The president of a local fundraising consulting firm recounts his recent visit to the Jewish state, spurred by an urge to show solidarity in the wake of the war in Gaza.
Following the war with Hamas this past summer, I felt a tremendous sense of urgency to travel to Israel. I needed to demonstrate my solidarity with the Jewish state.
My last visit was in 2006 during the second Lebanon war with Hezbollah. My husband and I led a Federation solidarity mission with 15 gay and lesbian Jews from the Greater Philadelphia community, the only mission that went to Israel at that time. Prior to the war, we were 30 strong. Unfortunately but understandably, we traveled with half that number. We went to say hineinu — "we are here." The message was loud and clear. We would not and never will let terror dictate our devotion to the State of Israel.
My husband and I hadn't traveled back to Israel since then due to the birth of our two children, Ethan and Eliana, now ages 7 and 4 respectively. The daily responsibilities of caring for two young children coupled with work and personal obligations created a separation and distance that quite frankly was becoming perilous to my own understanding of the conflict.
The 24-hour news cycle of misleading information about the war was creating dissonance inside, and I felt a threat to my own perceptions, beliefs and understanding. I needed a reboot to make sure that all was in check. The visit would give me the opportunity to challenge my own comprehension and assumptions of the situation without the interference of terribly biased and increasingly incoherent American media.
Moreover, I was feeling ever greater distance with my loved ones there — some 50 cousins from both our families. I wanted to see them, kiss them and show them that their family in America, Mexico and across the globe stood shoulder to shoulder with them. They, like Israel, would never be forsaken. It was time to go home.
The personal highlight of the trip was visiting my beloved cousin Miriam, a true eyshet chayil, woman of valor. Miriam is 91 years old, a Holocaust survivor who, along with two sisters, escaped Poland. Six other siblings, including Miriam’s twin brother, perished. All of them are recorded at Yad VaShem, a project I undertook in 1990 during the period of the first Gulf War when I lived in Israel. I wanted to ensure that their souls would be forever remembered. In fact, a couple of years ago, a young Bar Mitzvah boy from Chicago reached out to me as he had selected one of these cousins who shared the same birth date with him to be his Bar Mitzvah twin. At his ceremony atop Masada, he read aloud the name of my cousin and together, one in body, the other in memory and spirit, undertook the important responsibility of being a Jew.
Although cousin Miriam didn’t recognize me, the result of the ravages of Alzheimers, I fulfilled my first goal. I kissed her three times and thanked her for all her love and tender care for me when I lived in Israel. I kissed her husband of 68 years and embraced my family.
The rest of my trip was focused on engaging in learning and reflection around the war and the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, if not with the people directly, most certainly with their political leadership. I traversed Israel’s most beautiful countryside from the Galil and Golan in the north, to Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley in the heart of the state, to Beersheva and the south. I participated in a national mission of LGBT Jews exploring gay life in Israel sponsored by A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist organization based out of San Francisco. I traveled with the Association of Reform Zionists of America to further explore the country's religious landscape and to learn how progressive Judaism is slowly and steadily increasing its influence in Israeli society. Lastly, I spent money to help Israelis recover from a devastating loss of tourism revenue this summer.
While I missed my family, this was a jampacked trip that I had to take. Every stone, wall and conversation was full of meaning, history, complexity and an unrelenting yearning for peace. Nowhere else in the world do I feel that.
I have returned to the States with a renewed and invigorated commitment to Israel and to advocate for her security and identity as a robust, democratic and Jewish state with Jerusalem as her eternal capital. Am Yisrael Chai!
Lee Rosenfield is president of Rosenfield Philanthropic Consulting Services, a fundraising practice specializing in capital campaigns, legacy giving, leadership development and foundation development.