Across Israel, Meir Panim responds to the growing needs of the country’s 1.75 million impoverished residents through various food and social service programs.
Anyone who has been to Israel is familiar with the countless religious, spiritual, and aesthetic attributes the land holds. The country is rich in Jewish tradition and historical significance abounds. There are awe-inspiring sights that leave indelible marks in our minds and souls. Israel is a land that has a special place in all of our hearts.
I have been extremely fortunate to travel to Israel on many occasions. While every trip is special in its own unique way, my most recent trip was the most meaningful one for me yet. I just returned home after traveling to Israel with my eleven-year-old daughter. This was my daughter’s first visit to Israel, and the effect the experience had on her was nothing short of spectacular.
She fell in love with the land the moment we stepped off the plane. Clearly exhausted after the long flight, during which time she was too excited about her journey to sleep, my daughter immediately perked up as her eyes took in the sights around her. Just walking through Ben Gurion Airport on the way to retrieve our luggage and viewing all of the Hebrew signage was exciting for her.
During our time in Israel, we stayed with close family friends who live in Efrat. To the international community, Efrat is simply another one of the “settlements” that many perceive to be an impediment to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In reality, Efrat is a flourishing and vibrant city that serves as a home to 10,000 residents.
My daughter immediately fell in love with Efrat. It was not just the city’s beauty that captivated her attention; it was the sense of community and camaraderie that permeated the air. The warmth of the families who make Efrat their home and the sense that you are in the midst of a community where Torah and a love for Eretz Yisrael is a fundamental part of people’s lives was not lost on my daughter. Although the rest of the world may consider a community like Efrat to be a nuisance due to its characterization as a “settlement,” to the Jewish people it is one of the backbones of our homeland.
According to my daughter, one of the highlights of our trip was the time we spent in Jerusalem. Whether it was walking through the streets in the center of town, perusing the wares at the Machane Yehuda open-air market, or strolling down the streets of Mea Shearim and Geulah, she thoroughly enjoyed it.
And then there was the Old City. Walking through its streets with my daughter was an experience I will treasure the rest of my life. Visiting the Kotel with her was extraordinary. We stood together at the crossroads of the Jewish universe and watched as Jews from all walks of life, hailing from all over the globe, came together to pray. My daughter was acutely aware of the fact that though people may have been speaking in many different languages, when they stood at that Wall they were all speaking to the same God.
Another highlight of the trip was our journey to Kever Rachel and the city of Hebron. Now that control of Bethlehem has been relinquished to the Palestinians, it has become somewhat of an adventure to access the holy site where our matriarch Rachel is buried. After passing through a security checkpoint and traveling through a colossal corridor of concrete barriers that separate the Jews traveling to Kever Rachel from the Arab residents of Bethlehem, we were fortunate to be able to enter the site and pray that our Mama Rachel will continue safeguarding the Jewish people.
The memory of our time in Hebron is something that will stay with my daughter and me for a long time. Thanks to the Hebron Fund, we were able to visit with some of the residents of Hebron. These people are true Jewish heroes who are on the front line of our ongoing battle to maintain control of a holy site that rightfully belongs to the Jewish people.
Walking with our heads held high through the streets of a city where the small Jewish community is surrounded on all sides by a huge Arab community, and where the signs that adorn many of the storefronts are in Arabic, was a special experience for my daughter. When the voice of the local muezzin shattered the silence with the Islamic call to prayer just as we were ascending the steps leading up to Mearat Hamachpela where our forefathers are buried, it was a stark reminder that though Jews are a minority in Hebron today, they remain an integral part of this holy city that somehow, some way, must always remain in the hands of the Jewish nation.
But for all of the thoughts my daughter expressed to me during our time in Israel, there was one question she asked that took my breath away and made me engage in some deep introspection. On our last day in Israel, as we were preparing for the flight back to the United States and reflecting on how wonderful our visit had been, my daughter turned to me, looked me right in the eye, and asked, “Why do we have to leave?”
It was a very profound yet simple question, to which I sadly had no good response.
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