Dear Friends and Family,
We got home from the trip last night. Thank you for your good wishes and support! The trip was not as expected in many ways. One surprisingly impactful thing to me was learning (possibly re-learning) about Mordechai Anielewicz - here is what Wikipedia says about him (so it must be true):the leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization, which led the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; the largest Jewish insurrection during the Second World War, which inspired further rebellions in both ghettos and extermination camps.
We first heard about him during a visit to Yad Mordechai, a kibbutz named in his honor. This kibbutz was on the front lines during the war of independence. They held out against the Egyptian army for 5 days, taking terrible casualties. The strategic significance is that it blocked the army from getting to Tel Aviv before Israel, a brand new country, could get weapons. I never thought about it before, but you cannot purchase weapons legally if you aren’t a country, so the handful of days mattered a great deal to the survival of the country.
On our way home, we had an 8 hour layover in Warsaw (not by choice, it was just the best connection we could get). We went to the wonderful Jewish Museum there (1000 years of Jewish history in Poland) and learned more about Mordechai Anielewicz. It really tied things together for me. My bottom line is that while I don’t always agree with Israel’s political decisions, my support for the country’s existence (and defensible borders) was strengthened.
Many of you supported our fundraising attempt to raise $15,000 for the Arava Institute (thank you again). The institute is housed on the grounds of Kibbutz Ketura. It turns out that when I was picking tomatoes there 42 years ago, it was only a few months after the land was turned over from the army. There is a reason we slept in barracks; they were among the very few buildings on the kibbutz at that time! In any case, the kibbutz has grown up and is now quite lush, complete with 161 members and a swimming pool. It is one of the few kibbutzim to continue to use the socialist model of sharing money, but along with virtually all kibbutzim they have abandoned the concept of raising kids communally in children’s houses. They have also given up on supporting themselves raising tomatoes and now harvest dates and sunlight (to sell electricity).
Our tour group had the opportunity to meet with students, teaching assistants (TAs) and alumni of the institute and came away with some gems;• For some Muslim students this was their first pleasant interaction with Jews (i.e. not border guards) and it has changed their lives. They made friends with “the enemy” and some of them had to deal with strong negative reactions from their families and other friends.• I met a Rwandan TA who was raised as a very religious Pentecostal Christian. His community prays for the destruction of Israel’s enemies. Having Palestinian friends has altered his world view as well.Initially, the institute thought that just bringing people from different communities together to work on the environment could help impact regional politics as well. It turned out that Israeli and Palestinian youth have as much skill in avoiding the tough issues as republicans and democrats do at Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S. They developed a mandatory weekly seminar to force the tough discussions. We heard about the value of these seminars from many people. If anything, I am a greater fan of the institute than I was before.
Thanks to you, we raised almost $4000 of our $15,000 target! We haven’t made our goal yet, so you can still donate.
With warm wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!
Judy, Ed, Eric and Matthew