Dr. Adina Bar-El, scholar, lecturer and children’s author, from Moshav Nir Israel, and Roni Keidar, human rights activist from Moshav Netiv HaAsara, visited the communities and told their special story at a number of major events and before young and older audiences. We believe that the connection created via the personal stories and professional insights of the speakers we send to the communities advances the relationship by leaps and bounds and encourages reciprocal visits to the Israeli partnership region. Here are Roni’s thoughts and stories from the visit:
On February 19, 2013 I arrived in Phoenix, my first stop on the Speaking Tour I was about to begin thanks to Partnership2gether and the Jewish Federations of Phoenix, Tucson and Seattle.
Excited full of motivation, very much at home with the message I brought with me that basically there is no contradiction between being a Zionist, a supporter of Israel and a feel for the necessity to make sure that our neighbors, the Palestinians, have a right to a homeland of their own, not instead of but side by side with Israel.
On March 20th, I was to speak at the Film Festival following the showing of the film “Blank Bullet”. I chose to talk about my experience in 1982 – the evacuation of the Northern Sinai where our original village, Netiv Haasara was, in relation to the outcome of the disengagement from Gaza in 2008, as portrayed in the film. I tried to present what can happen to people going through such a trauma – either fall into depths of pain, anger and revenge or lift oneself up and look forward to the future with hope. There was a good discussion following the talk some in agreement and some not but even a woman who said that originally she thought of not coming to listen to me because she is a supporter of Israel, as she said, she was happy she came and added that she intended to join me at another talk.
The following day involved meetings with Eitan Bindelgals and the Partnership2gether Committee, a welcoming introduction to the people who are committed to strengthening the ties between Jewish congregations in their region and the people in Israel by allowing them the opportunity of understanding different perspectives.
On Friday morning I visited the Metro West High School. There were 3 45 minute sessions of about 70-80 boys and girls at each, all from difficult backgrounds, many of which did not know where Israel was let alone Gaza. During the talks there was absolute silence in the auditorium and I saw how attentive they all were. The questions after the talk showed just how much – absolutely amazing the way they related to the hostility in the region and similar situations some of them are confronted with.
All in all I found that I did manage to touch a variety of people at all ages and different backgrounds. I had a wonderful time but felt a bit guilty of not being exposed to greater audiences. I must commend Shahar Edri and Susan Swift for their tender loving care during the whole visit, getting me on time to each event, taking videos and doing their utmost that everything went according to schedule. Here I want to express my deepest thanks to Karin and Rene for their hospitality that went far beyond expectation even for family. I have a feeling you might enjoy the connection with them in the future.
The next stop was Tucson, where I was to spend 7 days. Guy Gelbart did a terrific job of making the best of those seven days. 2-5 talks daily that included a broadcasted interview with Rabbi Cohan on Too Jewish and another during their 10th anniversary at the Fox Theatre. I met with students at the University of Arizona, Junior High and High School classes, various congregations with various political affiliations.
I was also interviewed for a magazine. Here too I felt that I had touched people in different ways – I think that the most important message that I managed to convey was that one can be a Zionist and Support Israel even when one sees things in a slightly different way, even when one realizes that as long as our Palestinian neighbors don’t have a decent free life neither will we have a secure life, free of fear. There were those who agreed with what I had to say, there were those who were skeptic and thought me naïve but I felt that they all listened to what I had to say and tried to understand where I was coming from. Those audiences who were less supportive of what is happening in Israel – at the check posts, for example – were reminded of the terrible inhuman situation the military was confronted with at those places. Unfortunately when things go smoothly and the soldiers are sympathetic and ready to assist it is taken for granted and no one writes about it. Only when things are bad do they reach the media and the public, which allows for a somewhat distorted picture.
The hosting families I had, Carolyn Sanger and Judith Sears, were absolutely wonderful and I feel I have gained new friends that I hope I will stay in touch with. They made me feel so comfortable and at home away from home. They, Guy, Ken and Gila were all helpful in showing me the sites of Tucson, taking me from one talk to the other and introducing me to the different communities. I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone. Thank you all.
On March 8th I arrived in Seattle. I was greeted at the airport by Dina Tanner who immediately informed me that there was some resentment concerning my visit. As we got into the car there was a call from Israel worried about the negative reaction. That very evening I gave a talk after Friday Night services at Hillel. Here again I met with enthusiastic students who wanted to know more about how it was possible to live under constant threat of missiles and rockets and yet be against violent retaliation. The talk and the discussion thereafter were very good. The following morning I spoke after Shabbat services to the Beth Shalom congregation. There I had the opportunity of meeting my “opponent” who came up to me and said that this was the first time that the Federation had sent someone so aggressive. I assured him that I have been called may things – naïve, a dreamer but never aggressive and hoped he would stay to hear me talk and suggested that afterwards we could discuss further. The gentleman had made a thorough research on everything I happened to have signed over the years and that was what he really had against me. The rest of the visit went smoothly and I was received well at the different groups I attended. Dina managed to arrange a variety of groups and congregations – all ages from junior high classes through University students and retired communities. I met with people who thought my views too far on the left side and those who thought they were not far enough. In all cases I felt at the end of the talk and during the discussion that there was an understanding to what I was trying to put across. Dina did an excellent job in planning the visit, finding the hosting families and arranging for my being taken from place to place, not to mention the concern after my health and escorting me to the hospital. Dina, what would I have done without you? Thank you so much. My hosting families, Barbara and David Goldberg, and Janet Neumann and Ricardo Wenger, deserve a big thank you too. Here I also got that feeling of home away from home. Their caring and attentiveness to all my needs went far beyond the call of duty. Yet more friends I have acquired across the ocean. Then there were Lorna, Benjamina and Amy HP, who were always ready to drive me wherever necessary and show me some sites, spend time with me and make sure I have my coffee and snack in between.
What more can I say? I came back with a feeling that my message was well received and the feedback I got was amazing. I think that I managed to make it quite clear that one can criticize yet love and support, that one can be a Zionist yet wish for a better life for one’s neighbors, and that one can acknowledge mistakes and injustice that had been committed, without being considered a traitor, in order to make amends and move on in a better way. I also made it quite clear that I am not taking full responsibility for this never ending conflict and that it does take two to tango but it would be to our own advantage to try a new way of thinking, a new strategy because it is obvious that what we are doing now is getting us absolutely nowhere, only deepening the pain, the hatred and the vengeance.
I got the feeling that my message came across loud (not too loud) and clear even if not everyone was in agreement but that too, of course, is OK. One thing I am quite sure of, I was given a precious opportunity to meet more wonderful people on the journey of my life…”