Monday, January 12, 2009

Our Mission Arrives

After midnight, first day of our trip.
I arrived this evening with a group of nine Americans led by the Executive Director of the Masorti Foundation, David Lissey. Our group includes two rabbis and six members of Conservative congregations from Connecticut, New York and Minnesota. We were greeted by leaders of the Masorti movement in Israel for an opening conversation about our goals, our program and the context into which we have arrived.
We have come to Israel at a moment of transition. Two stages of the war in Gaza are complete and the nation is waiting a decision on the next step: cease fire or "stage three" -- a full blast entry into the cities of Gaza. People speak of relative quiet, but each of us on the trip are quietly aware that our travels tomorrow will be unlike any trip in Israel we have taken in the past. For one thing, at breakfast we will be given a briefing on what to do if we hear a siren.
Tonight we learned about what people are doing in communities. For the past eight years, the communities around Gaza have dealt with sirens and bomb shelters, interrupted schedules and occasional injuries and deaths. Conservative congregations have been part of an informal network providing respite care for children, adults and elders, bringing people to the Center and North of the country for trips, warm meals and home hospitality. Today, close to 1,000,000 Israelis are living within missile range. The hospital in Beersheva has been moved to the ground and basement floors to avoid attacks, and schools throughout a radius of 40 kms are closed. For many of those who come on these respite trips, this is their first taste of synagogue as community center and their first introduction to egalitarian Judaism (A small, but interesting sidelight). Since the war in Gaza began, the work of Masorti kehillot has come to include providing clothing, snacks, prayers and support for soldiers going in an out of battle, and to the wounded and to mourning families. Tomorrow we will visit the Mashvitzki family, who immigrated to Israel in 1991, joined a Masorti kehillah and now lost their son who was in an elite engineering brigade.
The people we meet, and we are told, even the soldiers we will meet during the next two days, are concerned to know how our communities and the broader world are reacting to what they are doing. Our main response so far is to avoid detailed discussion of the losses on both sides and the terrible reality of war and civilian casualties. We focus on the most important part of our trip, affirming that our communities see themselves as intimately tied to the fate of Israel and as part of one family. I have already stopped asking people if they have children in the army or in Gaza. If they do not have children in the war, they certainly have close relatives and dear friends (as I do and as so many in my home community in Philadelphia do). We are one extended family and the nine of us are here to check in.

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