Discovering Zion

State Sen. Richard Alarcon, along with state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and 16 other guests of the Anti-Defamation League, spent the week of April 24-30 touring Israel. The trip ran simultaneously with that of Children of the Dream, an ADL project to foster mutual respect and tolerance among young people.

It was during a trip to Yad Vashem with members of the youth group that Alarcon found himself caught in a bittersweet irony, one of those moments of spiritual beshert so frequent in Eretz Yisrael.

“The kids from Children of the Dream were presenting a wreath there and asked me to give the speech at the presentation,” Alarcon says. “Just prior to that, we had visited the Children’s Memorial. This was two days before the anniversary of my son’s death, and I felt this incredible bond with the parents of these 5 million children who were killed. I couldn’t help but express my feelings in the speech. When I later asked when the Children’s Memorial had been built, they said 12 years ago — the same year my son died.” (Alarcon’s 3-year-old son was killed in a car accident in 1987).

This was the senator’s first trip to the Middle East. A practicing Catholic, Alarcon said that he was amazed by the strong religious connection he felt to a place he’d never been before.

“From day one, it was an incredible experience,” he said. “The first thing you’re struck by is the sense of history and of being connected to that history. It really brings your spirituality to life.

Alarcon believes that the trip will benefit him and the other legislators.

“I have one of the largest Jewish communities [in California] in my district, and I now feel I have a better understanding of the issues of concern to them,” he said. “The trip also gave me a better appreciation for my own religion. Having gone to the Holy Land and seen all the different groups interact in Jerusalem, you see the equivalence of religion. I believe I have always been tolerant of other religions, but this embellished my belief that you can have peaceful coexistence and respect for each other.”

Honoring Thy Mother