Update from Rabbi Jan Kaufman:
Over 40 people gathered at the Dan Panorama Hotel this evening to open the RA/Masorti Emergency Solidarity Mission. In addition to RA members from both the US and Israel, there were representatives of Conservative congregations in the US and Masorti Kehillot in Israel. We are proud of how many rabbis boarded a plane on less than a week's notice and traveled thousands of miles to stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel. Our colleague, Gil Kollin, told his wife that he just wanted to get on a plane and go last Sunday and on Monday, the RA announced its mission and he signed up right away.
Gordon Tucker, co-chair of the mission, explained that the group would accomplish several goals on the mission including bringing hizuk to our colleagues and kehillot and demonstrating our solidarity as American Jews, both for members of the public and Israeli leaders. The mission program continues to undergo constant change, such as the schedule changes late today of Ambassador Shapiro and Tzipi Livni, whose duties called them away.
Gordon introduced our opening speaker, Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency, and invoked the admiration that so many of our colleagues have held for him since the days of the Soviet Jewry Movement. Mr. Sharansky expressed his appreciation to us for coming to stand with Israel at this time. He noted that there are several groups expected on aliyah this week including a flight from the US and 413 Jews from France and there has been not one cancellation. The planes to Israel have been full. He spoke about the work the Jewish Agency is currently conducting during this daunting challenge for Israel. JFNA has been raising money for Operation Protective Edge and has given the Jewish Agency carte blanche on providing for families in harm's way, whether it is sending kids to camp or providing families with some desperately needed R&R. The international Jewish community is doing all in its power to make sure Israeli families can be comfortable during this time.
He spoke about the casualties in the war and decried the Palestinians who use their innocent as a human shield. He expressed sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians, especially women and children. Sharansky, who is currently not in the government or a member of the Knesset, proposed that Israel should spend the next three years working on developing a civil society between the Israelis and Palestinians. This includes developing trade, educational exchanges, etc.
After minhah, the group assembled for dinner at which our colleague, Mauricio Balter, gave a touching toast to our group and to a cessation of hostilities. We were addressed by Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Minister of Intelligence, International Relations and Strategic Affairs. Introduced by our colleague David Ebstein, he pointed out that Dr. Steinitz's sons celebrated their b'nai mitzvah at Kehillat Moriah in Haifa. Minister Steinetz expressed how moved he was that our group came to stand to Israel at this time.
Minister Steinetz noted that in the last 2 weeks Hamas has launched 2000 rockets to Israel. The goals of Operation Protective Edge are to 1) destroy the Hamas infrastructure 2) bring order to Gaza and to demilitarize Gaza. Dr. Steinitz recognized this is very complicated and a very painful decision to undertake this operation. However, Hamas has insisted on launching rockets and Israel has no choice but to defend itself.
While Iron Dome does a terrific job of intercepting rockets, Dr. Steinitz pointed out that Israel has destroyed more rockets on the ground before they are even launched which has prevented hundreds of deaths, both of Israelis and Palestinians. In the midst of the current hostilities, he pointed out that Israel has not forgotten about a nuclear Iran, an issue central to the future of Western civilization. Not a day goes by without his paying attention to Iran and Dr. Steinitz warned that we must be vigilant on this issue.
We thank both Natan Sharansky and Yuval Steinitz for addressing us and hearing our concerns as well.
After dinner Emily Levy-Shochat, former Chairperson of the Masorti Movement in Israel, brought greetings on behalf of the T'nuah. She said we had done so much already for the Masorti movement just by coming to Israel at this time, even before we have left for our visit with kehillot. She thanked the Rabbinical Assembly for organizing the mission and the ongoing work of our executive vice president, Julie Schonfeld, in not only planning this mission but her continued advocacy of Masorti.
The RA expresses its thanks to Yizhar Hess for all of his help in planning this mission and especially of the last minute schedule changes. He has worked tirelessly for the past week.
In the morning, the mission leaves for the South where we will visit with our kehillot in Ashkelon, Beersheva and Omer.