By the time Kol Kehillah comes out, I’ll be in Israel on a trip with rabbis and heads of Jewish agencies from all around Greater Atlanta. Returning home, I’ll be stopping at London for a few days. I want to share with you what we’ll be doing and why I’m going.
First, though the itinerary is ever-changing, here’s some highlights as it stands right now. The trip was originally planned before October 7th, however, the trip itinerary is now almost entirely focused on the aftermath of October 7th. Nearly every place we visit and every person we meet with will be focused on Israel and the Middle East as it is right now, and perhaps with an eye towards the future.
We’ll be meeting with a diverse group of people, including Jews, Muslims and Christians. These include several scholars and journalists, such as Rachel Korazim, Yossi Klein Halevy, and David Hazony. We’ll be meeting with various community leaders including social workers from the Israel Trauma Center who are working with evacuees, the Executive Director of the Museum of the Jewish People, Maoz Inon, a peace activist and founder of the Abraham Hostel whose parents were both murdered on the October 7th attack, Mohamud Darawshe, Director of the Givat Haviva Center for Shared Society, who will speak to us about Israel’s Arab Citizens after October 7th, and Cardinal Pizaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
We’ll also be visiting various sites, including Tel Aviv Museum Plaza – renamed Hostage Square, which is now the focal point for efforts to prioritize the return of the hostages, K’far Azza which was brutally attacked on October 7th, Sderot, an Israeli city near Gaza, Rahat, a Bedouin town, Netivot, a town on the border of the war zone where special kitchens have been set up to feed thousands of soldiers serving in or near Gaza, and Mount Herzl National Cemetery.
I’m going on this trip for several reasons. First, is because I want to show my support for people who are suffering. My family immigrated to America more than a hundred years ago, but they very well could have turned east towards Israel instead of west – or, worse, stayed in Europe to endure, and possibly die in the Holocaust. To me, being Jewish is being part of a people. Yes, it is important to care about all people. And all people are equal. At the same time, we are parts of groups that we feel particularly connected with, whether that is our family, our community, or our Jewish people. Second is because I want to learn. Israel is not a monolith, and it’s sometimes hard to hear the conversation from afar. We’ll be meeting with people from many corners of Israeli society – scholars, journalists, Jews, Arabs, soldiers, peace activists, and more. Israel is a diverse country. I’m proud that the people who put together our itinerary are making sure that we encounter this diversity. Finally, I’m looking forward to an immersive experience with other rabbis and Jewish leaders from the Greater Atlanta Area. We are often very busy working in our own synagogues and rarely do we have time to do much together. Some people I don’t really know at all – I look forward to getting to know them. Others I do know – I’m looking forward to spending time with them and deepening that relationship. On the whole, I think it’s very good for the Greater Atlanta Jewish community that we’re able to have this experience together.
On my way back from Israel, I’ll be stopping over in London. Part of this is for personal reasons – I lived there for five years and am looking forward to seeing friends. However, a big reason is because the timing is perfect for me to attend a special event. I’ll be leaving Israel first thing Sunday morning, February 4th and arriving in London that afternoon. A few hours after touchdown the Westminster Synagogue will be having its 60th anniversary celebration of the Memorial Scroll Trust. This trust was formed to receive, care for, and distribute 1,584 Torah scrolls taken from communities near Prague in the Holocaust. Temple Kehillat Chaim has one such scroll from Bzenec. Ten years ago, in 2014, when I was serving in London, I attended their 50th anniversary, and so did Rabbi Harvey Winokur. After the 50th anniversary, Rabbi Winokur reached out to me because one of our scrolls was from the same community as TKC’s scrolls and he was trying to organize a joint trip. That was my first introduction to Rabbi Winokur and TKC. I’m delighted that everything is working out just right for me to be able to attend the event while returning from Israel.
While I’m away to the extent I am able, and certainly upon my return, I look forward to sharing with all of you what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned. I’m grateful for the opportunity for this trip. I look forward to going, and I look forward to coming back.
L’shalom, to Peace.