Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Report from Jerusalem

Dear Friends, Shalom From Jerusalem! As is always the case with Rabbinic missions to Israel, our days haver been filled to the brim with briefings, classes and meetings. We have been in Israel for about a day and a half. Already we have done more than most people do in a week. Here's a brief rundown: Upon arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, our group travelled to the Ministry of Defense where we received high level briefings from Major General (res.) Udi Shemi - Director General of the Ministry of Defense and Amos Gilad - Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Israel Ministry of Defense. While I cannot share all of the information we received at this briefing due to space and security constraints, one of the key messages we left with was that Israel is currently in the midst of a period of strength and safety. On many fronts, things are going very well. BUT - the forecast for the future is shaky. The reality of a Nuclear Iran looms large on the horizon. This was not news to any of us. What was very interesting, however, was the fact that, in the list of all of the security challenges that Israel is currently facing: - Iran - the "Arab Spring," - Syria, - Military Aid, - changing relationships with Turkey - attempts to delegitimize Israel around the world - to name a few For the first time, in a long time, the Palestinian issue was not on the top of the list. This doesn't mean that it is not important or that facts on the ground might not change, but it would appear that, from a strategic point, the IDF feels that the greatest threats that Israel are facing are more global than local. While the situation is difficult, we left our meeting feeling that Israel is prepared for whatever contingencies might arise. After our briefing, we travelled to Jerusalem where we met with JErry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. He gave us a progress report on the impact that Jewish communities across the United States are making on addressing the many issues that confront the JEwish people - in America, Israel and around the world. The fact that we had just witnessed first-hand the challenges and triumphs of rebuilding Jewish life in Hungary helped us to re-connect with why it is so vitally important for Jews around the world to dedicate ourselves to ensuring a Jewish future for ourselves and those yet to come. Rabbi Foster and I will be speaking about this soon. We began our day today with a briefing on attempts to delegitimize Israel through an organized campaign of Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestments (BDS). These campaigns have had mixed results - but we need to remain vigilant to ensure that the true story of Israel and Zionism is told. We then went to a center in Jerusalem that deals with the critical issue of unemployment among young Israeli adults. We also learned more about the efforts of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in the Former Soviet Union. Following this briefing, we travelled to Bet Shemesh a fast-growing community located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Some of you may have read about the incidents that took place recently between a minority of Ultra-Orthodox radicals who were terrorizing a Modern Orthodox Jewish girls school. We visited with the head of the school, Pirchiya Nachmani (see picture) as well as students and parents. Pirchiya was inspiring in her description of how parents, teachers, students and community leaders all came together to fight hatred and extremism. They were determined to prevent this explosive situation from derailing their mission of teaching tolerance, faith and Zionist ideals to their students. This truly was a highlight of the trip so far. After visiting the school, we had a luncheon with leaders of the Bet Shemesh community and learned about how a rapidly growing community was dealing with the complexities of meeting the needs of multiple ethnic and religious groups - all of whom are competing for space, power and influence. We then travelled to the Kiryat Ya-arim Youth Village where we learned about a special program for high school graduates who chose to postpone their army service for one year so that they can volunteer in a social service capacity. WE met with some of these students to hear how they felt that they wanted to give back to Israeli society prior to entering into the IDF. These 17 and 18 year olds felt that they needed to revitalize the Zionist ideals of their parents and grandparents. Once again, we were moved by their passion and commitment. Tonight, we will have a panel on The State of Religion in Israel - led by leaders of different religious movements. Tomorrow, we will meet with Natan Sharansky - the Chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel. That's all for now. I look forward to the luxury of being able to sort through all of my thoughts and experiences and sharing them with you soon. Shalom! Rabbi Black

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