I write this post while enroute to Israel. I have always found it easier to write on airplanes than any place else. Perhaps it's because of the lack of interruptions - no phones, meetings or other disruptions that can take me away from the focus I need. But perhaps it is also because of perspective: the fact that I am writing at 30,000 feet somehow helps me to have a different view of the myriad of details and activities that are a normal part of my daily routine.
I truly cannot say how many times I have travelled to Israel. I can count at least 20 trips - but there may be more..... I first went in 1975 as an exchange student when I was Junior in High School. Those 6 months changed my life forever and put me on a journey that can only be described as a love affair with the Hebrew language and the State of Israel that continues and grows to this very day. Every time I return to Israel, I never fail to feel the same excitement and anticipation that I felt as a 16 year old as I board the plane and look ahead to the adventure that awaits. Sharing Israel with others is an especially rewarding experience. This year, Sue and I - along with Janet Bronitsky and Mark Suprenand - are leading a group of 45 congregants. For most of the people in our group, this will be their first trip to Israel. Seeing the excitement on their faces and knowing that this trip will literally change their lives is both an awesome responsibility and a great joy.
The timing of this particular trip could not be more significant. The medieval poet, Yehudah Halevi wrote: " לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב" "My Heart is in the East, and I am in the uttermost end of the West." This encapsulates the centuries- old longing of the Jewish soul to travel to Israel - even when we were firmly ensconced in our Western-world milieu. Recent events have served to intensify my desire to be in Israel. The kidnapping of three teen-aged boys - Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah by Palestinian terrorists 2 weeks ago has highlighted both the vulnerability and unity of the Jewish people. All Jews - regardless of political or religious affiliation - are unified around the anguish of these families. Last night, I was honored to participate in the "Bring Back our Boys" solidarity Rally as president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council. Seeing such a diverse cross-section of the Denver Jewish Community coming together in solidarity with the the Frankel, Shaer and Yirah families - as well as the entire State of Israel - was a powerful experience. The fact that the next day, we would be able to travel to Israel and share our solidarity with the Jewish state and it's people makes our pilgrimage all the more powerful.
In addition, the recent unfortunate decision by the Presbyterian Church - USA (PCUSA) to become intertwined with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement (their denials and protestations aside...) has highlighted the fact that the State of Israel has few true friends. The sadness, disappointment and sense of betrayal I experienced as a result of this action taken by my PCUSA colleagues has shaken me - and the vast majority of the Jewish world- especially here in America where we have worked so hard to build bridges of dialogue, community and friendship - deeply. The opportunity to experience the reality of the State of Israel - warts and all - and share this with members of my congregation is the perfect solace at a time of disappointment.
I cannot promise how often I will be able to contribute to this blog. Our itinerary is jam-packed. Nonetheless, I will try to keep you all updated on our adventure.
Until then, I bid you Shalom from 30,000 feet.
Rabbi Joe Black