I had been living vicariously for three months. First there were the attacks on the High Holy Days, the desecration of Joseph's Tomb. A few days later, Israeli hikers were stranded under fire for hours near Schem-Nablus. The Internet had brought the daily conflict straight to my office: bus bombs, daily shootings in Jerusalem, assault on holy sites. I felt that I could no longer sit so far away in comfortable California, feeling secure and well-protected. I felt that I must go to Israel and share the fate of my brothers and sisters who were, and still are, facing one of the greatest challenges of the past 50 years.
The Orange County Jewish community joined with Los Angeles and many others in a solidarity mission to Israel Jan. 8-14. Based in Jerusalem, we fanned out to many locations in that city and others. Our community visited Kiryat Malechai, sister city of Orange County, and witnessed the remarkable growth there. We were never in any real danger. The day we visited Gilo, the southern Jerusalem neighborhood that has become a shooting range for Yasser Arafat's terrorists, it was quiet. We were not taken to the settlements where Jews live under siege, unable to leave their homes. And even though we sat in the gilded cage of the fancy Jerusalem hotels, we still felt the pulse of the country. We connected to the people and maybe gave them a drop of inspiration at this crucial time.
It is not the Balfour Declaration nor any U.N. resolution that gives me, or any Jew, the right to say that I am connected to Israel. The bond between a California Jew and Israel is rooted in the Torah. The great commentator Rashi tells us the Torah begins with Genesis to teach us that G-d, as the world's Creator, gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. If the nations of the world challenge our right we are to inform them of this fact that Rashi stated nearly 1,000 years ago. The three basic components of Judaism are the Torah, Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and the Jewish people. This triad forms the core of Jewish identity.
The mission was a remarkable cross-section of Jewish communities. Prior to leaving we had a meeting to talk about study and programs on the trip. One liberal rabbi said we should discuss the "pluralism issue." I retorted, "Jews are being killed. It is time to put aside our internal squabbles." It was an idea that was fully endorsed by all.
The organizers tried to make a balanced program; we heard from the left and the right. For my taste, there could have been more Torah study. (Note to organizers: If you don't want to offend your more religious brothers, don't have the sole solicitations at a major dinner be for a gay and lesbian alliance in Jerusalem. You might include the local soup kitchen, a soldiers fund and a yeshiva. Just a helpful hint for next time.) But I, as others, shrugged off the things that did not fit into our ideological mold. There were bigger and more important issues at stake.
We had come as American Jews to stand strong behind Israel in a very difficult time. Some of us were members of Peace Now, others strong opponents of the Oslo Accords from day one. We put all the polemics and internal politics aside for a few days for a more important goal. And as one who came from outside the liberal Jewish establishment, a bit wary of how I would be treated, I felt welcomed with open arms. It gave us a chance to stand together with our fellow Jews at a time of great need.