but you get a sense of the message. I have to admit, I did get chills listening to the Scripture being read on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and later did wade into the water. It was just a little disappointing to see that I could not "walk" on the water, but it was quite refreshing. Again, another reminder of how this country literally puts pictures into the Bible.
Our next stop took us from walking in the footsteps of Jesus to hanging out in the same town as Jesus did. The town of Capernaum was one of the places where Jesus, Peter and the Apostles lived and preached. It was an amazing place and put into context the connection of the Christian and Jewish faiths. In fact, Christian and Jews were of really one faith until about the 4th century. Makes you question the influence power and greed have on the affect of religion. However, that is way too deep of a topic for me to discuss intellectually.
Our next stop was to ride in a "Jesus" boat, something I was intrigued to see and experience. It was a very delightful and relaxing ride across the sea and very inspiring for many as several Bible verses were read and others shared reflections of the trip thus far. I have to admit, I was more entranced with the countryside and thinking about all the history that had taken place for thousands of years on all the hills surrounding us and the "153" fish in the sea (a metaphor from the Bible that refers to the actual number of fish in the world). If you’re wondering where I learned all this, needless to say, we have an awesome guide!
When heading to the Golan Heights, we crossed the Jordan River. I was anticipating a huge river but where we crossed, it was certainly not mighty and wide; more like a stream – or as we would say, smaller than the Pee Dee.
The Golan Heights, an area I think of as major war zone, is obviously very different today. We heard from a retired colonel in the Israeli army about the "real" situation. His remarks were clear, direct and impactful. Even Dabney had a new realization of the need for strategic military action. It is so hard for most Americans to truly understand the reality of living in a country surrounded by neighbors who wake up every day wanting to blow you up. We also had the most informative presentation on the history of the Israeli and Arab state of 1948, the resulting battle over land, and the ultimate 8 Day War in 1967. It was interesting to learn that one of the major reasons for the 1967 war was water. The primary source for the Sea of Galilee are three rivers that flow from Mt. Herron (the largest mountain and Israel's only ski slope), and Syria realized if they could divert this water source, they could dry out Israel and then take their land. Our struggle to create Randleman Dam and our local issues over water have never seemed so insignificant.
For the first time, sitting on top of the Golan Heights, listening to the history of the development of this country, does one realize why and how Israel must control that small but hugely strategic piece of land. Entering into the Golan Heights, I was thinking it was different than the war zone I had imagined; however watching people (and children) run through the deserted fox holes, listening to the real life situation, it was somewhat a scary and eerie feeling at the same time. But one that made you respect the Israeli people for their courage and strong sense of country that is inspiring.
After a quick change, we reconvened for local beer and a buffet of awesome selections: Goose, Israeli barbecued chicken, roast beef, stir-fried beef, stuffed artichoke hearts, egg rolls (strange, but couldn't resist), Poblano peppers with a unique spicy paste, mushrooms, etc.
Ali Meloviv, with a nonprofit focused on promoting a constructive dialogue between Arabs and Israelis, was our evening speaker. His presentation was on three dimensions of the Middle East issues: What is it about, how the events in Middle East impact the region and how it impacts Israel's environment moving forward. The current situation is the "Arab awakening." It is difficult to summarize this very complex equation, but the few items I noticed that I hadn't thought of related to how the demographics of the region have changed. Suddenly, you are seeing a huge increase of young people -- 60% are young people, computer savvy and aware of the international environment; the regimes do not represent the populations; the fear of loss of stability is polarizing to everyone; the divisions are not reversible; and the international reliance on oil in the most strategic real estate in the world creates the perfect storm.
With that cheery thought, it is time to shut it down for the evening. Let’s hope we have the patience and the wisdom to let the Middle East define its own form of democracy, in whatever form that may take.
Looking forward to breakfast!
March 22: Cod, tuna, Heron, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt, honey comb, eggs, and hot, fresh coffee…What a civilized way to begin the day. Just so I could remember this feast first thing in the morning, I did the cheesy thing of taking a video of the full breakfast buffet. Another tacky low point for an American overseas, but when it comes to this type of eating, who cares?!
Our first stop was the river Jordan, where John the Baptist, baptized Jesus. There were a few inspired souls who were going to be baptized (re-baptized) and the rest of us get to enjoy the show. In my mind, this was going to be a walk through a narrow path to some great opening, where we would carefully approach the river in a special spot, but getting off the bus, the reality of commercialization hit: huge parking lot, full of buses and you guessed it -- a gift store. More on that later. It was a unique experience to experience the baptism of colleagues, knowing what a powerful moment it was for them. It was a little odd looking at a muddy river that one's first inclination would be to shower after swimming in it rather than emerging cleansed but the ceremonial aspects certainly outweighed the visual. Unfortunately, the commercialization did work on Dabney, who purchased a $50 cookbook.
It also occurred to me, while it is something I have always certainly known, that water is the common element of all the Abrahamic faiths. It is the central to Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths and will be part of all our activities today, some very positive and inspiring; others not so…
On the drive to Nazareth, I was reflecting on our visit yesterday to a Kibbutz. I didn't mention it earlier as I wasn't exactly sure how to appropriately describe it. My first thought in hearing about a Kibbutz was akin to something that sounded like socialism: all for one, one for all, which is something the American capitalistic mind-set has a hard time understanding. However, the more I learned, the more it made sense in the development of a country that was primarily desert or swampland. It would take groups of people coming together to work the land for their livelihood and everyone had an equally important role to play in making it successful. When I think of building community in Greensboro, similar aspirations come to mind. Our methods may be different but we are certainly after the same objective. During our tour of the Kibbutz, seeing the homes, understanding the elderly care, day care facilities, I couldn't help but to reflect on our own health care, childcare and educational challenges and understanding that this model works well in this country. While I am sure it, too, has its challenges and limitations, I enjoyed learning a new way of thinking about building community.
When we arrived in Nazareth, I was intrigued to learn that no Jews live in the old city. It is mostly Christian and Muslim. Currently, there are Jews in Nazareth but they primarily live on the hill outside the old city. The Church of Annunciation, where angels came to tell Mary she was going to have the son of God. Quite a message for a bride-to-be and a testament to her faith to carry forth. The Church is a beautiful, yet very simple. It is the largest church in the Middle East and while we were there, witnessed a communion which was very powerful to see.
As we departed the Church of Annunciation, we wandered through a very cool market; it wasn't for tourists, so was very enjoyable to have a real experience. Of course we thought we "blended" so well, yet as we walk the sidewalk musicians begin to play American music in hopes of tips. The White Mosque is the largest mosque in Nazareth, and our Muslim participant let us all watch his cleaning process prior to prayer and subsequent prayer. Seeing up close and personal his commitment to his faith was moving and makes you realize how absurd it is that many in the our community have bad feelings toward Muslims. According to NCCJ, Muslims in Greensboro are some of the most persecuted and understanding their faith makes you truly see the absurdness. It makes you feel sorry for the ignorance of some who in their mind think they are so informed.
Finally, lunch. Another HUGE spread of everything you can imagine. However, I had to laugh when the plate of French fries arrived and were still quickly devoured! The fresh juice that is served with every meal is wonderful. No sugar added, all natural -- perfect.
Arriving in Jerusalem was like arriving in most big cities: lots of traffic. However, you feel like you are climbing the North Carolina mountains, with stone buildings and hillsides filled with stone houses rather than trees. It was such a different site, it was beautiful. There are around 800,000 people in Jerusalem and it's diversity is 35% ultra orthodox Jews, 35% Palestinian Arabs (Muslims and Jews) and 30% other (secular Jews, "modern" orthodox, etc - for the scholars out there, I know this isn't exactly correct but hope it gives you a sense of the type of diversity). It occurred to me, according to some things our tour guide mentioned that being Jewish in Israel is more of a natural feeling and that in the US, there is a much stronger need to be part of a Synagogue or sense of community with your own people. For those of us that have grown up in a white, Christian environment, we tend to take this for granted.
Our introduction to Jerusalem was a view overlooking all of Jerusalem -- it was beyond description. As Rabbi Havivi said, this was certainly on of those WOW moments. We listened to a few readings that I have to admit, I didn't listen to, as there was this amazing "chant" being heard over the valley and with the sun setting, it is hard to put words to the experience. Reality hit when we were given a glass of "miracle" wine to enjoy with some bread.
The best part about dinner was the Jewish saying I learned: “Never eat a meal on an empty stomach!" If those aren't words to live by, I am not sure what are. I think my Jewish heritage is emerging.
Our speaker was Professor Reuven Hazan, "Israel in the Domestic Arena." Even after a big meal, not one person dozed off. I wish I could give a full account of his remarks, but I am sure I couldn't do it justice. The biggest take-away was the difference in Israeli and American politics. American politics is defined by the economy. All we talk about is JOBS. Economic development. Education (for a good job). Israeli politics is defined by security. Hearing the complexity around the security issues and the Arab/Jew relationships gives you perspective on the leadership this country has benefited from, yet the challenges as well. I have always thought the High Point/Greensboro conflict was absurd but putting it in this context doesn't even warrant a conversation. To consider a country that is fighting for its survival and the need to make hard/tough decisions and the compromises needed takes huge amounts of courage. If we could just have a centimeter of this courage, we could solve our petty differences and really begin to position our community (Greensboro/High Point -- Guilford County) as one of America's greatest cities. And that is one of the purposes of this mission.
It’s also interesting to be with a group of community leaders, all from diverse backgrounds and different opinions but all committed to making Greensboro a great place. We all have the sense (although not spoken, that we will be able to address our problems; we are in control of our destiny. However, when we try to apply this same logic to Israel, it simply doesn't work. Too much complexity; too much history. As Americans it is hard for us to completely grasp the fact that Israel lives in the neighborhood where none of the neighbors like them; however, I imagine there may be some people in our community that feel this way.
After dinner we had a once in a lifetime experience (and literally, could have been). We had a very unique opportunity to visit the home of an ultra-orthodox Jewish family, as they prepared for Shabbat. However, we were a large group, so had to walk to the house in groups of five, keep our mouths shut, and try not to act like tourists. Our host was a beautiful wonderful woman who had 8 children and recently had a full Shabbat -- over 150 family members. We left the house for a stop by a local backery, to realize first hand the community as they prepare for Shabbat. Local bakeries are working frantically through the night to create the bread, which many line up to buy -- our group included. But we were still told to walk in groups (men with men, women with women), don't talk, try to blend in as we walked to the bakery. About 2/3 of our group did fine. The 1/3 (about 10, 5 men, 5 women) did not. We got lost. How's that for leadership? Imagine being in a dark alley in New York City in the 1980s and everyone looking at you, as you are obviously lost. The two groups are trying not to seem like we are together, but I imagine were doing a terrible job of finding it. Amazingly, we men asked for directions! We did what a typical male would do - get the guy that most looks like an orthodox Jew to ask for directions -- So, the good-looking, tall, blond hair guy with a J. Crew jacket on pulls a guy over. Fortunately, he doesn't run us out of his neighborhood but doesn't speak any English. We turn around, wander the streets and probably one of the women gets a tip on where the bakery is --- happy ending; we find the bakery, load up on bread and by now have obviously given up on blending in!
Good night! I’m looking forward to breakfast; just need to figure out what I eat first so I "don't eat a meal on an empty stomach..."
March 23: As I awoke this morning, I remembered the one thing the wonderful lady from last night said, when someone asked her (remember she raised 8 children in a house the size of many of our kitchens) what she enjoyed the most about each day: "I enjoy waking up and thanking God for the gift of another day." Well, for about 10 of us, that certainly had a different meaning.
First the important stuff: I have given up on my idea of a traditional breakfast: eggs, bacon, etc. Started with a very fresh salad, red peppers, cucumbers, olives, and fresh feta. Second plate: pickled heron, fresh cod, several cheeses (smoked gouda, some type a Swiss, more feta, etc.) and some type of smoked fish I hadn't heard of. Third plate was cream cheese/chives, yogurt and some fresh fruit. And all washed down with some very rich Israeli coffee.
We began the day at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum. On the ride over I learned several critical facts that I think it is importnat to share. Many people will say that the state of Israel was created as a reaction to World War II - that is not true. In fact, the push for an independent Jewish state began in the 1880s and more actively discussed in 1930. In my opinion, it was the war that put the need for an independent state on the world's front burner. According to our tour guide, in 1945 90% of all Palestine Jews had lost family members, and even by 1960, 25% of all Jews living in Israel were Holocaust survivors. It affects everyone, all the way to the Prime Minister. In the West, these are statistics we can't understand.
Our speaker was an actual holocaust survivor, Eliezer Ayalon. I am not sure I can describe his message. If you haven't bonded with a bunch of people after four days on a bus, you certainly do after spending an hour crying. There wasn't a dry eye in the room. He was 12 years old when his world began to change significantly. Can you imagine through the eyes of a 12-year-old that your home was taken away, your childhood friends no longer played with you, and your parents had lost all ability to support the family? He states that he was one of the lucky ones. The last time he saw his mother, she was walking him to the gates of their "ghetto" and he knew it would be the last time he would see his family. She handed him a tea cup, filled with honey and told him to survive for their family -- imagine that type of pressure on a 12- to 15-year-old. When he commented that it took him 36 years to openly discuss his situation because of Elie Weisel, I couldn't help but think of my father-in-law, a Vietnam prisoner of war for 71/2 years who was also inspired by Elie Weisel. My father in-law talks about the sense of community they created as a way of survival; in their community, everyone had a role, everyone had value. When they were released from prison, he commented that the biggest choice he made was turning back to the Hanoi Hilton and verbally saying, “I forgive you.” He said this was like a cloak of steel being dropped from his body, allowing him to be truly free. It is hard to imagine the word "forgiveness" when you think of Holocaust survivors, but I think when Mr. Ayalon starting talking about his situation, he was suddenly freed of his containment. Watching him give us a tour through the museum, he was truly in charge, telling students to move on so he could tell his story, and it was quite a story! Can you imagine having a tour of the Holocaust museum with a Holocaust survivor. The museum is the Israeli story. While the holocaust museum is powerful in its own way, it is the American story. This is the Jewish story and it is powerful in a way that is very hard to describe. The biggest take away, either from my father-in-law’s story or this one, is that they can take away your freedom, beat you physically or mentally, or even take your life – but they can't take away your choices or your spirit.
As we walked through the museum, it was hard to not to think about what we are doing today that is so totally off track. Can you imagine that in the1930s, Germany began to pass laws such as the Law of Restoration of Professional Civil Service that prevented any Jew from working for the German government. Jews had been part of the government work force for years, for generations, yet the world reaction was not there. Was it that in the United States, we were so focused on our own economy that we couldn't worry about others? Was it that we didn't care? Think about our world today: Are we so focused on our own economy that we have lost interest in world affairs? It is interesting to note that even in the United States today, there are more than 350 detainment camps (primarily for refugees and immigrants). Have we not learned from our past? How can we balance our current economic realities with humanitarian needs?
There is one inspirational story that I think every community should challenge itself to do -- the story of Denmark. In two days, the country rallied around its Jewish community and evacuated around 7,000 of the 8,000 Jews. It gives you hope for people putting their differences behind them for the sake of doing what is right for their neighbor.
We spent some time reflecting, but quite frankly, I was more interested in getting to the world famous Jerusalem market. This is a serious market and we were going on the busiest day. Friday at Mahane Yehuda is an experience not to be missed. It is packed with people doing their last-minute shopping before Shabbat. In America, it seems like the day after Thanksgiving. A day most locals, avoid and I would imagine, over here, Friday is not the day they do their shopping! The market is packed with fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices. Great smells as you wander through but we were on a mission: find a falafel stand (and hopefully a cold beer). The falafel was unlike any I have had in the States. And I thought the falafel from Zaytoon, was great; this falafel was like nothing I have had: It was fried, but the crust was not too hard and the filling was light and rich. Crazy good! It was served in a fresh pita pocket with a green "spicy" sauce, pickle, lettuce/tomato, and tahini (their tahini is light, where the tahini we get in the States has a different consistency) As we were looking for a place to stand to eat, we noticed, that's right -- beer. Standing on the streets, eating a falafel sandwich, drinking a cold beer in the heart of Jerusalem was a fantastic experience for this foodie. Fortunately, I didn't get arrested for finishing my beer as we walked back to the bus and passed several policemen. We weren't sure about open container laws, and were glad not to find out.
The last stop of the day was our trip to the Western Wall of the Second Temple and the holiest place for Jews. Rabbi Havivi led us in a Kabbalat Shabbat, which was a wonderful experience. The place we were was on the actual roads of the time. There were huge boulders, which were the boulders from the top of the Temple that were toppled by the Romans. Pretty cool! Once again, we were literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
We left this special place to go to the Western Wall (we were in a spot just south of the main area because both women and men could be together), the major public location where people from around the world come to pray, and it is still very traditional: men and women separate. On the women's side, they are asked to keep their voices low -- it was said the women's voices would arouse the men, therefore distracting them from their prayers to God. How's that for some old school thinking!
OK, I hope lighting doesn't strike me for saying this, but it was like going to a rock concert without drugs or alcohol. I have never seen anything like it. Rather than seeing a sea of tie-dyed T-shirts, dancing in the parking lot, it was a sea of black and white, ultra-orthodox outfits. Rather than all types of rock music playing from people's cars, there were a series of chants, verbal prayers and a constant hum. Very powerful. People were circled, arms locked, chanting, signing, laughing, praying. It was like a huge party. Everyone was high on life. Our group split up to approach the wall personally for their own prayers (many take pre-written prayers to place in the crevices of the wall). I had taken with me a hand made cross that a lifelong friend made. This was one of my closest friends who lived life hard and fast. There wasn't anything he didin't do and everything he did, he did it in fifth gear. Life caught up to him and he passed away suddenly, leaving a wife, two kids, and a successful business behind. One of the things he would secretly do was to place one of these hand-made crosses in clients' yards to watch over them. I placed his cross on the wall to keep watch over his family. I imagine he is watching all this in awe and telling St. Peter to prepare me a bourbon when my time comes as a big thank you. When we go back on Sunday, I have another prayer that I will place for another good buddy whose wife is fighting a major battle of cancer.
The Shabbit was very special and it is clear to see its place in the Jewish faith. We walked back to the hotel to enjoy another great meal. This meal was extra special for the non-Jews, as we could enjoy a true Shabbit. Several children from Greensboro families joined us and other guests. We participated in traditional blessing and all fast west to say a prayer for all our families. I have to admit, this has to be one of the coolest traditions of any of the Abrahami faiths. It’s all about family, being together, sharing stories, supporting each other, and just simply spending quality time with those you love without the interruptions of the modern world. Of course, wine is a big part of this, as it should be with every meal!
March 24: The more I learn of Shabbat, you realize what a special tradition it is, and I find myself wishing it could be a tradition more people would follow. The streets were all quiet and there was a sense of peace throughout the city. Breakfast was the typical huge spread with the exception of no cooking, so there was not an official "omelet" station. However, we had a huge treat: cured salmon prepared two ways. One was with a very rich mustard; the other with a traditional dill. You could add onions, more mustard, or capers. The capers were much larger than the ones in the US. My fish course was still complemented with yogurts, fruits, and cheeses. I did try a traditional Jewish dish served on Shabbat that I can't recall the name but was a flour, and oil baked all night and served with a fruit compote. Fun to try once.
We left the hotel to enjoy an overview of Jerusalem from atop the Mount of Olives, the traditional view for all the sites that surround the story of Jesus' ascension to heaven. It took Karen Armstrong in her book, Jerusalem, One City, Three Faiths, several thousand pages to describe this but our tour guide did it in just 45 minutes! I will try to summarize in just a few sentences (some say not to let the facts ruin a good story; here I'll say not to let the details confuse the story). As we are looking over the valley, our view was the eastern wall. At the foot was the area where Jesus' and his 12 Disciples were hanging out prior to His Crucifixion; we saw where Jesus left His cave, walked through the Golden Gates, headed up to where He had the Last Supper, cruised back down the hill, prayed on the rock (Gethsemane) just a "stone's throw away" from the cave. Upon His return, He learned that all had fallen asleep (in modern times, passed out from the "four" glasses of wine with dinner -- when was the last time 13 guys hung out and only had four glasses of wine?). When He returned, they were all awakened by the sight of Joshua and a bunch of Romans coming to arrest Jesus. We then followed the footsteps back up the hill to the high priest, where Peter betrays him three times in transit, just as anticipated. Whew -- there's some history in a few sentences. I later told our tour guide, the only thing missing was the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar -- can you imagine that blaring out over the valley!
We also visited the Garden of Gethsemane. The altar is the rock where Jesus prayed (per earlier description). It is a beautiful site, with 12 mosaic domes overhead. In the garden itself, the olives tree date back 2,000 years. They test their age by testing the roots, rather than coring the trunk as olive trees don't develop like the standard trees we are familiar with. As they get older, the center hollow out, and younger trees come out from the roots. You can apply all sorts of analogies. Pretty cool.
Our stop at the Garden tomb was interesting. For some on the trip it was a very powerful experience, and I know from some that have done this trip in the past, it symbolizes the foundation of their faith. For many Christians, it is one of the holist places to visit.. However, for some, it is known as one of the fakest places in Jerusalem. I can certainly understand and respect the symbolic nature of the place and walking into Jesus' (supposed) tomb is powerful. This was a special stop for many. Our tour guide (who at this point seems like he could walk on water with his knowledge of history), said there isn't any archeological confirmation of this being the actual tomb and there is much more archeological and scientific facts at another location (church of the holy sepulcher) that we will visit tomorrow.
Lunch was at a very cool hotel, The American Colony hotel, purchased in the late 1880s by a Swede after the loss of his four children in shipwreck. The building was built by a pashtar for his different wives with a room for each and secret passageways to each room, depending on his mood. Now, it is a very nice, modern hotel and known for a great high tea every weekday afternoon. We were served a huge piece of chicken but the hit was the dessert. Somehow, they hollowed out a pear and filled with a wonderful chocolate type stuffing and baked it in a Brioche dough. It was served with some real (the first made with dairy) ice cream and a decorative line of honey.
We returned to the hotel and decided to skip Bethlehem. It is in the West Bank and controlled by the Palestinians. Israeli citizens are not allowed. The West Bank is divided into three types of security zones: A (security and governement controlled by the Palestinians), B (security controlled by Israel, government controlled by Palestinians, and C (security and government controlled by Israel). this is a crazy system that certainly is not achieving its stated purpose of safe travels for all.
We closed out the Shabbat with Havdalah (this ceremony of blessings and symbols ends the day of rest). We were all in a circle, arms locked, chanting prayers. Reminded of the rock concert the day before - awesome. We also did a Holy Communion and our Muslim participant closed with a typical Muslim prayer. There’s an interfaith service, if there ever was one! We ended the evening with an amazing light and sound show inside the Old City. Walking into the old city, a beautiful Dale Chihuly chandelier hanging in the main entrance. Contrasting the old and new was amazing. It was simply the first site on an amazing evening.
We ended the night at the hotel bar, sharing stories and recounting our adventure. Everyone is just starting to hit their groove.
March 25: As I awoke this morning, my first thought was why did I buy that Cuban? Smoking a cigar is always fun at the time but not so in the morning. No good morning kiss, and dry mouth. But at least it was a Cuban.
Temple Mount. This is an awesome sight. But the more I learn, I feel it is a symbol of the inconsistency of the City of Three Sisters Faiths. I will expand more on this at the end of the day.
For those like me, (who didn't know anything before this trip), the Temple Mount is where it all began. It is the site where God spared Isaac from sacrificing one of his sons. I will not try to give the whole story, but you know how it goes from there.
It is the intersection of the three faiths but yet represents the huge challenges we face as a world. For example, in 1967, after a major fire (by a Jew), in a sign of peace, the Jews turned the management over to the Muslims (some say in an effort to prevent another world war) and today our tour guide wasn't even permitted to bring his bibles (which he was only using as a reference tool) into the Mosque through the security checkpoint. Being strong Americans, we noticed that many were trying to jump in line, which we completely put a stop to and created some issues. Another example of how the silliest of things can set off an international crisis. Our tour guide described it as Israeli "hupspa;" we described it as inconsiderate and rude, and someone tried to explain it through a lens of exclusion. Whatever it was, we had been standing in line for over an hour and "acceptance" was not the message we needed! Take a deep breath, we are on an interfaith mission.
We enter the Temple Mount. It is a huge 35-acre spread. The Mosque is on the south and the Dome of the Rock to the north. We are now walking on the site that we had seen the day before from the Mount of Olives. It was like walking in the picture you drew in your mind, or for some, the pictures they had studied in the Bible. We were not permitted to enter the Mosque, but our Muslim participant was and did one of his five daily prayers; we were also not permitted to enter the Dome of the rock due to Muslim/Christian/Jew politics. This is crazy. After all these years, and all the wars, we have learned so little.
It makes me reflect on all the things we are doing back home that make no sense: we have two courthouses, two community foundations, two planning departments, two city governments, etc. While those seem so insignificant in the context of Israel, we can't afford 2,000 years of lessons or we'll never be able to address our current issues. We still talk in our region about the reasons why Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point can't do more together but we can't even talk about affiliations without being defensive. This issue is so insignificant compared to the CIty of Three Sisters' Faiths.
As we left the Temple Mount, we went into the Muslim quarter and then wandered through the old City, on the path of Jesus dragging the cross. It was very special to walk the streets and once again, be told you were literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus (I wish I could show you the pictures, as it has been said that Neil Armstrong said this is the most important place he has ever walked in his life!)
Heading through the markets and the shops, thinking of the route (Via Dolorosa) Jesus took dragging the cross put a different perspective of just walking through a market: there are people praying along the various stations, singing, and chanting; and all the shop owners selling goods. It was different from walking through markets in other parts of the world.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is an interesting place. From the science and archaeological perspective, it is the site of the Crucifixion and burial; yet is now managed/owned by six different denominations and nothing can ever get done. For example, we saw a wooden ladder that hadn't been moved since 1852. As one on the clergy on our trip said, "We are so human." While we were there, it was packed and a special service was going on; I couldn't help but think that should Jesus view this site, he would be amazed: huge crowds of people, pushing/shoving just to touch a place where it is thought his cross was planted, people kissing a "holy rock" but most interesting was the service that was so "male" that one had to question the role of women. Being on a trip about diversity and inclusion, this service was anything but... The more you study organized religion, the more you question some if its central messages: peace, understanding, inclusion. While we all believe these core messages in our heart, the practices and actions of some within the radical factions conflict these central values.
Now for the important stuff: lunch. We went the "world" famous, Abushukri. It is known as the best place in the world to get hummus, and it was so true. Oh my, I have now been converted from thinking a burger and beer for lunch is the way to go; I am converted to hummus, eggplant salad, pita, and fresh pomegranate juice! This is the ticket. I wish you could taste the pictures. And we got to witness a fight while eating -- who needs beer?!
After lunch, we sat on a rooftop of the ancient "main street square." We were able to get a fantastic picture of the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters. Even from the rooftops, you could tell the difference: the Christian was the most European, the Jewish was the newest, the Muslim was the most dense, and the Armenian the most diverse. I had to think about what Greensboro will be like in 1000 years. Pretty crazy thought -- but what are we doing today that people will look back on and say, "what were they thinking?" They built a jail in the downtown? They let the majority of black males drop out of high school? They only let marriage be between a man and a women? They built a fence to keep illegal immigrants out? They don't allow food carts (that serve hummus)? The list goes on and on...
We toured the location of the Last Supper, which was certainly worth doing but I have to admit, I was hoping they would be serving cold beer when we arrived. Unfortunately, no cold beer but it certainly gave you a sense of place and connection to specific chapters/verses in the Bible.
The highlight of the day were the tunnels of the Western Wall. It was here that I placed a prayer in the holist of section for my good friend who is fighting cancer. I didn't talk about it; I only hope my silence will get attention.
It was quite an experience walking the caves of the western wall and imagining the space as it once was. To say it was huge or expansive was an understatement. To see the actual boulders/rocks moved to build it was hard to imagine even with today's machinery. It is a special place that all should have the opportunity to visit.
King of Solomon had many wives but all for the sake of building community (that was our tour guide talking) but he (evidently) felt that his kingdom was for all people. As he would conquer new lands, he would take on new wives as a sign of his acceptance of that country's people (now there's some justification for you) But once you get past the humor, it is a shame that we have not been able to live by his degree: one kingdom for all people.
How much we have learned but how far we have to go.
We enjoyed dinner with a very small group in a nice restaurant - it was a great time to reflect on the trip so far over roasted cauliflower with lemon and oil, anchovies, tuna, lamb, steak, and a seafood mixed grill.
After dinner, we met again with Uri Miller - the ultra orthodox Jew who helped one of our travel companions several years ago when she was here with family and her mother died in Jerusalem. For many interesting reasons, she is considered a very special person - was Jewish, died in Jerusalem, had mentioned to several people that the day before was the happiest of her life, died in her sleep p0eacefully, and died Friday morning - so was buried just for Shabbat. Might have missed a few - but you get the picture. Anyway - Uri was at the time in charge of all burials and was very helpful to the family. They have remained very closer friends. Uri has an interesting story that he shared with us. He was not born into an ultra orthodox family and he served in the army - was very interested in engineering and became a pilot. At some point later he became attracted to the ultra orthodox practices and beliefs and converted to that. He joined a particular sect - only to later find that his ancestry had been a part of that - amazing. He now feels his calling to be sharing the traditions of the ultra orthodox so that others understand that they are good people and should not be frightening to people. Another lesson in understanding.
Good night. Looking forward to breakfast!!
March 26: Eight days of fresh fish, cheese, yogurt, fresh fruit and all washed down with rich coffee. Such a civilized way to live. Unfortunately, our speaker wasn't able to get to the hotel. This was disappointing as it was going to provide a Palestinian perspective. Hopefully, we can explore this at a later time.
Leaving the city is striking. Almost immediately you are in rolling hills with sheep, goats and an occasional "shepherd" riding a camel! What I was struck by was the emergence of various settlements on the hilltops. These are the settlements you read about and they seem like quaint villages with their own special characteristics, rather than massive number of homes, stacked on top of each other that extends for miles and miles. Driving though the West Bank, looking at beautiful mountains, with "quaint" villages and seeing flocks of sheep was a surreal experience. It wasn't like driving through a war zone with military personnel everywhere you look as it appears on CNN. Our tour guide gave a fantastic overview of the situation and to look at the map and its various governance and security mandates makes you realize the complexity. You have two people, Arabs and Jews that want to own the same land. One, the Jews want to compromise land for security; the other, the Arabs (and all the Arab neighbors) simply just want the land. Period. No exceptions. Despite numerous attempts, the conflict continues. One interesting thing to note is the "Security Wall" that we have read all about. We drove past it and saw the huge cement structure but most of the wall is a fence. However, despite your thoughts about it, it directly reduced terrorism by 50% immediately upon installation and this continues to decline. In our country we too are talking about a wall, but for extremely different purposes. In Israel, the choice was life and death and the wall had an immediate impact. In the Us, its politics and economics. the likelihood of "our" wall stopping immigration is laughable and as you can see, an entirely different circumstance. It is a too difficult situation to summarize, and no light-hearted comments are appropriate. It is serious. It is real and will affect all of us, for better or for worse.
As we were driving, we passed the cliffs of the dead sea scrolls. What an amazing find. Basically, the discovery of these scrolls confirmed many of the books in the Bible, dating back 2,000 years. They were discovered by a shepherd who wasn't sure of what they were so took to a friend at the university. Can you imagine the friend's reaction when he walked into his office with these things and he realized what they were? We saw them while visiting the Israel Museum and to learn that several were later bought for $500,000 in the mid-1970s makes you think that the world got a good deal.
It’s interesting to note that the scrolls confirmed many of the issues of the 1st century are similar to issues today. They discuss questioning the King's desire to mix races; the issues around politics and government; openness and inclusion. It helps you realize the inherent conflict of mixing politics and religion have always had and they are never good. I am concerned that the path we are on today does this and we are blind not to recognize the inherent dangers it presents.
Masada, King Herod's historic hilltop fortress, is an understatement. It is more than just a massive palace on top of what seems like the world. It serves as a symbolic fortress for the Jewish people -- "Masada will never fall again." It is a very interesting story: Herod was paranoid that Marc Anthony would give his girlfriend, Cleopatra, his kingdom, so he built this huge fortress with the most sophisticated aqueduct system in the ancient world. It could capture enough water from just one flash flood to support 1,000 people for a year. Being on top of this mountain, you can see the ancient aqueducts and cisterns. Amazing. It was the last fortress the Romans would conquer from the Jews and the story of its capture, is the story that has inspired the Jewish people for centuries. It is certainly a story worth learning. It is a story that inspires Jews not to ever let someone else control their destiny. A close parallel to the famous American quote, "Give me liberty or give me death."
It was another reminder of how the Jewish community uses its history for inspiration and focus, rather than revenge, contempt or shame. It makes me wish that communities or neighborhoods in our country could use their history as a foundation for growth. I feel that too often we let political uncertainties or generalized stereotypes affect our choices. If we can accept our differences and respect our histories for positive action rather than negative narratives of our problems, I think we could make some huge progress on some long standing issues around race, housing, immigration and education.
At lunch, a new food! I had the opportunity to have a new fish! St. Peter's fish. As I am sure you know, Peter was a fisherman. How many people can say they ate the same fish that Peter caught! Tons actually, but it was a first for me. It was a whole fish that was partly fried and baked, served with olive oil and chickpeas. The schnitzel was a disappointment, so I had to move to another plate of hummus, eggplant, cucumber/tomato salad. And I discovered a new red tomato, Turkish sauce. Very spicy and when put with the hummus, OMG.
The Dead Sea is the lowest spot in the world at 1,300 feet below sea level. Its salinity is around 30% and slightly higher in the southern parts. Unfortunately, they are having major issues with the affect of modern times. It recedes 3 or 4 feet every year due to less water flowing into it from the Sea of Galilee (if you recall from earlier postings, the Sea of Galilee accounts for 25% of Israel's water). Swimming in it is a "bucket" list experience. You can literally sit in the water. Imagine yourself as a bottle bobbing in the water, turning, bobbing, floating effortlessly – that's the feeling. The only thing that makes it better is enjoying a cold beer - that's right, drinking a cold beer while bobbing in the Dead Sea -- add it to your bucket list now! For those that don't drink, you can lather yourself in mud and have your own bucket list experience.
Next up was the camel ride and you could feel Dabney's excitement. Our camel ride was at the Nokdim village. Cool spot but an obvious tourist spot (and youth overnight experience) but we were there for the camels and to learn about the Bedouin (people who live in the desert) There are 20,000 Bedouin in the desert and another 80,000 or so in Israel. It was hard to get a full understanding of their nomadic existence in the setting (we were in a large tent overlooking a sea of tour buses and several 100 kids running around) but certainly appreciated the experience. The camel ride wasn't exactly as Dabs had envisioned but part of that was the guy in the back complaining about how his groin can't stretch like that...
We closed the evening with reflections. For many, the trip met all their spiritual expectations, others spoke to the stronger connections they now felt to people from different faith perspectives and others spoke of their hope of this experience serving as a spark for local action -- this is what I was most pleased to hear. More on this later...
March 27: The grand finale. As you know, the day started with fresh fish, humus, salad, feta, cucumbers/tomato, yogurts and fresh fruit juice. But, this being the last day, it was time to step it up a notch -- a hot chocolate cake and cheesecake on top of a cheese, onion, mushroom and tomato omelet. And, of course it was all washed down with rich Israeli coffee.
Our morning program was fantastic and gave us a real-life snapshot into civil society in Israel. We have more in common than what one first thinks and each have the opportunity to learn from each other. The speakers: Ronit Heyd - Executive Director, SHATIL, the New Israel Fund's Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change Organizations; Mike Prashker, CEO, Merchavin Institute for Shared Citizenship; and Itai Gutler, Chairman, Jerusalem Students Union.
SHATIL sounded much like a community foundation. They are focused on bringing people around community issues. Although I am not familiar with their revenue sources or grantmaking capacity, hearing the descriptions of the organizations interest in capacity building and "going up the river" to look for solutions sounded very similar to some of our objectives at the Foundation. The NGO's in Israel represent about 10% of the workforce, but I don't get the sense they are as mature our nonprofit sector. In fact, after talking more with our contact with the Israel Jewish Federation, I learned that the nonprofit sector is still emerging which on the surface is surprising knowing how philanthropic the Jewish community is. However, I think the primary difference in Israel goes back to an earlier speaker who discussed everything in Israel is about security. Additionally, there is already a high level of civil society support - taxes (around 35%), mandatory military service and active reserves until you’re 40 (35 for women) so many people feel their gifts to community are met; this is beginning to change and will be exciting to watch it develop. I hope I will have a chance to learn more about the community philanthropy as it evolves from one limited to the very wealthy to the masses.
Our next speaker represented the Students Union. My first thought was how old he looked (perhaps it was because I am getting younger!). However, I quickly realized he was older than a typical American college student due to the mandatory military service. Last summer he led the students union in major community protests that resulted in free education for all 3-year olds and a revised tax structure (same discussion happening in the US - tax the rich more; while I don't agree with this philosophically, as I don't believe anyone should pay more than their fair share but all should pay their fair share) but it is inspiring to see how an organized group of young leaders can change society.
Imagine in Greensboro, we have over 40,000 students. That is almost 10% of our entire population. Think of the influence they could have should they be organized and engaged in a constructive manner. However, the college students in Israel are older and at different places in their lives. Some are married and starting a family or focused on a career. While I can't speak to college students today, I know where my mind was when I was 18 and entering college -- it certainly wasn't around community organizing and I am not sure it is too different today. Actually, I can't recall a time when students played this role except in the 1960s and early 1970s. Interesting to think about. Perhaps we could move from simply warehousing our college students for four years to actively engaging them in real civil society. Should we start a conversation around a one- or two-year period of military or civil eservice before entering college?
Our last speaker summed up the underlining issue: in Israel, there is not a common sense of community, or "us." He leads an organization focused on creating a shared citizenship. A citizenship where all are equal. This is where the conversation gets very difficult; it is actually similar to the one in the United States around white/black, citizenship/immigration. Both sides are frustrated. The Jews feel like they have reached out, made compromises; the Arabs feel like they aren't given equal access or respect. Sound familiar? I know there are passionate arguments on both sides but I think an open conversation about the lessons we have learned (and are still learning) would be extremely helpful as Israel tries to create their own conversation in a constructive environment. This hasn't been able to take place in the past due to all the wars and fighting. Let's hope the environment continues to evolve constructively so this dialogue can continue to move forward.
As we rode to our first stop, we discussed an interesting development: the emerging of neighborhood schools. Israel is starting to build student centers in weak neighborhoods to build the neighborhood. I couldn’t help but make parallels with UNCG and Glenwood. Students don't just live there while in school but make a commitment to stay in neighborhoods for five years. The school we visited was like a charter school version of Greensboro Day School. Yad b'Yad is a k-12 school with its diversity being defined as Arab/Jew, not white/black/Hispanic/Asian/other as in the United States. It is funded partly through the Ministry of Education, tuition and private fundraising efforts. Our guide recognized one of the students as a famous tennis player in her age group. She was the regional champion and recently joined the Israeli national team for 12 and under. She is an Arab-Israeli from a neighborhood nearby and began competing against others from across the country. Her biggest opponent was a Jewish-Israeli and the families had bitter disagreements almost to the point of fighting - but through getting to know each other on the circuit - they are now very good friends - the girls and the families. Building bridges, changing the country one child at a time, one family at a time. We ended our visit with a multi-cultural rap song sung by dozens of 6th graders. It went on for at least 5 minutes and every kid didn't miss a word; it was amazing their understanding of the world and the issues around them. When we asked one of the kids about how they felt about a recent incident around a wall being vandalized, their response was, "We feel sorry for them." No anger, no revenge, simply a bigger vision of the issue. We all left inspired that there is hope for peace in the Middle East.
Back on the bus and as an ambulance passed, you could see the tension in our tour guide. Said that if there was ever more than three such sirens then you have a massive issue. It was something to see the reality of the Middle East situation through the eyes of someone you have so much respect for. And, the reality of real life after leaving the protected walls of the school.
We left Jerusalem for Tel Aviv. Leaving the religious capital for the cultural capital. Perhaps the feeling Adam had after Eve picked the forbidden fruit. We had the afternoon of shopping, drinking, eating and massage (should one choose?!) We had another awesome history lesson on the way. Here is a quick summary for those like me whose double major was bourbon and water: after the 1967 war, Israel quadrupled, yet its desire for security, they offered back most of it only to be turned down (the historic no, no, no) so they "annexed" the hill west of the Jordan River, otherwise known as East Jerusalem for protection and grant all Arabs in the area "permanent status" so they can continue to live there. (imagine, pre-1967, a Jordan solder could stand on a hill and shoot out the Prime minister's bedroom window. Being there and seeing it, makes you realize how they are living on top of each other) The Arabs in East Jerusalem are offered citizenship but most turn down (so they have no vote in Israeli politics) thus perpetuating an unequal status (they even have Jordan passports, not Israel) that still exists today. Both sides have arguments in their favor, but based on what I have learned, it’s hard not to see the Israeli perspective.
Finally, arrive in Tel Aviv. The best description is the ancient world meets the modern one. Cool shops, awesome beach, coffee shops, stores (Dabs certainly did her part in supporting the local economy, despite having a poor shopping companion; however better me than some of the other "professional" shoppers on the trip!) Our final dinner was good, but we were all so whipped out, all we wanted to do was recognize the awesome job of the chairs, organizers and staff for putting together an amazing experience. I hope I have had my last Jack Daniels for some time.
Looking forward to coming home. Only one more post of some random thoughts.
March 28: For those that have read all of these posts, I am worried about your social life! If you did read them, thank you. Also I hope you realize my comments are simply my notes, and I am positive I have gotten some of the facts wrong, confused or generalized in such a way so they are not completely accurate. As I said earlier, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. I tried to paint a colorful picture of a serious place. I also hope I didn't offend anyone with some of my "comments." (Fortunately, I have a great staff, who did some “edits" before things went live.) Nothing was meant in them other than to try to remind everyone that we shouldn’t take everything so seriously. If we really are sincerely committed to building a stronger community, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves, enjoy each other's company and most importantly, have fun.
I intentionally didn't mention any names on the trip, as I didn't want to mention some and not others; I also didn't want to embarrass anyone other than myself. We had a great group and I hope all will return from this trip inspired to get more engaged in the community; to find their passion and follow it; to act and not watch. For this trip to be successful, it is incumbent upon each participant, as an individual to define their course of action and simply do it. the time to wait for the group is over - the responsibility is nobody else's - look in the mirror and be proud of what you want to do.
First, some random thoughts. This trip we have gone from the first century to the 21st century and despite all our human advancements, there are amazing similarities. Secular Christian, Atheist, Spiritual agnostic, evangelical Christian, orthodox Jew, secular Jew, gay, straight, white, black, male female, and Hispanic. I can't help but think that the plight of the African-Americans and the Arabs are very similar but on a different scale. The white/majority feel that the results of the civil rights movement were successful; new laws, greater opportunity, greater diversity in our organizations; however, many in the black community feel there is still major inequalities and the institutional racism inherent in our system prevents true equality. This is a point of frustration and unspoken divide in our system. In Israel, it seems this same situation exists between the Jews and the Arabs. The Jews feel they have given and given and the Arabs also feel inferior; the opportunities are not as great, the jobs are different, the living conditions vary, etc. The difference is that in the United States, we no longer have the life/death issues like what still exists in Israel. Are there things we could have done differently 40 years ago that the Arab/Jew situation could learn from? I am not sure, but also think it would make for an interesting discussion. Have we are society transitioned from a civil rights movement founded on race and equality to a civil rights movement founded on economic realities? The gap between rich in poor is growing in both countries and marginalized groups are frustrated and even begin to question the radical left and right. For example, 60% of Ultra-orthodox Jews don't work but have major influence in politics so they can protect their "free" money. The government pays them a "welfare" check for the number of children they keep having. some secular Jews I spoke to are increasingly frustrated with this out-dated, unfair situation. It is becoming a major issue for younger Jews.
There are 7 million people in Israel; 20% are Arabs. Their diversity and inclusion issues are different. I feel our issues are personal; their issues are sovereign. We both still have socio-economic gaps and both are widening, we are both trying to figure out how to address, so perhaps we could learn from each other ,as we are coming to the discussion from different perspectives. To help you understand the nature of Israel’s issues, imagine being a Japanese-American in 1941, even though you had lived as an American for decades before or a Muslim-American after 9/11 despite being an American citizen. while we feel we are dealing with this issue, we don't see it every day. In Israel, they live it every day. In Israel, they all see themselves as welcoming and friendly but yet are all afraid of each other as well. They don't talk the same languages, they don't agree on borders and they don't agree on who's in charge. When we try to resolve difference, we come to the table, speaking the same language, well defined geography, and a solid understanding of our governance. We certainly have our challenges with our system, but we have a system that provides order and structure to our discussions. Israel is still creating this structure.
I also now understand the light in all my Jewish friends' faces when they talk about Israel. It is their home. It always has been. There can never be another Massada.
That's all for now -- look forward to hearing your comments and continuing the conversation.