July 23, 2014 – Jerusalem, Israel
We had planned to wake up Wednesday morning and head to Tel Aviv to meet with United States Ambassador to Israel. Unfortunately, his boss came to town, Secretary of State John Kerry and so the Ambassador had to cancel our meeting. What was set up instead was quite possibly even more interesting for our group. We started the morning off by driving to Kehillat Ya’ar Ramot in Jerusalem. At the Kehilla we heard from Ms. Talia Levanon, Director of the Israel Trauma Coalition. Ms. Levanon spoke about the fact that terror related trauma used to only be discussed with soldiers, that has now grown to the entirety of the population. Second Intifada brought terror into everyone’s home. She mentioned that the coalition works with 30 cities in Israel, and responds with a very specific care. In addition, trauma used to be seen as a one-time occurrence, now they are also dealing with long-term trauma. Ms. Levanon, also spoke about some of the challenges presented to the trauma coalition. She specifically cited the Bedouin community, which often, because they are nomadic, does not hear the sirens when rockets are fired. In addition the ultra-Orthodox community is sometimes unwilling to accept help. The presentation was eye opening as it truly showed the human side of the situation Israel is currently facing. What must it be like to grow up with rockets constantly falling in your neighborhood? How does that affect the rest of your life?
Following the presentation by the Israel trauma coalition, we were honored to meet with Honorable Tzipi Livni, Minister of Justice. Ms. Livni, spoke with our group for about 30 minutes about the current situation, the history of the conflict and share her thoughts on religious pluralism in Israel. The minister apologized for having to leave so quickly, however her next meeting was with the United Nations Secretary-General. Needless to say, we all understood and wished her well.
From Ramot we headed to another Masorti Kehilla in Jerusalem, Ramot Zion. When we arrived at the synagogue we met with Rabbi Chaya Rowen-Baker. An amazing woman who grew up in the Masorti movement and now brings her own flare and Torah to her congregation. Following a brief presentation we were honored to meet with Mrs. Rachel Fraenkel, mother of Naftali Fraenkel z”l. No more than a month ago, Naftali, along with his two friends were kidnapped on their way home from yeshiva and killed. Rachel spoke to us about her son, about her Judaism, about hate and violence…it was an experience that will stay with me the rest of my life. Rachel talked about her son, how he was a smart boy who loved music. He loved to study and be challenged which was why he went to the specific yeshiva he attended. Rachel spoke about the fact that while there is so much loss, there is also so much love. The outpouring of love from all over the world she said, had been incredible. She spoke about the fact that she does not want her younger children growing up with hate. When a young Palestinian boy was brutally murdered by Jews, Rachel spoke out about the heinous crime, while sitting shiva for her son. There was not a dry eye in the room when she spoke. Each of us were able to speak with her just for a moment to pay our respects. We talked about the fact that in Omaha, NE…we held a memorial service for her son and his friends. To us, the Jewish people they were our sons too. Her grief s hers alone, but as a people we too mourn their deaths.
While nothing could be as moving as our previous meeting, we then headed over to the Knesset to meet with a number of members. Our first meeting was with MK Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset. MK Edelstein spoke about his support for the mission in Gaza, while at the same time expressing the fact that the end goals of the mission are a bit unclear. He did not want to continue to go down the same spiral time and time again. We then met with MK Elazar Stern and MK Dov Lipman. With all three Knesset Members we were able to discuss the current challenges facing Israel as well as a number of issues, such as religious pluralism and social change, which are major issues for the Masorti Movement in Israel and Conservative Jews worldwide.
Tomorrow our first stop will be to pay a shiva call to the family of Lt. Bar Rahav z”l, who was killed serving in Gaza. Following our visit we will head north to the Ramah-Noam camp that was relocated due to rocket fire. We will be meeting with campers and staff for lunch to discuss the program and how the movement was able to move locations instead of cancelling the camp for the kids.
Today was another incredible day!