Mission to Israel Second Day Report - Tuesday July 22, 2014

Posted on: Tuesday July 22, 2014

Update from Rabbi Jan Kaufman: 

We had a very full day today from 7:30 this morning until 10:00 tonight. We began our day by davening with the Conservative Yeshiva at Congregation Moreshet Yisrael where its rabbi, Adam Frank, wished us a yasher koach on coming to Israel during this time. We had breakfast with the students, sponsored by the Fuchsberg Center. 

The delegation then boarded the bus for our first stop at Congregation Netzach Yisrael in Ashkelon where our colleague Gustavo Surazski serves. We were welcomed by the Roshei Kehillah, Marty Davis and Sarah Ilan. Marty introduced Dr. Alan Marcus, head of strategic planning for the city of Ashkelon, who described the detailed demographic study the community had done of its members to provide better services. For example, during these challenging times, the city knows which homes have the very young or very elderly so they can provide assistance to getting to a miklat or some alternative arrangement in the home. He showed us a comprehensive map of where rockets have fallen recently in the geographic area.

Our group went to the shelter where the gan is being held during Operation Preventive Edge. Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and JTS rabbinical student, was doing an exercise with the kids who had just finished learning the story of Nahshon and his going into the Red Sea before it had parted. He had almost drowned and then the sea parted. Amichai asked the students to draw a picture of how it felt to be like Nahshon.

Our group then proceeded to Sderot where we met with several officials including Tal Torn, the city manager in the Emergency Management Headquarters, which is underground. There are offices, wide screen video projections of what is going on in the city, and a contingent of soldiers always present. Mr. Torn told our group that the city is not afraid, "we live here and we've been here for generations. Our strength is that we continue to live our lives." Last night, Natan Sharansky made a point of telling the group that Sderot is the best protected city in the country. The city officials reiterated that point and told us that the municipality knows everyone in town and that the city is unified to fight its common enemy.

We continued to the municipal building in Beersheva where we met with Deputy Mayor, Tal El-Al and the head of security for the city. Mr. El-Al expressed his deep gratitude for our visit and told us the mechanisms and programs the city has put in place during this challenging time. On a personal note, his daughter will be attending the gan in Kehillat Eshel Avraham where Mauricio Balter serves as rabbi. The head of security for the city detailed for us all the steps the city takes to make the area safe, from maintaining bomb shelters to helping bombing victims who are injured immediately to helping them rebuild their homes.

Rabbi Balter then hosted us at his shul for lunch. Irit Zmora, past chair of the Masorti Movement in Israel, told us about the history and activities of Eshel Avraham including its outreach into the general community. Rabbi Balter will teach about Masorti Judaism in 8 schools next year and the entire 7th grade of the local middle school will come to Eshel Avraham during the next academic year to learn about Masorti Judaism.

Mauricio introduced us to Sultan Abu Abeid, director of the Beersheva office of SHATIL, a group that does outreach and community organizing. It also has some of its own projects in community engagement. Mauricio works very closely with this group, most of whose projects' constituents are Bedouins and Moslems.

Our final stop of the day was Kehillat Magen Avraham in Omer where we were warmly greeted by our colleague, Jonathan Sadoff, who serves as its rabbi and by Michael Graetz, its rabbi emeritus, and his wife, Naomi. We visited the day camp which was open today. The Home Front Command Director of the region usually decides the night before whether camp can open the following day. Camp was open today and we had the opportunity to see some of the older kids working on the computers. Yoni told us about the work of the kehillah especially during these times. The shul brought in an entertainer for a concert on Saturday night for the entire community of Omer. We davened minhah in its beautiful sanctuary.

Twice this afternoon our forty member delegation had to crouch on the bus because we heard a siren go off. It was quite an incredible experience for the bus to stop in the middle of the street and for us to all get down on the floor so we would be below the windows. Those moments gave all of us a chance to pause and think about the realities that our Israeli brothers and sisters have to deal with every day.

This evening we were joined by students from USY and Ramah and their madrihim for dinner at the Dan Panorama. Col. (res.) Elan Lerman, Deputy Director of the National Security Council for Foreign Policy, briefed the group on the current security situation in Israel. He warned that if Hamas does not accept the terms of a cease-fire soon, the ground war could last a long time and both sides will suffer even more casualties than we've seen before. Our closing speaker was Akiba Tor, the head of the Bureau of World Jewish Affairs and World Religions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He thanked us for coming to Israel to show solidarity at this time and spoke to us about concrete actions we can take in our home communities such as speaking about Israel from the pulpit, advocating with members of Congress, keeping in constant touch with our local Counsels General and writing op-ed pieces for our local papers on Israel.

Tomorrow, we are visiting several of our kehillot in Jerusalem and then headed to the Knesset for high level meetings with government officials.