I think that this will be my penultimate blog post, with one more to follow with reflections on the trip as a whole.
Wednesday was the last day of the mission and unsurprisingly it was filled to bursting. The morning began with Shacharit at Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv, the flagship Reform community in the city. There we met with the newly ordained Rabbi Or Zohar. His story was fascinating, and a reminder that Reform Judaism has a unique opportunity in Israeli society to appeal to both the Orthodox and the Secular, possibly serving as a bridge between the two. The music he used to lead us in the service was spiritually uplifting, and I am excited to see what he and his community, Kehillat HaLev will be able to achieve, and how they will continue to grow.
After this we heard from Colonel Bentzi Gruber about the ethics of war and how the Israel Defense Force conducts itself against the terrorists to minimize the loss of life and the harm inflicted to the civilian population. It was shocking to see the way in which the terrorists use this Israeli ethical imperative to protect themselves and put others in harms way.
We saw a video of a terrorist carrying a kicking and screaming child across the road, knowing that because of this, the Israeli sniper would not fire. And then we watched as missiles were detonated in open areas, away from their targets, because the terrorists had sought refuge amongst a group of civilians. Israel gets a lot of bad press in the media, but it was quite amazing to hear from someone on the front line about what is done to try and conduct a war as ethically as possible. I am so very proud that this is the way the army of the Jewish State conducts itself!
One of the other challenges Israeli society is currently facing relates to how it deals with immigrants and asylum seekers coming there from Africa. These people are fleeing persecution and oppression in their own countries, undertaking a hazardous journey in search of safety. The situation is far from ideal in Israel, and none of them have been accorded the rights which accompany being recognized officially as refugees. We visited a kindergarten for the children of these immigrants, and spoke with a woman who fled from Eritrea to save her life. Her hope is that things will get better in own country, so that eventually she can return home. This is a group within Israeli society in need of help and support, and maybe Israel also needs our help and support in working out how to deal with this challenge.
Our final official part of the program involved a visit to Leket, an organization which collects food in order to redistribute it to the poorer members of Israeli society. We sorted through vegetables (eggplants, lettuce and tomatoes), separated them into boxes and then gathered together the boxes to fulfill the various orders they had received. It was a tangible way for us to help the poorest sectors of Israeli society, and it was a very appropriate way to finish our tour.
All of our visits on this final day were a reminder that there is work to be done. Work to be done to help to continue the growth and development of Israeli Reform Judaism. Work to be done in reminding people about the type of ethical army Israel has built. Work to be done to help the African refugees in Israel. And work to be done to help the increasing number of people living in Israel below the poverty line. In many ways our trip was simply a first step in finding ways to help overcome these challenges.