Following the war with Hamas this past summer, I felt a tremendous sense of urgency to travel to Israel. I needed to demonstrate my solidarity with the Jewish state.
My last visit was in 2006 during the second Lebanon war with Hezbollah. At that time, my husband and I led a federation solidarity mission with 15 gay and lesbian Jews from the Greater Philadelphia community, the only mission that went to Israel at that time.
Prior to the war, we were 30 strong. Unfortunately but understandably, we traveled with half that number. We went to say “hineinu: we are here.” The message was loud and clear. We would not and never will we let terror dictate our devotion to the State of Israel.
That was then. This is now.
My husband and I have not traveled to Israel since 2006 due to the birth of our two children, Ethan and Eliana (now 7 and 4, respectively). The responsibilities of caring for two young children, coupled with work and personal obligations, created a separation and distance that quite frankly was becoming perilous to my own understanding of the Mideast conflict. The 24-hour news cycle of misleading information about the conflict and the war was creating dissonance inside, and I felt a threat to my own perceptions, beliefs and understanding.
I needed a reboot to make sure that all was in check. The visit would give me the opportunity to challenge my own comprehension of and assumptions about the situation without the interference of terribly biased and increasingly incoherent American media.
Moreover, I was feeling ever-greater distance with my loved ones there (some 50 cousins from both our families). I wanted to see them, kiss them and show them that their family in America, Mexico and across the globe stood shoulder to shoulder with them. They, like Israel, would never be forsaken.
Last year, my family traveled to Australia for nearly three weeks and while it was a worthwhile experience, it lacked the personal significance that Israel always provides. In Israel, every stone, wall and conversation is full of meaning, history and complexity. Nowhere else in the world do I feel that. It was time to go home.
I traveled as part of a national mission of LGBT Jews sponsored by A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist organization based out of San Francisco, and with ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America.
The personal highlight of the trip was my visit to my beloved cousin Miriam, a true eyshet chayil, woman of valor. Miriam is 91, a Holocaust survivor who along with two sisters escaped Poland. Six other brothers and sisters (including Miriam’s twin brother) perished. All of them are recorded at Yad VaShem, a project I undertook in 1990 when I lived in Israel. I wanted to ensure that all of their souls would be forever remembered. Several years ago, in fact, a bar mitzva boy from Chicago reached out to me: He had selected one of my cousins, who shared his birth date, as his bar mitzvah “twin.” At his ceremony atop Masada, he read aloud the name of my cousin and together, one in body, the other in memory and spirit, undertook the important responsibility of being a Jew.
Cousin Miriam didn’t recognize me, the result of the ravages of Alzheimer’s. Nonetheless, I fulfilled my first goal. I kissed her three times and thanked her for all the love and tender care she gave me when I lived in Israel. I kissed her husband of 68 years and embraced my family.
The second purpose of the trip was to learn and reflect around the war and the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians (if not with the people directly, most certainly with their political leadership). I traveled from the Galil and Golan in the north, to Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley in the heart of Israel, to Beersheva and the south. ARZA helped me further understand and explore the religious landscape of Israel and to learn how progressive Judaism is slowly and steadily increasing its presence and influence in Israeli society.
It was a jam-packed trip. While I missed my family, this was a trip that I had to take. I have returned to the states with a renewed and invigorated commitment to Israel and to advocate for her security and identity as a robust, democratic and Jewish state with Jerusalem as her eternal capital. Am Yisrael Chai!
Lee Rosenfield of Lambertville is a member of The Jewish Center in Princeton. He is president of Rosenfield Philanthropic Consulting Services, a fundraising practice specializing in capital campaigns, annual fundraising, legacy and planned giving, leadership development, foundation relations and corporate fundraising.