A few months ago I was invited on a trip.
The American Jewish Committee (also called the AJC), who has been holding various interfaith events in Westchester for nearly two decades, also invites leaders from throughout the country to experience Israel.
I’ve never been, and I haven’t had the resources to go. I also knew, from a few friends, that this would be a well crafted tour. I’d go with about ten other Christians – pastors, human rights activists, academics, and interfaith leaders – to learn about various dimensions of Israeli society.
I’d arrived in Tel Aviv Saturday evening after a nine hour flight. I couldn’t sleep much on the plane, but used the time to catch up on a few films: the latest final Star Wars Movie (Fun!), Bombshell (timely!), and Queen and Slim (provocative!), so by the time I got to the hotel I was pretty exhausted. Fortunately, there was nothing on the agenda: we’d gather, introduce ourselves to each other, and be able to head to bed.
They set us up in a lovely hotel called the Carlton while we were here. The breakfasts, in particular, were luxurious. Plenty of different sorts of fish, various cheeses, Jewish foods from throughout the world, as a variety of pastries. I chose smoked mackerel, a baked egg dish of some kind, with a few tapenades. And the fruit was spectacular.
Of course, we’ve been getting an overview ranging from the theoretical to the practical. The first talk, a well respected political science professor, a moderate who advises Avi Lieberman, gave a whirlwind talk lifting up the religious and historic political tensions within israel. AFter visiting churches, we visited the house of a proud Palestinian Arab Christian Israeli who used the opportunity to sell us coffee.
We then toured each the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and the Yitzhak Rabin center each a paean to their particular subjects. The first praised Israel’s culture of innovation, funded by the government. The tour guide of the center, a thin recent graduate with glasses, noted there were more than 60,000 start-ups in Israel, and was proud to tell us that 98% failed. Only to fail is to succeed he noted, which is helpful when you have money willing to take that risk. And the tour of Rabin’s center highlighted the tensions within Israeli society, even before he was assassinated.
Our personal guide, a dynamic and fashionable former attorney from Tel Aviv, mentioned that his assassination was as intense for Israeli society as the JFK or MLK assassinations were. They remained seared in Israeli society.
It’s been a broad trip so far. Questions of land and commerce; of shifting identities; of security come up over and over. The perceptions we form over the media contrast strongly with the everyday experience of most people. And then there is the backdrop of religion and commerce, each of which seem dependent upon the other.