Mission to Israel: “Be Safe!”
by Rabbi Danny Burkeman
When I flew back to England, to visit with friends and family, during the summer, people offered the usual comments to a person going on holiday. Among the standard greetings I received, I was told to “have a good time,” “have a great holiday,” “enjoy your trip.” Beyond wishing me a “safe flight,” no one seemed in the least bit concerned about my impending travel plans. People do not worry about another person going for a visit to London.
This has been in stark contrast to the greetings and wishes I have received before departing on the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Mission to Israel. People have of course told me to “have a good time” and to “enjoy the trip,” but from almost everyone I have also been told to “stay safe.” I recognize that some people would consider visiting Israel at any time to be a little dangerous. And as a delicate ceasefire holds (so far) after Operation Pillar of Defense, I understand that there is more concern after all of the images we have seen of the rockets and attacks of those eight days. But nevertheless it saddens me to think that visiting my grandparents and family in Israel is so appreciably more dangerous than when I visit my family back in England.
As a child, I was in Israel visiting family once a year without fail. In the way that other people went to France or Spain, we went to Israel. At that time I did not realize that the security line was appreciably longer, and as a child I never fully understood that we always had to walk so far, because the flight to Israel was placed at the very end of the terminal in case of any trouble.
After spending a year in Israel at the age of 18, the frequency of my visits increased exponentially as there were numerous opportunities to travel with my youth movement (RSY-Netzer) for seminars and conferences. As the second Intifada took hold, I understood that there were some added risks with traveling to Israel, and there was a time when I avoided public transport. But despite this one precaution, on the whole I was never concerned for my safety, and considered Israel to be a second home.
In advance of this trip, as so many people have expressed concern for my well-being, either with their words or the looks they have given me when I have told them about my visit. I have been struck by the way that Israel is perceived. In the aftermath of Operation Pillar of Defense people are worried about safety and security in Israel.
Having heard so much concern I was, for the first time, delighted to hear that the flight I would be taking was full. People may be worried about the situation in Israel, but there are 57 rows filled with people who have not been deterred. One way that we can express our support for the people of Israel is by taking trips there. But as I prepare for this mission I wonder what else we can do?
Israel is the one Jewish country in the world, and it is by no means perfect. But as we often say: kol Yisrael aravim zeh bazeh – all the people of Israel [the Jewish community] are responsible for one another, and we have an obligation to our Jewish brothers and sisters who are there; the same way that we did for Jews in the Former Soviet Union or Ethiopia in recent history. So what can we do to help the people of Israel? I hope that this trip will provide me with some answers; so that one day, whether my children are visiting family in England or Israel, there will be no concern for their safety, and they will simply receive the same greetings wishing them a good trip.
Rabbi Danny Burkeman is the rabbi at the Community Synagogue in Port Washington, N.Y.
Originally posted at Rabbi Danny Burkeman Online