AJC Westchester Blog

Project Interchange – Counter-Terrorism Trip – Day 7

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Our final day in Israel was meant to be a reflective one with visits to Yad Vashem and the Old City, as well as a farewell dinner at which the participants offered impressions.

I only want to blog about two things from this day.

First, we ended our tour of the Old City, and indeed our tour of this Country, in a way for which the group was not prepped, which added to the wonder of the moment.  We ended it at the Kotel as Shabbat was approaching.  As we went through the metal detectors, you could hear some faint singing.  As we entered the plaza, the group was amazed by the ruach, the excitement that seemed to come from every corner.  Young and old, modern and old-world Jews, men and women.  They were singing on the rooftops and in every corner of the plaza.  Some were in circles, some were dancing, and some were davening.  The final moments of the trip were elevated, and you could see it in everybody’s expression.

I walked with the men around the men’s side as they peppered me with questions – what are they saying?, do you do this?, does anybody ever collect those pieces of paper?, are these the modern orthodox or the ultra-orthodox, for how long do they stay here?, what’s in that tunnel?, do you feel special here?.

Secondly, we had our concluding session.  I asked the group a series of questions and gave them 5 minutes to think.  Some had already formulated their thoughts when they filled out the Project Interchange evaluation forms earlier in the day.  Here are some of those concluding impressions (some are paraphrased):

  • I start off by saying wow – it was an incredible adventure.
  • My expectation prior to coming here was of desert, camels, war-torn cities and country and more desert.  I was totally wrong.  Israel is a vibrant country.  The people are very industrious.
  • The trip was very eye-opening for me, because I had a different world view of this part of the world, in general, and specifically, Israel.  Only being exposed to American mainstream media, I viewed Israel as being a hardcore, military country – a kind of a boots on the ground, we’re in this thing for our survival, and we’re going to do what it takes at all costs to ensure that.  And, I am sure there are elements of that.  But, at the same time, what I did not realize is the level of political sensitivity that is pervasive in this country and the emphasis on human rights, especially for a country that has not ratified a constitution.  I think it is just incredible.  When we visited the Erez Border Crossing at the Gaza Strip, the things that they put in place and how they search and handle people – even though some may be terrorists – was built around the dignity of the people coming through.  As they told us, that facility is built for Palestinians coming into Israel, not Israelis.  It was a huge investment by this country for the Palestinians from Gaza.
  • We went to Sderot and listened to the bomb technician, and he talked about what he goes through every time a missile is fired.  I thought that our jobs are tough, but listening to that, I started to think that they are not so tough.  We do not have our families subjected to that every single day.  And, to want to stay there and protect their community in the face of that is incredible.  That is one of the things I am going to bring back and talk about with my staff – about commitment.
  • I think I learned more about Israel and the people that live here in a week than I could have in all of the classes that I took my whole life in school.
  • A tremendous education forced into a week – and a very balanced one.  It has lit a fire under me to pay attention to current events and a desire to start looking at the big picture.
  • I can say now I got it.  It was never clear to me.
  • When you are first approached, you do not know what it will be, but it was a first class operation down to the immersion in the culture.
  • The Golan Heights just isn’t a place on the map.  You have people working there and living there.  We even went to a winery there.
  • The level of access that we had was extraordinary.  I appreciate them extending the arm of friendship and diplomacy.
  • This is a country of survivors.

(Parenthetically, as we were driving to the airport, one of the participants gave me a very special gift – an Israeli survival bracelet that he had made himself.  The bracelet can be unwound and will provide 15 feet of tough string, hence the survival aspect.  He wove it with blue and white string, hence the Israeli aspect.  Pretty awesome.)

  • On a personal note, there were things from the Bible that I thought I would never see in my lifetime. I am so grateful for that opportunity.
  • I work closely with the Jewish community in the United States, and this will strengthen that.
  • I had envisioned far more segregation between Israeli Jews and Arabs.
  • This is life, and there are processes in life that cannot simply be read in a book.
  • It changed my perception that Israel is a very religious country.  I discovered that most of Israel is secular.
  • The threat to Israel and the world from intolerant and totalitarian ideology is very real.
  • I will now be able to articulate the issue of Israel as one that not only affects the Jewish community but all of humanity.
  • I did not realize that Israel is the size of New Jersey.  I expected it to be much bigger.
  • This was presented in an unbiased, unvarnished way, and I really appreciate it.  There was no sense of any other motivation but to share the truth.
  • This trip will help me as we try to prepare in my home community for threats that are out there.
  • Seeing the Holocaust museum always leaves me with the question of why – how could that happen?
  • Israelis, I am now convinced, are the toughest bunch of pacifists of I have ever met.
  • I can’t wait to come back here and bring my family.

The Hebrew word for the day was L’hitraot – be seeing you!

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Written by Scott Richman, AJC Westchester Director

November 10, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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