Update from Phil Malcom

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (GA) in Israel. The events for the conference were held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Latrun, and after the conference my wife, Laura, joined me for a few days of exploring the country. For both of us, it was our first time in Israel, and it was an absolutely amazing experience. I’ll be discussing more of the details of the GA in an upcoming Jewish Press article, but today I’d like to focus on the experience of being in Israel during such a complicated time, a time of both celebrations and protests, of both the recognition of incredible prosperity and the existential fear of attacks.

The timing of the GA allowed us to participate in Yom HaZikaron commemorations and Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations all centered around the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel. The sense of national pride was undeniable, from the moving stories of fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks hosted at Latrun to the tens of thousands of people who crowded the Tel Aviv beach to witness an airshow from the Israeli Air Force for Yom Ha’atzmaut. The GA’s opening ceremonies also coincided with similar events for the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Keren Hayesod, and the World Zionist Organization, all of whom joined together to share the diaspora’s undying commitment to the State of Israel. This was clearly a time for celebration.

And yet, the night that I arrived, 160,000 people crowded Rabin Square to protest the currently proposed reforms of the Israeli government. Similar protests happened on the night that I left. We were greeted by 3,000 protestors at the opening plenary, imploring the members of global Jewry to lend their influence to the conversation. Some of the sessions were interrupted by protestors, and the controversy surrounding these changes became like a through-line to the entire event.

Further, our time in Israel was spent in the few peaceful weeks sandwiched between an uptick in violence between Israel and Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. That tension was evident, especially during our time in Jerusalem. At no time did we feel unsafe, but that sense of safety was unfortunately reinforced by the necessary increase in Israeli forces around the city. And you really can’t spend much time in Jerusalem without being confronted with the long history of violence that underpins its beautiful sites. Each enormous religious structure serves as a reminder of conquests, Crusades, and Counter-Crusades.

Ultimately, though, the images that stick with me from my visit are not the tensions or the disruptions or the stresses. What I think of when I reflect on my time there are the beautiful people working to create a Jewish homeland, a place where people of all faiths and traditions can live peacefully and coexist. I think of the Charedi woman and her Israeli Arab business partner who worked together to coach members of their communities on job interview skills. I think of the fact that protests over multiple weeks with hundreds of thousands of people have been almost completely free from violence. And I think of the fact that the even the protests at the GA highlight the sense that Israel is a product of the entire Jewish world’s commitment to a single idea. This week at our community event, JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut referenced the idea that the Jewish community is “united but not uniform.” In a strange sense, I deeply felt this during my time in Israel, despite and perhaps even because of the challenging events happening there.

When Laura and I sat down for dinner in Jaffa or ate falafel in the Carmel Market or discussed current events with our tour guide, I was often reminded of a song by Chris Thile called “I Made This for You.” He was reflecting on the US, but the words struck me as relevant to Israel as well:

So whether these days leave you laughing or crying
If you’re doing your best to be kind
This land is as much yours as mine
As G-d as my witness,
I made this for you

Israel is a unique place. The global Jewish community banded together to create it, develop it, and sustain it, and these are the reasons this nation has come so far in only 75 years. The community’s continued involvement, nurturing, and commitment to a shared home will sustain it for the next 75 years as well.

If you haven’t been to Israel before, please find an opportunity to go! We are hosting our own mission to Israel in November of this year, and it’s a great way to connect with the Jewish homeland and learn about the myriad ways the worldwide Jewish community comes together to solve problems and to create opportunities for people all over the world. We’re a part of that, and I hope you have the chance to see it firsthand.

For the most up to date info from JFNA about the attacks from Gaza and Israel’s response, click here.

For info about the upcoming community trip, click here or attend an information meeting on Thursday, June 1st at 6:00 pm. The meeting will be held in the Benjamin & Anna E. Wiesman Family Reception Room.

Thank you, and Shabbat Shalom,
Phillip Malcom