It was a wonderful experience spending time in Israel in February as part of a clergy mission sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, the World Zionist Organization, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. We had an opportunity to meet with representatives of various branches of the Israeli government, including members of the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and advisersto the Prime Minister.
We also had an opportunity to see first-hand the work of our federation. We traveled to Kibbutz Erez near the border with Gaza to see the bomb shelters our community’s funds helped to refurbish, and the library we helped build. We met with religious leaders of the Ethiopian community we help support and to hear their concerns and the challenges of integrating into Israeli society. We visited a program that prepares Modern Orthodox girls in the year prior to their joining Tzahal, the Israel Defense Forces. It was gratifying to see the results of the Metro-West community’s efforts on behalf of Israeli society.
The Conservative clergy on the mission had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the Schechter Institute and with representatives of the Masorti movement. Of special note was our meeting with Masorti Rabbi Reuven Stamov and his wife, Lena, who were just about to return to Kiev. We pray for their safety and for the well-being of the entire Jewish community in the Ukraine.
But aside from all of the meetings and travel, this trip was for me, in large measure, about reconnecting with the land and its people. It has been a good number of years since my last trip. Much has changed. Israel is today a much more modern and developed nation. The skyline of Tel Aviv reflects the growth and strength of its economy. There is an impressive new light rail that connects the different neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The population reflects immigration from the four corners of the earth, somehow all melded into one society, which yes, has its difficulties and unsolved problems, but that is, in a very clear way, a most vibrant society.
Most important, these are our brothers and sisters, and it so behooves us to support them in every way we can, just as they support us. A common theme of our meetings and one emphasized by Natan Sharansky in the time we shared with him was this sense of partnership that needs to evolve. Israelis no longer see themselves as merely the beneficiaries of our largesse. They are rather our partners in dealing with all of the issues we face as Jews. For example,as government officials pointed out, it is Israel that has taken the lead in confronting those in Europe who seek to ban circumcision and shehita on the continent.
There were many magical moments. For now, I am happy to be back in Clark with my Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah community. But a part of me will surely remain in the Holy Land of our ancestors.
Cantor Steven Stern