I am just back from touring Israel with a nice group, mostly from my Warrenton shul, and am stimulated enough to post this despite my recent announcement that I am taking time off from blogging this summer.
Israel never ceases to provide stimulation and inspiration, and frustration, and worry. Each of our days had each of those. In 70 short years, Israel has built a thriving and exciting nation despite enormous challenges. Most of my group were first timers to Israel, which meant they couldn’t appreciate how far it has come over the decades. My first visit was in 1964, when you brought your own toilet paper and the drive up to Jerusalem went at a snail’s pace. Now there are first world amenities, great highways that seem to sprout up every few days, commuter trains, skyscrapers. But then you look south to Gaza or north to the Golan or east to Iran, and wonder if there could possibly be a more dangerous neighborhood in the world.
Israelis have a far greater tolerance for chaos and danger than we do. I think if we were there we would stay in the house all the time. Tel Aviv is hopping even at midnight, hours after Bethesda has reached its usual sleep state. Tourism is thriving, bli ayin hara. There is not a hotel room to be had. The airport is packed, even at 4AM when our return flight took off. On the other hand, the Prime Minister is the subject of four criminal investigations, his wife is already indicted, but there are not so many great alternatives. Like here, some worry that democracy is being taken apart. What is going on in Syria, and Lebanon, and Gaza, can keep you up at night, and BDS seems never to take a break. Yet every day we experienced the kind of exhilarating moments that only our ancient homeland can provide. So you can see, there is never a dull moment for Israelis, and for people like me.
I have two mantra’s that help me put the many serious challenges in perspective. One, from one of our peace negotiators: “Israel will survive but its neighbors will never let it enjoy that survival very much.” Two, from a speaker during my last shul trip: “I see Israel as like an ark, necessarily a well-armed ark, floating above the waters of war and chaos in the region; some day the waters will recede and the ark will be able to safely land and Israel will enjoy a new day.” These are not the most optimistic forecasts, but they may be realistic. I pray that part b of the first will prove false, and that the ark will find nice dry land in the not too distant future.
I am expecting to be back in Israel two more times in the next eight months, for some learning but first some biking. Israel is a serious part of my Jewish identity. Its successes and failures and challenges resonate with me deeply, maybe too deeply. That’s been true since my first visit, that summer on a kibbutz in 1964. I never forget how lucky it is to have been born at this time. As my old boss Richard Joel said to a group of young Jews, our great grandparents and those before them came from different places, had different ways of making a living, and probably wouldn’t have agreed on much, except that they each hoped to one day touch the stones of the Kotel – and they knew they never would. We who can should do so as often as possible, and in between the touches, do all we can to support Israel in its struggle to be a nation like other nations but with a heart.
Best, Bill Rudolph