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Rabbi Mark Shapiro
Friday, February 26, 2016

Dear Friends -
It's Friday afternoon here in Tel Aviv and I'm eager to share some reflections with you.
I really want to tell you where I am today.
Most obviously, I am in Tel Aviv.
I'm here for the annual convention of the CCAR (Central Conference of America Rabbis.). Some 300 Reform rabbis from the USA and elsewhere have gathered together these last few days...first in Jerusalem and now in Tel Aviv through the weekend.
But where are we?
Well, we/I have been in many places since arriving in Israel. Tuesday morning along with my fellow rabbis, I was in the Knesset/the Israeli Parliament.  We participated in a session of the Knesset committee on Diaspora Affairs. 
This was Israel. 
Members of the Knesset spoke to us about Israel's need to live up to its dream of being a democratic Jewish state.  What does that mean?  In particular, what does that mean when it comes to recognizing that there is more than one way to be Jewish.  Orthodoxy has had political power in Israel for decades, but these parliamentarians were adamant about opening the doors to you and me and the progressive way in which we approach Jewish living.
It was an empowering and important morning.  It was Israel.
But I've been elsewhere as well in these last few days.
Marsha and I were part of an excursion into the West Bank where we visited the first planned city designed for Palestinians.  
Who knew?
Who expected that in the middle of the craggy mountains leading down to the Jordan River we would find an ultra-modern city called Rawabi rising out of the desert? The plan is for 40,000 Palestinians to call this beautiful place home.  
So often we think of the Palestinians as a kind of desperate, uneducated, angry people.  
As I learned the other day, the real picture is broader than that.  Like you and me, there are many Palestinians who want nothing more than a decent home and a good education for their children.  I was there; I saw the dream.
And yesterday I was in Jaffa, which is Israel's ancient Mediterranean port.  For several hours, we walked through Jaffa and met Israeli Jews and Arabs who are trying to make Jaffa into an example of how Israeli Jews and Arabs can live together and thrive together.  
I was there and I saw that side of Israel.
Then came this morning when those of us at the convention had the opportunity to participate in the Tel Aviv Marathon!  We were doing the 5K walk/run.
This was an Israel I had never met...There were thousands of people there.  I mean thousands.  Old, young, men, women.  Music filled the air.  Tens of vendors were there selling everything from the newest Adidas to sunglasses to ice cream.  And there was great happiness in the air.  Great joy and energy.
It's true that during the last few months we've read a great deal about terrorism and knifings in Israel.  That is why there was a security presence all around the Marathon site.
But that was in the background.  
The real Israel was in the smiling faces, the loud music, the energy, the dancing, and the announcer who launched us on our part of the race by declaring...
Indeed, it was.
When I return, I'll have pictures galore to share with you.
For now, suffice it to say that I am in Israel with its challenges as well as a sun that shines brilliantly and brightly over a land that is growing and changing before our very eyes.
What a privilege to visit Israel.
What a privilege to tell you the story.
Be well, friends.

Shabbat shalom from Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Mark Shapiro

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