November 19, 2018

Busy Days, Busy Nights

April 19: This morning at 10 a.m. air raid sirens blared. No, it was not a terrorist attack but the commemoration of Yom HaShoah — Holocaust

Remembrance Day.

Everyone in Israel stood at attention for two minutes. My friend and I stopped right in front of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Center.

It was a thrilling and chilling experience to see hundreds of Israelis get out of their cars and stand at attention. Even though Israelis consider themselves very hardened, they will never forget Hitler’s evil regime.

During the day, I visited both Bikkur Cholim and Hadassah Medical Center. I gave each of these important medical facilities donations from our congregation.

I had lunch with April Quinn, our temple member and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) student. She looks forward to returning to California but is having a wonderful experience.

I can tell you that I am exhilarated after my first 24 hours here. The people are united against terrorism, united for peace and united about remaining on the land they have fought so hard for the last 56 years. As one cab driver put it: "We are commanded to hope for peace — we have no other choice."

Another bit of cabbie wisdom: "The Jews are not able to kill all the Arabs, and the Arabs are not able to kill all the Jews."

In the end, we must live together. We have no other choice.

The people here are very much in favor of the killings of the Hamas leaders. I was told that Dr. Rantisi was a pediatrician who convinced young children to become suicide bombers. This is the ultimate contradiction for any doctor, especially a pediatrician to advocate that children kill themselves.

April 20: Yesterday, emphasized the past; today, the future. I met with several rabbis serving local Reform congregations and also with students studying at HUC [Hebrew Union College] in Jerusalem.

You remember Chanukah and the Maccabees? Did you know the Maccabees’ hometown was Modi’in?

I met with the rabbi of the modern town of Modi’in, Kinneret Shiryon. I gave her a contribution. There are 25 Reform temples in Israel — all of them need outside financial help. Reform Judaism is growing in spite of obstacles caused by the Orthodox.

Our group of 25 Reform rabbis met for dinner with 70 future Reform rabbis, cantors and educators from HUC. April sat next to me. We had a glorious time that included a Q-and-A session.

I asked students about the highlight of their year in Israel. The answer I loved the most was from a young woman who said she "was now living her life on Jewish time," meaning that state holidays in Israel are all Jewish holidays.

At night, I met two old friends. Their 17-year-old son is about to enter the army and his parents are both proud and scared. They are proud of what their country has achieved in 56 years, but they are scared because they see no peace on the horizon.

The weather is beautiful. Pray for peace.

April 21: This very warm day was spent in study and discussion. American rabbis spent time with European and Israeli colleagues.

After 35 years, I connected once again with Rabbi Brian Fox, who is currently serving at a congregation in Manchester, England, after serving in Sydney, Australia. You will never guess what Rabbi Fox and I spent most of our time discussing: Mel Gibson’s movie! The Jewish community in England was also outraged.

The evening program brought together three activists from Jerusalem discussing the contemporary situation. They disagreed on many issues, but I was drawn to these conclusions:


• The Israeli occupation is unattainable but so is peace with the Palestinians.


• The war between Israel and the Palestinians is really about Israel’s existence.


• There is a state of hopelessness on both sides. Each side sees itself a victim and finds it difficult to move beyond its own pain.

I have one more day in Jerusalem and at night I will be making my way to the airport for the long flight back to Los Angeles.

April 22: My last day began with the editor of the Jerusalem Report, a respected English-language weekly. Gershom Gorenberg also asked me about Gibson’s movie, which he had not seen.

We discussed the role the media plays in America’s perception of Israel, with its emphasis on sensational news, while common every day occurrences are not mentioned.

I also attended a briefing by the commander of Israel’s Army School of Law, Col. Giora Eiland. He told us of a program teaching Israeli soldiers to treat Palestinians they meet with respect and dignity and about the 11-principle code of conduct for soldiers.

He said Israelis are not at war with Palestinians, as war is only between states. Therefore, what is occurring, according to him, is "an armed conflict."

Before going to the airport, I visited the Western Wall of the ancient Temple in the Old City. There were thousands of people praying, and I joined them.

I have much to be thankful for and much to ask for. Being at this unique place was a fitting climax to four very full days in our spiritual homeland.

Blessings from Jerusalem

Lawrence Goldmark is the rabbi at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada.