My first visit to Israel was in 1971. I was a rising senior in high school and I spent the summer along with 50 other teens on a USY teen trip. Israel in 1971 was invincible. The country was filled with a pioneer spirit. Young soldiers hitchhiked everywhere. There was no Intifada. We were able to travel to every corner of the country. There were a few minor skirmishes that summer but nothing that made us feel unsafe or even cautious. At the time, I thought it was a life altering experience. Forty three years later, I know it was a life altering experience. That summer indelibly imprinted my passion for all things Israel in my heart and soul. My deeply rooted Jewish identity was and remains tied up in a strong bond with the people and the land.
I have traveled to Israel a dozen times since then. I’ve gone on Federation missions, chaperoned TBE teen trips, taken my own family, participated in Partnership projects and most recently had the opportunity to join the interfaith trip with our friends from Myers Park Baptist Church. The excitement and anticipation I feel is always the same. For me, it is going home. I know who I will visit and what I need to bring them. I know where I will eat, sleep and shop. I have special spots that I love to take first-timers to visit because it is the perfect view or smell or taste. I know where I want to pray and that I will be overcome with closeness to God and to my fellow Jews in ways only possible in Israel. I feel relieved to walk the streets and to hear the tumult. I am almost giddy because I know my way around the streets of Jerusalem like someone who lives there or that the best falafel can be found on Ha Nasi Street in Hadera! I am at peace and filled with happiness. And, yes, I have been there when there was chaos and commotion. I have visited at the height of the Intifada when Israelis poured out of their shops and homes to thank us for coming. They were moved to tears that we had not forgotten them. I was not frightened. Until now.
Israel has always been held to impossible standards in world opinion but I have never felt such vehemence and hatred as I have these past few weeks. Maybe it is the barrage of 24 hour news channels reporting with such anti-Israel bias or the constant Facebook, Twitter and other social media feeds portraying the Palestinians as innocent victims but it seems as though the entire world has turned against us. I am frightened because I don’t want my people to feel alone and abandoned while they send their loved ones back into military duty or sleep with their children in safe rooms. I worry about my friends who live there and my friends who are visiting even in the midst of the struggle. I know that I need to do something to help. I know I need to make sure that I support Israel in any way that I can.
So I will be attending the Stand with Israel Community Rally on Sunday, July 27th at 2:00pm at Romare Bearden Park. I want to demonstrate my support and show my pride and love of Israel to our community and the world. I am hopeful that every Jew and non-Jewish supporter will join me. This is the time to come together as a community. This is a time to make sure that our voices are heard. I will also be making a pledge to “Stop the Sirens”. Our North American Reform Movement is working to help support millions of Israelis in harm’s way. The Reform Movement has joined with the Conservative Movement and JFNA (the Jewish Federations of North America) to raise and distribute funds to provide emergency aid and alleviate the pain and suffering of our Israeli brothers and sisters. At times such as these we especially feel connected to our people and I hope you will all join me by contributing generously.
I will go back to Israel as soon as I can. There is nothing that will keep me from setting foot in my Homeland. I have no doubt that it will be as wonderful as always. Until then, I will pray for Israel and for peace.