It has been quite a while since I last wrote a Blog post...however, I believe it is easier to put my feelings/reactions/emotions in writing. So, here goes. I arrived in Israel on Sunday morning, a day and a half before the conference began. I wanted to give myself some time to acclimate to the time change...and I wanted to be able to have some time to walk around Jerusalem and become reacquainted - it had been 3 years since my last trip to Israel. As a lover of Israeli/Middle Eastern foods, I wanted to make sure to go to one of my favorite spots to get a pita and shawarma! I was not disappointed!
On Monday, after I had breakfast with very good friends, I came back up to my room to read and get ready for what I thought would be an outstanding first day. After some time spent reflecting with my colleagues, we enjoyed a learning session regarding Machloket L'Shem Shamayim vs. Machloket lo L'Shem Shamayim (an argument for the sake of Heaven or not for the sake of Heaven) (learning how to disagree constructively). I am looking forward to bringing the materials from this session back to Ocala and seeing how we can apply these lessons to our own disagreements and potential conflicts.
After this learning session, we traveled by bus to the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. We were greeted by Thomas Nides, the US Ambassador to Israel. His words of welcome were quite encouraging - he was not afraid to speak how he truly felt things were going right now - but he added humor and hope so as to remind us how important it is for the Reform Jewish movement (and its rabbis) to continue to listen to and support Israel. This is not a blank check that we are writing in support of Israel...and, yet, our voices need to be heard, even if in protest.
Day 2 began with another delicious Israeli breakfast, followed by a nice walk to the Jerusalem Van Leer Institute. While there, we witnessed 3 separate interviews - 1) Member of the K'Nesset Rabbi Gilad Kariv 2) Member of the K'Nesset and Labor Party Chair Merav Michaeli and 3) Justice Elyakim Rubinstein. Some of the quotes/highlights of these 3 interviews include:
From MK Gilad Kariv: "CCAR Conference in Israel is not a 'Shiva Meeting.'"
"Without promoting religious freedom in Israel, it will be very difficult to maintain Israeli Democracy as a deep system of Democratic values."
"While we fully support the 2-state solution, it cannot be the only message of our camp to the Israeli Audience."
From MK Merav Michaeli: "Netanyahu uses negotiation to get what he wants; and drags the other side through the mud."
"We or whomever is negotiating with him will be giving legitimization for something that is horrible and dangerous...we must be very, very careful not to do that."
"In order to save Israel, we need to take it back to the Zionist vision. Zionism is about Democracy, it was about equality for women..."
From Justice Elyakim Rubinstein: "Fighting racism should be part of the genetic code of Jews, because of our history..."
After a short break, we split into our different tracks. My track was called, "Israelis and Palestinians: Visit Ramallah and the Palestinian Authority." We were joined on our bus by a Palestinian Guide who told us his own personal story and gave us insight to his own ideas and struggles during his life. We were asked to remove all outward signs of being Jewish - such as yarmulkes, jewelry that depicted Jewish symbols and our name tags (which identified us as rabbis). This was for our own safety - as to not draw any unwanted attention.
We had a delicious lunch at a restaurant in the West Bank. Prior to our lunch, we learned about the different areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem - A, B and C. This was specifically in reference to who managed the administration and security of the areas. While in Ramallah, we met a Catholic Priest in his Church and listened to his story...he really spoke of love and hope for the future - for all humankind....God created us, so we must be for good. I would have appreciated the opportunity to speak with more Palestinians - especially in the Palestinian Government. However, it was a lot to think about and to digest.
At night, I joined some of my classmates and close friends for a delicious Hummus and Meat dinner! While we may not have solved any of Israel or the world's problems, it was nice to have good conversation and good company.
I am a husband, father and rabbi - just trying to help to make the world a better place!