I feel so grateful that everyone in the Emanu-El group chose to come to Israel at this difficult time. The feeling here certainly is tense. We are at war, fighting for survival. Continually, we hear thumps in the distance as iron dome shoots down one of the hundreds of rockets shot in our direction every day. Supporting and visiting the Jewish homeland was important enough to everyone here that regardless of what was happening, they came. Everyone with whom we met tells us how appreciative they are that we chose to come now, with everything awful going on, and that our being here in itself is supportive and a significant demonstration of solidarity. A soldier in the reserves with whom we just met (I’ll discuss this meeting in my next post) told us that our being here is just as much serving and protecting Israel as his service in the army. All I can say is that I’m so thankful that everyone on this bus with me chose to be here. Together, we’re experiencing something sacred and showing great unity with the Jewish people.
First thing Sunday morning we visited Independence Hall: the place where David Ben Gurion, off of type-written notes, declared that Israel would become a Jewish state. An excerpt from the declaration:
On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.
This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.
Accordingly we, members of the people’s council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.
WE DECLARE that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People’s Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People’s Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called “Israel”.
I’ve been there before and heard the message so many times. And yet, it is still powerful and still moving. That our people, knowing that they needed a home in this world where they could be safe with self-determination, had the strength, fortitude, and vision to successfully build their own state. Remarkable. And what a privilege to again be with a group experiencing this for the first time.
We were reminded that the hall at Ben Gurion’s declaration was so packed that there was no room for the orchestra to play HaTikvah, the song that would become Israel’s national anthem. So, they played upstairs, down into the floor. The effect? Music coming down from the heavens. It takes a lot to move me to tears, but the haunting sounds of HaTikvah’s orchestral rendition did it for me. Especially now, with Israel once again fighting for its right to exist.
The day only got better. Coming at a time like this, we wanted to do more than tourism— we wanted to help, to do something for Israelis in a time of war. Yes, people here have told us over and over again that our being here is something enough. But we wanted more. So, Keshet set up a volunteering opportunity for us with the Jaffa Institute, an incredible organization supporting children in at-risk areas in south Tel Aviv. Kids whose parents have rarely finished high school, who without help are likely to end up in a world of violence and crime. The Jaffa institute provides tutoring, positive role-modeling, parenting workshops, warm meals for kids and packages of food to take home.
Rather than simply providing a soup-kitchen to meet the needs of their constituents, they started regularly sending home boxes of food, to strengthen the family unit, something they understand to be very important. If families have food that requires preparation (rather than simply showing up for a hot meal), they are more likely to eat around the table, and kids spend more time at home rather than on the street. We got to spend an hour or two breaking a sweat and packing these boxes, thus fulfilling the mitzvah of feeding the hungry in Israel.
This was not the end of our mitzvah-doing for the day— we then made our way to a local hospital for bikur holim (visiting the sick). We stopped in and spoke with soldiers in rehab, recently injured in war in Gaza. Many had been injured by shrapnel, and one, by a grenade exploding beside him. All seemed to be in good spirits and were excited to have us stopping by and saying hello (the good spirits were likely because they were all in later stages of recovery, some after as many as nine surgeries).
It struck me that these soldiers are kids. Military service in Israel is compulsory and citizens enter the army at the age of 18. They put their lives on the line to keep the rest of us safe.
I noticed in the news today that health-workers at the Erez crossing into Gaza, meaning to offer aid to injured Gazans, were attacked by Ḥamas. Weapons hidden under schools, mosques and hospitals, human shields, and now, attacked health-care workers from Israel— Ḥamas knows no limits for stripping human life of all value.
Being the last day in Tel Aviv, I had to finish my day with one more swim in the Mediterranean. Idylic and blissful. A spiritual and physical recharge, and a distraction from disaster to the south.