This journalist and blogger joined 18 of Los Angeles’ prominent rabbis last month as they spent an amazing 58 hours together exploring different facets of life in Israel. I interviewed, photographed and filmed these rabbis as they came together to show a united front in support of Israel. It was perhaps one of the rare and special events in the community’s history as never before have so many different rabbis from the city journeyed as a collective with Israel as their unifying factor. My outside blog postings of this trip can be found here, here and here.
It was a fast-paced trip with a full schedule as these Jewish community leaders went everywhere from a school in Tel Aviv helping Darfur refugees, to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to honor the late slain leader and to meet Israel’s President Shimon Peres. They met with young Zionists building new villages in the middle of the Negev desert, they fed the needy at a soup kitchen in Jerusalem and prayed for the victims of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. The rabbis heard from military, social, economic and political leaders in Israel about the country’s status— also discovering how Jews living in Diaspora are key to Israel’s survival.
The following is a blog entry I wrote on October 29, 2009 at the end of this remarkable journey with the city’s rabbis:
As the direct El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles took off in the early hours of the morning today, the majority of Los Angeles’ 18 rabbis were sound asleep after a remarkable 58 hour action-packed journey to Israel. After witnessing their travels together through Israel I too was still absorbing the substantial impact of the trip. The 15-hour flight today gave me much time to reflect on this amazing trip and what was said during the final dinner the rabbis enjoyed together in Jerusalem. During the dinner the Angelino rabbis gave praises to Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles Jacob Dayan for having brought all of them together for the trip— a feat that had never been undertaken by any previous Consul General. “Through this trip, you have helped strengthen our Jewish community in L.A. and shown us we are all one and the same,” said one rabbi at the dinner. Yes the rabbis were Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, gay, straight, young and older— but they acknowledged that the common thread of Israel has and will always be a uniting factor for them and their respective congregations.
As an L.A. area journalist who often covers divisive and controversial issues the Jewish community faces, it was heartwarming to see that for 58 hours the leaders of the community were able to set their differences aside and embrace one another. It seems as if Israel was not just a holy and religious place for these Jewish clergy, but the modern glue that has kept the Jewish people united. From my personal impressions, this special place in the world known as Israel has not only become a home for Jews seeking to live in an area of their own, but this land has become truly transformed the modern world as we know it. Israel has produced some the world’s most remarkable technologies, agricultural advances and yes even become a place of refuge for non-Jews escaping genocide in their homelands. We traveled to fish farm in the middle of the Negev desert where oceanic fish like Barramundi were being cultivated! Yes, a fish farm in the middle of a blossoming desert where olive orchards and vegetable farms grew plentifully! The sight was truly breathtaking a one is left wondering how Israel has been able to accomplish such remarkable feats with their limited financial and natural resources. It can be quite easy everyday for critics, pessimists and dictators to denounce Israel for a whole host of political reasons. But the clear reality is that this land holy to the world’s three religions is uniquely remarkable.
Numerous talking heads in the news media, Middle East experts and columnists will continue to spend countless hours critiquing Israel’s political moves visa vie the Middle East conflict. I for one will not engage in any such discussion nor pass judgment on Israel because such rhetoric has only created animosity in the human community. This 58 hour trip with L.A.’s prominent rabbis has revealed the incredible accomplishments of Israel and its people. I would prefer to focus my energies on the generous contributions this tiny nation in the Middle East has given the planet. Yes Israel like most democracies is imperfect, but taken as a whole this nation has brought the Jewish people together and more importantly strived to heal the world with its contributions to medicine, agriculture, technology, the social sciences, history, literature and even religion. As a blogger and journalist, I walk away from this unique trip to Israel with a new sense of respect for the rabbis who journeyed with me and for the people of Israel who are still trying to live in peace in an unfriendly neighborhood.
The following are just a few of the videos I captured through out this trip: