In a display of creativity and generosity, several Jewish groups in Orange County in
recent weeks set out to demonstrate their unswerving support for Israel.
Calling a suggestion by Israel's minister of tourism to visit hospitals a "wet blanket," Fullerton travel agency owner Pnina Schichor instead lined up an awareness-raising tour of the sort she, herself, would like.
"Injured people don't want gawking strangers," she concludes after returning in May from a planning trip, during which she sensed the isolation of Israeli citizens. "I want them to know we're standing with them," says Shichor, who organized a trip for members of MERIT, Middle Eastern Reporting in Truth, a media-watch group she and her husband, David, co-founded last August.
Billed the MERIT Interfaith Solidarity Tour, it includes Haim Asa, rabbi emeritus of Fullerton's Temple Beth Tikvah, and Pastor Garry Ansdell of Bellflower's Calvary Chapel, along with 20 others scheduled to depart July 18 on the $1,795, eight-day trip. The itinerary includes working as volunteers at a military facility, visiting a Jewish-Arab cultural center, seeing Galilee's water conservation and wetlands restoration projects, touring a Druse village and holding a rally outside a foreign embassy.
The high point of the trip, for Schichor at least, will be a hoped-for reunion with Jaber Abirukin, education director of Isifyia, a Druse village. The Druse, expected to join the Israeli military, are an ancient Muslim sect that broke away from Islam.
During the 1987 intifada, Abirukin spoke to students on California campuses roiled by unrest over the conflict. He was escorted by Schichor's son, Nadar, a member of the American Zionist Youth Federation.
"He could see from both sides," recalls Schichor, who remembers Abirukin's spellbinding affect on an audience. "Israelis were sitting with their mouths open," she says.
Abirukin's sobering conclusion was remarkably prescient. "The shocking thing I got out of it," Schichor recalls, "was if you're looking for peace immediately, you'll have to be steadfast; if you're going to be impatient, you're going to lose."
"We're learning it now," Schichor says. "There's no quick fix."
Just a few weeks earlier, another contingent of nine residents went to Israel and were privileged to spend an hour asking questions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as attending other top-level political and military briefings organized by the American Jewish Committee.
"I find it personally embarrassing having a pilot thank me for coming to Israel on a tourist trip," says Irvine's E. Scott Menter, a member of the 100-person delegation. Even so, he saw the group's impact in empty shops. "I had one guy turn the lights on for me. No one had been there all day," says Menter, who took home more tchotchkes than he wanted.
Forty other local residents in May pledged $150,000 to Israel road construction. The effort is part of a $10 million commitment by Israel's Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (JNF) to construct secondary "security" roads and repair others destroyed by tanks.
The 2.5 miles funded by the JNF's Orange-Long Beach region parallels the Har Adir-Sasa Road, says Gail W. Weiss, the group's regional director. In March, six Israelis were killed and seven wounded on the main road when passing cars were fired on from Lebanon. "We're 75 percent of the way to reaching our goal," she says.
Since May, members of Irvine's University Synagogue have contributed $25,000 toward purchasing a $60,000 ambulance for American Red Magen David, the Santa Monica-based support group for Magen David Adom, Israel's equivalent to the Red Cross.
The vehicle will bear the congregation's name. "An ambulance saves lives," says Henry Wyle of Irvine, chair of the project. "It's a symbol of values Jews place on life."
The computer lab in Anaheim's Temple Beth Emet religious school typically hums with students studying Torah on CDs. Recently, students took time out to write 30 e-mail letters to Israeli soldiers, says Margalit Moskowitz, Beth Emet's education director. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
While none of the students received replies, Moskowitz says the process alone is valuable. "The most important thing was the children felt connected, that they are contributing something to Israel. It's so hard to have a connection, to create a link.
She says, "I think the letter helped achieve it."