What can you see in Israel in just 5 days? Plenty. 5 days were just enough to travel north, south, east and west (yama v’kedma, tzafona v’negba) in search of significant new projects in which to involve my synagogue, Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA). Moreover, these 5 short days provided me with unique insight into the tapestry we call Israel.
So often we see Israel through the eyes of the tourist, visiting Jewish historical sites as well as those marking the rebirth of our Jewish State. Too often, we miss the day-to-day reality of Israel.
This five day trip afforded me the opportunity experience Israel anew by:
Dining with a young Jerusalem family who are trying to build a new future by sending their children to Hand-in-Hand, a mixed Jewish, Muslim, Christian school;
Meandering through vibrant, secular Tel Aviv, enjoying its Shuk HaKarmel (open air market) and partaking in the night life in the cafés and along the Port
Exploring a shmata (clothing) factory in a northern Galilean Druze village which is providing employment and revenue for the struggling village
Visiting an innovative program, teaching Jerusalem Arab youth how to conceive of and open their own small businesses
Meeting in the Kiryah, Israel’s Pentagon, with Ultra-orthodox soldiers who are bucking the trend to enter the Air Force to ensure a viable future for themselves and their families
These poignant experiences were brilliantly arranged by Gideon Herscher, an energetic, visionary Israeli leader in the Joint Distribution Committee. He arranged intense conversations with a passionate Israeli Arab lawyer, a newly freed and self-sufficient woman who had been sex trafficked from Romania, the ever thoughtful author of Start Up Nation Saul Singer, and former Knesset Speaker Avrum Burg. We also enjoyed a private briefing at the Taub Center that opened our eyes to important demographic, education and economic trends in Israel today.
I came away with a renewed sense that Israel – in addition to being a spiritually-exciting, Jewishly-significant, geopolitically-central Promised Land – is also a normal, energetic, multi-cultural modern state.
Everyone should take a minimum of two trips to Israel: the first that tastes all the tourist sights that highlight Israel as the Holy Land, and a second which illuminates the multicultural, exciting, abnormally normal country that underlies and transcends the Holy Land.
Paul Kipnes is the Rabbi of Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, California. He teaches Pastoral Counseling at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, sits on the Clinical Faculty of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education, and serves as Rabbinic Dean of URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa. Follow his blog here.