A short while ago, I arrived in Israel. Joined by our trip chair Representative Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, and by JCRC board members Beth Badik and Ben Pearlman, I am privileged to be leading our annual winter study tour for Massachusetts legislators. Twelve state representatives will be spending the next nine days experiencing Israel and the region while learning about the challenges and hopes of this place that is so near and dear to all of us.
After five winters leading these trips, and having accompanied almost one third of the Massachusetts legislature to Israel during this time, you might think I’d get a bit jaded. And it’s true, I’ve spent more time in churches in Jerusalem than I ever expected to when I lived there as a yeshiva boy. I’ve visited the Dead Sea far more than this ‘once in a lifetime’ experience requires.
Regardless, every trip is unique and special for me on two counts:
First, with each group, I get a fresh chance to see a place I care about so deeply. It’s amazing to encounter Tel Aviv through the lens of someone who is seeing it for the first time. It is always a privilege for me to deepen my own connection to our history when travelling with someone who has never been there before. And, I get to watch firsthand as our participants fall in love with the leaders and activists who’ve inspired and energized me for years.
Second, while every trip examines long-existing challenges and the layers of history in this region, each also presents the opportunity to come face-to-face with a unique moment and get a fresh perspective on how people here are grappling with and talking about the latest developments.
We’ve all been following the terrible fires this past week, especially as they’ve impacted our beloved sister community in Haifa (and if you haven’t already, please join me in supporting CJP’s emergency relief campaign). I’m looking forward to getting back there next week to see and support our friends and to connect our travelers with our long-term partners.
We’re also coming here for the first time since our own elections. And, while I’ve said a lot these past few weeks about what this election means for our domestic priorities, here is the opportunity for all of us on this bus to learn how Israelis and Palestinians are reacting to our outcome. We’ll hear from strategic thinkers with their views on U.S. engagement both in our role as ally to Israel and also as a larger actor in the region. We’ll want to know their take on the shifting U.S.- Russia relationship, their insight regarding Russia’s client regime in Syria – which is also backed by Iran’s regime; and what this all means for Israel just days after an IDF encounter with ISIS in the Golan Heights.
So yes, it has been JCRC’s incredible privilege to bring so many members of the Massachusetts legislature - as well as dozens of other clergy and civic leaders - to Israel over the past five years. I am profoundly grateful to have the opportunity and the donor support that allows us to be here. This experience never fails to energize and inspire me. It will, I am confident, renew and strengthen my own commitment to all that we do both on the ground in Israel and back home in Boston.