We woke to a rainy windy morning with gusts coming off the Mediterranean. Thank goodness it did not pour all day because we spent a good day of the morning outside. Today’s main focus was Tel Aviv, but first we began the morning hearing from Gerald Ostrov, CEO and Founder, of the non- profit “From the Grapevine”, a reThink Israel Initiative. Gerald was interested in what young people thought of Israel today and in surveys of Americans between 18 and 49, he found the main words that showed up in their responses were Jewish, holy, war, desert and ‘nothing’ meaning most knew nothing about Israel. Gerald created this non-profit to help people learn more about Israel. The site is fromthegrapevine.com. Check it out. It seems pretty interesting, plus it also demonstrates some of the best marketing practices.
We then headed for the Taglit Innovation Center for a glimpse of some of the innovation and research that is happening in Israel. Israel is a world leader in agriculture especially in dry desert area and thy are sharing their discoveries with countries in Africa. Many inventions come from Israel and I found out that my favorite traffic app, Waze, was created in Israel. Start-ups in Israel’s per capital is second only to Silicone Valley. Perhaps having to create a home in challenging conditions has encouraged an innovative people.
We visited Independence Hall site of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. It was hurriedly done since the fighting between Syria and Israel had already broken out. At the end of World War II when most returned home, the Jews found they had no home to go to. Many resettled in the US and other Western countries, but many headed to Israel, their ancient homeland and began formed settlements. The Palestinians did not like this large influx of Jews who were building houses and farming the land and tensions which had existed before cotinued to rise. The country was under the rule of the British Mandate which was about to end. The council met for hours and hours and finally just minutes before the scheduled declaration, the document was typed and Israel became a state. They went right back to war afterwards which they eventually won.
We also explored the Rothschild Boulevard where Tel Aviv began. It was a planned community of 66 families in the early 1900s. Once the town was laid out, they drew lots to choose their plots so that no one was favored by choosing the plots near the town center. the town grew from there. As the years passed, stories were added to the original houses and their style changed over the years. The city has continued to grow and today housing is scarce and very expensive. If you go to look at an apartment, you have to come with 13 checks. One for the deposited and the others post dated for every month of your lease.
After lunch in another shook (marketplace), we heard about the African immigrants that have been flooding into south Tel Aviv. We saw a small park where at one point a few years ago, thousands of immigrants camped for months before they were able to be moved. Israel has built a wall to stop these immigrants coming in as well. Some protections have been put in place or the immigrants. When parents stopped bringing their children to school because of fear of being arrested for being in Israel illegally, a safety zone of 150 m radius where parents will not be arrested. On the other hand, Israel is paying other countries like Rwanda and Uganda $5K per person to take them. Supposedly, these people say they want to go back, but recently several pilots of the Israeli airline, El Al, are refusing to fly the immigrants. Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of the comedian Sarah Silverman, is a fierce advocate for this immigrants. It is interesting to see how the Israeli’s respond - some fiercely fighting for others rights and in other cases fiercely protecting what they have.
The last site we visited was the old Jaffa port. There we saw a model of an old gate found on that site. They believe the gate shows evidence of people being there in 8000 BCE. At the Jaffa port, we saw a house built on the site where Peter was though to have the vision where God told him that no animal is unclean leading Peter to welcome Gentiles into the church. It is from there tht he travelled a bit north for his first Gentile convert, Cornelius,
We headed back to the hotel for a session on how to bring your congregation to Israel and possible itineraries. I plan to explore this and may work with another congregation to see if we can do a joint trip. We all expressed the how much having the inter-faith aspect of our trip enhanced it so that is something else to ponder.
After one last wonderful dinner, we headed to the airport bracing ourselves for a 12 hour flight after a long day. During the dinner we had a speaker, who feels that for peace one cannot just talk to the liberals. One must engage those on the right on both sides - the most extreme. He likens it to trying to deal with a lioness and her cubs. If you approach her, she will be very fierce and yet you know that there is a side of her that loves her cubs. How do you talk to that side? It is about building relationship very much like the work our Way of St. Paul team is doing with the Barnabas questions. When you have relationship, then you have something to work from when it comes to the very hard questions. Slow work to be sure, but perhaps it is the only way.
It was an amazing trip and I will be sharing stories and pictures very soon perhaps with one of my fellow travelers whose congregation is near by. I have so much to reflect on and will continue to share. I hope these reflections have brought you along on this trip. Stay tuned for more.
Shalom, Rev. Anne-Marie