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Morning Minyan at 7:00 a.m.
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Saturday, July 30

Tefilla Yoga at 8:45 a.m.
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Insights from Israel - Making Eye Contact in Israel

I am on a plane flying back to Chicago processing our AIPAC Rabbinic Educational Trip to Israel.  There is one day that I have been struggling to capture into words.  It was a day when we experienced the challenges of the land conquered in 1967.   Upon reflection the issue is one of eye contact.  According to scientists, humans are unique in that eye contact can be experienced as a way of promoting positive interaction.  For many animals eye contact is understood as something threatening.  Trainers teach that one should avoid eye contact with dogs that are unfamiliar to you as they might see it as a challenge to them. They go on to say that when dogs look away it is a sign of submission.  There were a number of moments of eye contact during this day which ran the gamut of expressions.

We began the day with an early morning visit to the border crossing near Bethlehem.  60,000 Palestinians cross over into Israel to work each day, 8,000 at this border crossing alone.  Amongst them are also people seeking medical treatment in Israel.  As the process takes about 40 minutes to an hour people gather early.  We arrive to the site at around 6:30 am and there are already many people outside waiting for transportation from their employer.  We ascend to the second floor and look down through metal grates that give the place the feel of a jail.  Our guide is an officer in the IDF by then name of Izzy.  He is part of a division of the army called COGAT: Coordination of Governmental Activities in the Territories.   These soldiers have the responsibility to improve the border system and help Palestinians navigate the system.  He tells us of cases where he was able to intervene and ensure passage for people who were denied.  His earnestness and caring are palpable.   The balance between humane treatment and security concerns is dizzying.  But it is looking at men trying to go to work through a cage like floor that stays with me.  There is eye contact as they look up at this group of 20 Rabbis: some with anger and rage in their eyes, others with sadness, and some with a look of irony.  Part of me wants to look away but I do not.  The complexity of modern day Israel is breathtaking.  The security walls that are now part of the landscape were built to protect Israelis from terrorist attacks, and the border crossing continues that necessity. This place represents a harsh reality and there is Izzy who reminds me that the people of Israel are far from oblivious to these issues. 

We travel to Ramala, and I have no idea of what to expect.   Our first visit is with Dr. Kahlil Shikaki one of the most respected Palestinian researchers.  His report is unsettling.  

  • Young Palestinians are increasingly in favor of a one state solution and believe that South Africa is a applicable model. They believe that BDS will have the same impact on Israel as the economic boycott against an apartheid regime.
  • Palestinian elites have zero confidence in President Abbas' ability to make peace and do not believe the international community cares about them.  An increasing number advocate non-violent political confrontations.  They are recommending ending the cooperation with Israel to maintain security and order in the territories.  

Mr. Shikaki tells us that while Israelis have gotten used to a status quo in terms of their relationship with the Palestinians; he is detecting changes that are beginning to make themselves evident.  I look into his eyes and see deep concern about the future.

From there we visit Rawabi, a massive Palestinian building project.  The 1 billion dollar first phase is coming to completion boasting 30,000 new apartments, all sorts of industry and high tech businesses with a full compliment of amenities.  It is truly a remarkable achievement and when I look into the eyes of those who are leading us through the facility I see deep pride.

Our visit to Ramala concludes with a visit with Dr. Saeb Erekat the head of the Negotiation Department of the PLO.  He has served as their chief negotiator  since the Oslo Accord.  He looks tired and his presentation shifts between frustration and anger.  While he acknowledges that there have been mistakes on all sides he is quick to share his opinion on where Israel has erred and is virtually silent about the Palestinian ledger.  I cannot not help but remember Arafat's walking away from Olmert's peace proposal and starting the Intifada.  He tells us that he feels like a failure and based upon our visit with Dr. Shikaki, it would seem that he has a valid point.  His own people have given up on him and President Abbas.  I look into his eyes and look past the anger and the anguish and see lost opportunities.

Our last visit of the day is to Efrat and a meeting with the Mayor.  Efrat is one of the most successful cities in what Erekat would call Palestine and  what Oded Ravivi calls Judea and Samaria.  Efrat is a remarkable community with nearly ten thousand residents with 25 kindergartens and 3 High Schools.  The focus of Mayor Ravivi's comments is on their relations with the Arab villages that border Efrat.  He speaks of the closeness of the communities and how one of the Arab villages warned them of a possible attack from an outside group.  He closed by noting that Efrat does not have a fence. In his eyes one could easily detect confidence, security and hope for the future. While it was a remarkable day we were all left speechless by all we had seen.  A visit to a border crossing is a stark reminder of the serious nature of Israel's security concerns.  Looking at the massive construction of Rawabi or the beautiful homes and gleaming buildings in Ramala is a powerful corrective to the idea that all Palestinians are suffering abject poverty.  At the same time nothing remains static in this part of the world and the sands are shifting as I write.  I think of Izzie who is determined to change the situation and talks hopefully about ways to expedite the process and the results of the surveys we heard from Dr. Shikaki.  I have no wisdom to offer about the situation but concern about a status quo that is unlikely to hold.

I leave you with one last moment of eye contact from our trip.  Our group had dinner in Tiberias off of the Sea of Galilee.  One of our waiters was an Israeli Arab who had just returned from studying at an American University.  He was bright and quite engaging.  Someone asked him  what he learned in America.  He noted that Americans view each other as individuals and here the tendency to see the other as part of a collective. He noted that he was trying to teach his friends this lesson.  Would that this lesson be taught on a wider basis in this part of the world.  Next June we will mark the 50th anniversary of the 6 Day War.  Israel has made remarkable strides during these years and continues to face mighty challenges.  One can only pray that the day will come when those who live in the land will be able to look into each other's eyes and see the individual and not the collective that they represent.  As the plane prepares to land in Chicago I see a new application to Herzl's inspired words: Im Tirzu Ayn Zo Agadah: If you will it, it is no dream.  Amen.


Read more by Rabbi Michael Siegel at http://insightsfromisrael2016.blogspot.com/

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Anshe Emet is launching a new theme for 2016-2017 called #weareansheemet. If you noticed our Facebook page or our tweets, we are up and running to capture the ruach of AES. We want to spotlight our diverse and vibrant congregation through pictures of our members whether they are engaging in activities from summer vacations, simchas, summer camp, family gatherings, or just great photos with AES members. 

These photos may be used throughout the year highlighting our congregation. The resolutions of the pictures must be greater than 1 MB. Please submit photographs to [email protected] by August 15th!  We are so excited to see the energy of our tremendous community.