Israel - Day 1

Bruchim HaBaim, Welcome to Israel!  I am here safe and secure.

But it was an auspicious journey to get here.  Let me begin.  Yesterday began in the mountainous regions of Norway with Peter, after a five hour drive we took a plane from Oslo to Amsterdam and Peter and I parted ways.  After a five hour layover in the wonderful KLM lounge (courtesy of Peter's work travel) I went to the gate to leave for Tel Aviv.  I found out that due to "political unrest in the area of Tel Aviv" KLM would not allow their crew to stay over in Tel Aviv, so we had to have a crew change in Larnaca, Cyprus due to a limit on the number of hours each crew could fly.  Well it was a tad unsettling as we sat in the "special" waiting room for our flight.  The flight was emptier than others I have taken in the past.  I had the row to myself and the row behind me was empty as well.  It was an uneventful flight, long with the layover in Larnaca. 

I finally got to Tel Aviv, and the airport was crowded.  People from everywhere.  Large Chinese groups were in line with me at passport control.  It took a little longer than in the past to get through, but not a significant amount of time.  I got my luggage, exchanged money, picked up my phone and it was only 4:30 am!!  I hadn't slept nearly at all and wanted to get some hours in.  I hopped into a cab and saw the sun rise on my way to Jerusalem. 

The comparison between the lush greenery, tall, fair skinned, calm Norwegians and the desert terrain, short, dark skinned, strong, tense, pushy Israelis, was enormous. 

Tara Siegel (our Coalition Educator) and Lawrence Jacobs (Sylvia's son and the Nifty coordinator) are in Israel for a few weeks with their daughter Hannah.  I went straight to their apartment and let myself in at 5:30 am and slept for a few hours.  It was comforting to wake up to Hannah babbling away.  It made the experience of being in Israel during this time of unrest feel a little more normal.

Tara, Hannah and I took a walk into Baka (a small suburb in Jerusalem), right near the German Colony (where I lived in Rabbinical School).  We had a long leisurely breakfast/lunch at an outdoor cafe.  Today there was fabulous weather, not too hot, but hot enough to feel like summer in Israel.  (Tara said that this is the first day that the temperature was bareable.)

After a wonderful chopped cucumber and tomato salad and along with eggs, I felt like I was back in Israel.  We came back to the apartment and I went for a run on the renovated train tracks in Jerusalem.  It was so wonderful.  Bike lanes, walking lanes, green in between.  There were people running, walking, on bikes, scooters and skate boarders.  At the old "station" is a whole shopping, eating, playing area.  It just got finished this year.  It did not feel that there was anything "going on" in Israel.  Business as usual. 

I had a great run, Tara and I did some yoga and got ready to take Hannah downtown.  We walked all the streets we had walked in our past.  We passed Caffit, the waffle lady, the ceramic stores, the jewelry stores, Judaica, kippot, and many cafes.  The streets had lots of people, but not the large groups of teens that are usually roaming around during the summer.

Tara and Hannah dropped me at my hotel at HUC, Beit Shmuel (the Reform Movements campus in Israel).  It is an amazing location.  Right next to the King David Hotel.  I have a small balcony that over looks the Old City and so much construction.  Fredi (one of my close friends from Rabbinical School) and I are sharing a room.  She will come tomorrow, she had a family party she had to attend. 
The conference that I am attending is for Reconstructionist Rabbis and Lee is here with me (Yeah)!  This afternoon we did a short introduction and check in with the almost 25 participants.  Most are living in the states although some have made aliyah (moved to Israel) and will be joining us for part of the trip. 

Most of the participants did not voice concern about safety, although in the introduction we were told where to go if there is a siren.  It was all very matter of fact and we were assured that the itinerary will change if it needs to accommodate security concerns. 

We had a beautiful opening ceremony on a balcony overlooking the old city.  There is so much construction going on as well.  The metaphor for the construction was that even with old, we can "reconstruct" and "construct" the new. 

We had a nice dinner at the hotel and then an opening tribute to Rabbi Jack Cohen, a rabbi who promoted the Reconstructionist movement in Israel since he made aliyah in 1961.  This whole mission is in his memory.  Colleagues spoke about his passion for connecting the movement to Israel and his disappointment that there wasn't a deeper, stronger bond.  His children spoke about his joy and love of the Movement and of Israel.
We moved right into a framing of the mission by Professor Paul Liptz.  Here are a few points that I heard him focus on.

1.  People have come to Israel from harmed backgrounds.  When they come here they come angry and humiliated.  They feel powerful as Jews for the first time.  Very rare that you have liberal, easy going Jews making aliyah.  Every immigrant group except about 40 percent of Americans vote right-wing in Israel.  They want to change the way they lived before and they vote that way.

2.  Arab world in crisis, arabs ask "why is everyone so concerned with the Palestinians, when we have such terrible human rights issues and conditions where we live."

3.  How can we compare America. An ocean on either side, smiling Canadians above and Mexicans who would do anything to move in with us.  Israel doesn't only have to wrestle with the Palestinian issue, the region Israel is in is complex.

4.  We are all caught in this tragic moment in history.  To be an American and get a handle on it here is challenging.

5.  Two different peoples, the people of Gaza and the people of the West bank. 

6.  Conflict management or reduced conflict, there will not be a "solution." Let people in the same fields talk and work together.

Many of my colleagues had interesting reactions to his talk.  At the end of it, we all could here a banging  and chanting outside.  We learned that it could be a gathering of fascist Jews or counter demonstrations or Iftar ( the end of a day fast of Ramadan). It turned out being the air conditioner.

To live with the uncertainty of it all is quite the challenge.  Amazing what a day could bring. 

Love to all of you.