Today we were pulled in many emotional, intellectual and political directions, which I think is the objective of this trip. First, we visited the Israeli Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed and proclaimed. It was a very moving introduction to Zionism and to the experience of the nation's founders. In 1909, Tel Aviv was just a sand dune, a stretch of land bought from the Turks (who ruled the area before the British) for a lot more than the Dutch bought Manhattan from the Native Americans 300 years before, even after inflation! The woman who works as a guide at the Hall was clearly an accomplished speaker or even actress and spoke with passion about the founding of the country. She said many things you would expect, but one of them stuck with me. She said that each time there is a tragedy--a war, an attack--it feels to Israelis like it is the first time; they have not become inured. I don't know if that is true or if it is part of her shtick, but I did wonder.
From there we went to the offices of the Agudah, Israel's national LGBT organization and also the place where a gunman invaded a meeting of LGBT youth 18 months ago killing two people and wounding many others. It was difficult to be in that same space, especially sitting next to my 18 year old son, but important to hear that story.
This afternoon and evening was devoted the The Situation - no, not the guy with the six-pack abs, but the Arab-Israeli conflict. We spoke with the head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (similar to the ACLU) and the Israeli Religious Action Center, the Reform branch's policy and social justice organization. They are both very upset with their government and where it is taking the country ("over the cliff" one of them said). There were many assertions that the situation as it is now is just not "sustainable." Basically, the polarization is getting worse and worse and hope is waning. But of course, they are the hope. The work they do, with so many others, including their Palestinian partners, keeps the pilot light of peace lit.
I would be remiss (and not at all myself) if I didn't mention the food. First of all, there is so much of it. Every place we have eaten has been a veritable banquet. The plates just keep coming and coming. It's like the Israeli version of the Catskills. The fruit (the reddest grapefruits) and the vegetables (gorgeous multicolored salads, luscious avocados), fresh cheeses, and amazing hummus. Luckily there is a lot of walking.
I'll end with some pictures:
The view of Tel Aviv from our balcony
Some great sculpture from Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood before Tel Aviv was built.
Political street art. Above the gun it says "Zionism is Death" and on the post there is a sticker (with the yellow arrow) that says "Cheer Up."