AS a mature Australian man, I had a yearning to revisit Israel at this time. Aside from recent political events, I have long harboured a deep pride in Israel, as a Jewish homeland. In truth, this was to be my sixth visit to Israel over 40 years. By way of background I attended state public schools; I attended youth group, Habonim, and my previous five visits included Academy as an early university student, two family weddings, a United Israel Appeal mission, and a Maccabiah-proud parent.
When an organised mission for May 2023 fell over, and with a deep yearning to revisit Israel still persisting, I rapidly moved to plan B. My son-in-law David Greenfield – a self-acknowledged political junkie who lives in the east coast of the US – agreed to join me, and we immediately sought independent self-directed, assisted learning.
I was keen to deeply immerse ourselves in current Israel geopolitics, and went about planning an independent mission. This planning included; the advice of local friends, securing a tailored Israeli guide who was aware of our need to see both Gaza and Jerusalem up close, booking a BnB in downtown Tel Aviv, and curating a week of intense learning; which included a Freedom of Speech Conference, as well as Charedi and East Jerusalem perspectives (among others).
Little did we know that when we landed in Israel in early May on my birthday, we were in for an immediate one-week deep intensive; the escalation of hostilities with Gaza! Our hectic pre-decided guided itinerary included a walking tour of Tel Aviv highlighting the early development of Tel Aviv and the founding of Israel, a Jerusalem visit, including the Temple Mount and perspectives of the wall/fence, and also a drive to visit a moshav on the north Gaza interface, Sderot as well as agricultural highlights of the Western Negev, all with a geopolitical emphasis.
Additionally, we visited multiple museums and galleries (ANU – the Diaspora Museum and the Peres Centre of Innovation are simply world class). We were fortunate that David has a background in driving in New York, and so we hired a car, but given the congestion on Israeli roads, this is NOT to be recommended!
On Shabbat – our day off – we walked the beachfront of Tel Aviv, marvelling at joyful rikudim, went to a local soccer match and delighted and supped at local Tel Aviv food offerings.
We attended a US-based conference on free speech; and given such timing of local political unrest, even this was interrupted by a (controlled) local protest. Other highlights included meeting media analysts, and various workers who are committed to defending Israel’s good name. We enjoyed a Charedi food tour in Bnei Brak, an Israeli soccer local play-off and a light-deprived restaurant where food was served by the blind in pitch dark.
We witnessed, up front, the wall dividing Jerusalem, and the patrolled hostile fence dividing Gaza from Israel. We met Israeli pioneers showcasing the Western Negev; agricultural magic, and residents in Sderot living with the reality of a mere 15 seconds to respond to red alert sirens.
My observations… Wow, wow, wow!
Despite much local unrest and division, the current modern Israel is a thriving democracy! I have witnessed Israel over the last 40 years, and well remember working on Kibbutz picking grapefruit, and a paucity of water, red meat and logistics/services. I recall living in 1975 with a Moroccan family in a development town in Israel’s north, also during a period of great security concern. I also recall losing a colleague serving in the IDF who was shot down in the Second Intifada.
As a child of Holocaust survivors, I was always aware of Israel’s precious place in the world, and the human and economic cost to build modern Israel. The evolution of statehood over my visits, has simply been beyond belief!
In spite of the weight of world events; modern Israel has evolved to be a complete modern marvel. The infrastructure developed is beyond belief. I was struck by the airport, the roads, the modern skyscrapers, the train and light rail system, the educational and health delivery models are simply world class. The defence and IT capabilities are world’s best practice, and all this established in such a short period of time! The new Israeli bird – the crane – is rolling out infrastructure at a lightning pace. The Jaffa light rail is in pilot mode, and Tel Aviv streets are rapidly being morphed to enable more efficient and much-needed access.
Jewish art and culture is exquisitely showcased in world class museum installations, where museums highlight viewer-centric Jewish and Israeli vision. Yes, there most certainly are existential and local security threats, as well as much internal conflict, but I was struck by the vibrancy and momentum of modern Israel!
Modern Israel with world class health, education and civic programs has to be visited to be believed, and all this against such adversity, over such a short period of history.
Israelis have developed a swagger for immediacy, and on so many aspects have built a nation that is a light unto others. My examination across many endeavours discovered an incredibly vibrant country, so nurtured by its pioneers, and really a miracle land built by its pioneers and forefathers. Recent events have stirred acute internal conflict, and yet the local protests are peaceful, but very boisterous.
Much of my reflections as a mature Australian dwelt on the comparative advantage of an Australian Constitution; and as a non-Jurist, I can’t help reflecting on the value this could add to Israel society.
My fix to revisit modern Israel has refuelled, and empowered me to confront asymmetrical Israeli reporting. All you need is a good guide, and a roof over your head, and an adventurous spirit! Am Yisrael Chai!
After an organised trip to Israel fell through last month, Danny Beran went on an Israeli mission of his own.
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