Linda and I spent twelve days in Israel. We combined participation on a biennial Rabbinic Mission of Israel Bonds and visits with our daughter, Anna, who is spending a semester at Tel Aviv University. The following are some brief observations.
Daily life: In the NYTimes this morning, there is only one report on Israel: two fourteen- year-old Palestinians who stabbed to death an off-duty Israeli soldier in a supermarket were killed. From a distance our discussions of Israel are often focused on settlements, the plight of Palestinians, and violence. These are important topics and worthy of open consideration. And yet, life throughout Israel has a rhythm and context that is usually set apart from these existential questions. On Wednesday for instance, Anna and I rented bicycles from computer-operated stands throughout Tel Aviv’s streets. We biked from the University along paths through parks reaching the beach, where I heard French, English, Hebrew and Arabic. Life is vibrant and relatively relaxed throughout Israel.
Many worlds: On Tuesday, I began my day at sunrise walking through the narrow, historically-laden streets of Jerusalem. Danny Gordis, the prominent political writer, led morning prayers honoring his year of mourning for his father, at a small synagogue. The room was filled with people from all walks of life: in front of me a young man removed a large motorcycle helmet and sat next to a scholarly elder; a soldier took a seat next to an immigrant from America. For brunch, a cousin picked Linda and me up to drive us to her recently constructed home in Tekoah. Hindy is a physical therapist and yoga instructor who along with her husband and three children moved to Israel from New York City four years ago. After living in Jerusalem for a year, they purchased land in this settlement located twenty minutes from Jerusalem. Their spacious, colorfully decorated home has magnificent views of Herodian, the Dead Sea, and the Judean Hills. Hindy showed me the pistol that she carries in her pink cloth purse. That night, Linda and I were guests of friends who have an apartment in Tel Aviv overlooking the Mediterranean. The lights of skyscrapers glistened as traffic streamed beneath us.
Economically thriving: With the Israel Bond’s mission, we had access to leaders of industry, politics, and education, including the president of Ben Gurion University and the head of the new army base just south of Beersheva. We visited computer security start-ups. What we witnessed was an Israel on the cutting edge of the world economy and investment in infrastructure. For instance, we entered new tunnels that will enable two years from now a 100 mile-an-hour train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, enabling a 28-minute trip.
Despite harsh political realities, Israelis are resilient, prospering, and engaging in frank debates as to their future. I return from Israel more aware of the complexity of the political situation and feeling blessed to be part of an extraordinarily diverse, talented, and welcoming extended family.
Shabbat Shalom, Elie