Broker Check

January 14, 2003

          It was incredible that this was our third trip to Israel to celebrate the Bar or Bat Mitzvah of our four children. It was just nine years ago that we stepped off the plane for the first time. But this time you just knew it was different. Different because there were no tourists there. That’s an exaggeration, there were a handful here and there. We appeared to be almost the only Americans there. We all know the reasons why; people believe it’s not safe there. Before I went, almost twenty people asked me to be careful in Israel. But before going, while I could imagine danger, I could not imagine the concept of a virtually tourist free Israel .

          It’s amazing that nobody said to be careful driving to Newark airport, for clearly driving on the New Jersey Turnpike was the most dangerous part of the trip. It’s amazing that nobody said to be careful on Israeli roads because the daily newspapers in Israel are filled with articles on vehicle fatalities; I read of at least 15 while I was there. But all ignored these dangers and only thought of the one which is prominently displayed daily in American newspapers, radio and television, the suicide bombers.

          I feel sad that I cannot communicate to others that those ingrained feelings of fear melt away as soon as you disembark from the plane. I feel as sad when I cannot convince those same New Yorkers and New Jerseyans that it is safe to come to Manhattan, too. I also feel sad that this is a world in which I no longer ride in the same bus with my wife to work in Manhattan.. But, unlike others, I refuse to be constrained by my worst fears. It is amazing to me that others do not feel this way also.

          We have always felt very safe in Israel, what with constant checking of our persons before entering any building or in sensitive areas such as the ones surrounding the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. It’s the same feeling I now get when walking into a New York City office building and going through a security check (since September 11, 2001).

          It’s incredible that where Israeli site attraction parking lots would be filled with tour buses that only our vehicle stood (which had to move once due to the presence of a suspicious item). Some tourist sites shortened their hours, some shut altogether. Many tourist shops were closed and those that remained were struggling to stay in business. Sad to say, we felt so bad for them we felt a need to buy something we might not have purchased. We stayed in several once bustling five star hotels where we were one of the few guests staying there. On the bright side, there were no lines at any sites. Times in past I would have wished for shorter lines. Now, I do not.

          I cannot express adequately the warmth that was extended to us by ordinary Israelis in thanking us for coming to their country in their hour of need. At times we did not know whether to cry or feel embarrassed. Before coming, I could not have imagined the feeling that we were given performing this great mitzvah in merely coming to this beautiful, exotic and always troubled land.

          It has been five years since we were last there and there have been so many changes. Among them the constant exploration and reconstruction of ancient sites, but so too is the building of infrastructure for the modern state of Israel. It was only by being there that I was able to see the facts on the ground which I only read about in newspapers; the proximity of the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo to the village below from whence Arab gunmen shoot nightly at the Jewish suburban apartments above. We saw the concrete barrier which Israel caused to be erected between the towns upon which the Israelis have painted pictures of the former view. We were able to see Har Homa and how it strengthens the Jewish defense ring of Jerusalem against the pugilistic Arab towns of the West Bank. We saw the building of new roads and tunnels around Jerusalem that may be the bypass roads due to an envisioned final settlement involving Jerusalem and its suburbs. A settlement that will come when the Arabs desire peace. In my comfortable home in New Jersey it would be impossible to appreciate this. We also saw the evolution of Eilat into a non gambling version of Las Vegas and perhaps most unusual of all, making Masada handicapped accessible with a new larger cable car and paved walkways.

          It was incredible to see and hear Israelis going about their daily routine when the Western newspapers paint a picture of a country under siege.  Nothing could be further from the truth from my observations. It is true that some restaurants had a security guard as did the supermarkets and each group of at least 15 Israeli school children. But I worked in New York City in the 1970s when bombs used to go off on Fifth Avenue, went to Montreal in the 70s when any corner mailbox could contain a bomb, went to London where the IRA sets off bombs. I have been on the Golan Heights and by the Lebanese border the day before being shelled, and I have been on Ben Yehuda Street several days before a triple bombing. To me, it is a welcome sign that Israel is dealing with their problem rather than a call to avoid a place I want to go. Of course, the fact that I go does not mean that I will not exercise caution; just as I do whenever I walk on a New York City street.

          The Israeli newspapers were filled with headlines of political scandal and economic news with any shooting incidents relegated to the inside of the paper; just the reverse of papers in the United States.

          We visited Israeli bunkers deep in an extinct volcano on top of the Golan Heights which have been vacated due to the 1973 Kissinger negotiations as to the disengagement between Syria and Israel troops. It’s amazing that on the same day we planted trees in a JNF forest, went to a wine tasting at a Golan Heights winery as well as bathed in a hot springs that was used as recreation by both the Syrian and Roman armies. We rode donkeys like our forefathers, dressed like the patriarchs, and made our own bread like they did. We also rode camels and ate and talked with Bedouins after walking down the Roman Ramp from Masada.

          It is incredible for me to see the difference in towns in Israel. A Jewish village can always be found on the top of a mountain landscaped with trees and bushes as well as red peaked roofs. While treeless Arab villages are found on the base of hills with the best lands, and large flat topped houses. While nobody in the States will believe it, the Arab Israelis continue to farm their ancestral lands; it is the best land in Israel and the Israeli Jews have not seized them, contrary to what is portrayed in the American media. As an American I hate to admit it, but where it comes to Israel and its society, the American media is biased to the point of outright lying and I cannot trust what I see or hear at home.

          It is most incredible that Israelis and American Jews don’t understand each other. Israelis believe American Jews will return once the Iraqi situation is dealt with while American Jews don’t give this much of a thought. Americans are frozen in terror by the concept of suicide bombers while Israelis go about their daily lives and trust their army to deal with it. Israelis don’t grasp that Americans will not return unless they feel they will not be in danger. Americans, who are daily bombarded with images of the Intifada, do not compare this to the fact more people are murdered in New York City each year than killed in the Intifada.

          It is always a source of amazement to me to have the celebration of Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel since it is a statement instead of a party. Trust me on this one, I have been to many a celebration in a synagogue; none compares with an outdoor ceremony on top of Masada or before the walls of the Temple Mount with the panoramic vista of history lending meaning to the event. But, it is probably most incredible that after three trips to Israel to celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, our children feel as at home on Ben Yehuda Street and in the Cardo as they do in Times Square.

          When I was younger I used to ask my elders what they did to help European Jewry in 1930s and Palestine in the 1940s. From most, I received silence or a shrug. Some day when my grandchildren ask me what I did during the intifada, I can say I stood with Israel by taking my family to Eretz Yisrael..

          Have no doubt about it, we are American in spirit as well as outlook but there is something indescribable about leaving Israel that makes one feel very sad and longing to return. We shall return because it is a beautiful land; we shall return because in some way it is our land; we shall return in a show of solidarity and defiance, so we say, Next Year in Jerusalem (or on the beaches of Eilat).