Being in Israel with a group feels like I’m on a teen tour- I have no responsibilities to anyone, they feed us 2-3 meals a day, and the programming is amazing.
Yesterday morning we started the day with a visit to Rena Quint’s home in Jerusalem. Rena is a survivor of Bergen Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany.
She is a sweet woman who was happy to share with us that she has 4 children, 22 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren. Survivors are always happy to share how big a family they created. She was separated by her mother and 2 little brothers around the age of 5 or 6, and then reconnected with her father in a work camp where she had to pose as a 10 year old boy so she wouldn’t be sent to the gas chamber. Over the course of her life she shared that she had 6 mothers. When the war ended she had typhoid and was brought to Sweden to the hospital. She then went to New York and became Franny from Germany. She said,“My life began when Franny's ended. I assumed her identity.” Her mother was named Anna but when she died a few years later in New York, no one told her what was happening. She was then adopted by a new family and became Rena at age 10. She said this is when her life really began and she became a "Jewish American Princess". She and her husband made aliyah in 1984. Despite her difficult, unimaginable first 10 years, she felt that she was lucky and lived a happy life. It was such a privilege and an honor to meet Rena. She was so warm and friendly and it was clear that she felt blessed.
Next we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, to visit some of the outside memorials including a children's memorial.
As we walked through a dimly lit space, there were millions of small lights that looked like stars reflecting off the walls from one lit candle in the center. We heard names of children who died, where they were from, and how old they were when they died. It's hard to describe what it felt like to be there. We each tried to remember one name to carry with us. As we learned earlier this week in Poland, it's not about the numbers, every number was a person who died. At the end of our time in the museum, we were in a beautiful memorial made of Jerusalem stone and we did a short service.
Etched in to the stone were names of the hundreds of towns, villages and areas that Holocaust victims came from. I looked up and happened to see Dnepropetrovsk - which is Boston’s sister city in the former Soviet Union.
One can come to Israel and visit all the sites, but being part of this program enhances everything that we do. Not only do we have a fantastic tour guide (Tzvi who happened to be the head of USD/AZYF 10 years before I worked for them), but the program is purposeful and powerful, helping us to connect to ourselves, each other, our collective memory, and our shared future.
I’ve been a life member of Hadassah since I was born and it’s always held some importance. When we were kids, my sister Jami and would get excited when the Hadassah calendar arrived in the mail and flip to the months of our birthdays to find our names and dates listed. I’ve gone to a few events through the years but never got involved in the leadership structure. This Fellowship is my opportunity to learn more about Hadassah and what happens on the local, national, and international level and I’m so blessed to be part of this group with the other 15 strong women from around the country. Our experiences over the past few days have bonded us together. In any moment one of us may tear up over a memory or situation, and someone is quickly there with a hug, a tissue, or to hold her hand.
This morning we had a speaker, Khaled Abu Tomaeh, a Palestinian journalist who is an Israeli Arab which means he has Israeli citizenship. It was a bit disheartening to hear his take on the situation.
He said there are 2 main problems with the Palestinians that will keep them from making a peace agreement:
1) The absence of education for children about peace in Israel (the opposite actually happens, they are incited to hate the Jews)
2) The absence of leadership on the Palestinan side that have the authority to make a peace agreement.
He is frightened by what’s happening on campuses in America today. He says it’s clear that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) message is more about hating Israel and their time would be better spent helping women in Gaza have equal rights or for kids in the West bank to learn how to speak English. He said he’d rather be here in Israel with the PLO and Hamas then speak on campus, which is hi-jacked by the professionals. He got to a campus in Canada and found out that they were having “Israel Apartheid week”, he asked the people what that meant and then refuted everything they accused Israel of doing to keep the Arabs separate. That being said, there is discrimination and Israel needs to work better to integrate Israeli Arabs into the community through employment, infrastructure, and allocation of public funds.
He had a lot to say and I tried to capture the main points. The most important takeaway is that he said, “As a Muslim living in the middle east, Israel is the only place that I feel safe and have freedom of speech.” And he made sure to tell us that that wasn’t “Jewish Propaganda". He thinks that the only solution is to work with Palestinians who are willing to talk and there is currently good security coordination in the West Bank between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He likened it to a divorce between a couple that can't agree on the terms of the divorce. 92% of the Arabs are living under the Palestinian Authority in the West bank and 100% of Arabs are under Hamas in Gaza so there is already a physical separation between the 2 populations.
This afternoon we toured the old city. It’s amazing to see the walled city from outside and then tour within. There are 4 quarters within the walls: Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish. It’s Shabbat today and so it was pretty quiet, there were lots of interesting people to see and watch. We ended the day with havdalah (closing of Shabbat) and a sound and light show in the old city.
|Me and PJ from N. Carolina|
|Protestant Church in the Old City|
|Arab Shuk (market)|
|Dome of the Rock|