By Lise Levin
I thought this morning about friendship. Friendships of longstanding and new ones. The real joy of sharing this experience of Israel with dear friends and of watching how my JCC friends care for each other.
From Patty keeping a laser focus on us so we wouldn’t be swallowed by the mob at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to supporting each other in our varying, overwhelming emotions at the Western Wall, the value of these relationships were on my mind as we began our day.
So I was thrilled that our first visit this morning was to the Friends of Zion Museum (note to our friends back at the York History Center – 100% of the exhibits are interactive!), honoring the many non-Jews whose unselfish acts made the Jewish state possible. The first quote that greeted us was from the late Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres: “Nothing is greater than the cause of friendship among human beings.”
Among the many stories of non-Jews risking their lives and reputations for the sake of Jews they hardly knew – Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler, British commander Orde Wingate who taught the early Jewish settlers how to fight and whom they called “our friend” – I was struck by the fact that without the influence of non-Jews in high places, the State of Israel would never have come into being. Their will to exert their influence on our behalf is what put modern Israel on the map.
In contrast, our tour guide Muki talked about “free hatred,” the complete lack of acceptance of ideas that aren’t ours. He pointed out to us that the Talmud says that this is why the Second Temple fell, because Jewish sects couldn’t put aside their differences to act as one on their own behalf. And he drew a parallel between this and the role of our JCC in York. We must draw a hard line that we cannot cross, to celebrate the diversity, the pluralism, of our members and of the York community.
The dangers in forgetting this were made clear on our last visit in Jerusalem today. At the JCCA office, we participated in the experience of Israel’s shifting history, so that I became Lise Lebanon to nearby Sue Ann Syria. And we were all left with the harsh reality that Israel, with its tortured history of being conquered, of conquering, with its roots literally dug deep in the earth making it possible to tour the home of a high priest of the Second Temple era, that the shifting sands of Israel’s existence are so perilous that you have to wonder if friendship can save it. Friendship is personal; tribalism is not. How many Raoul Wallenbergs would it take to bring peace to the world? And which of us is that unselfish that we would be willing to pay that price?
Leaving Jerusalem, along the route down to the Dead Sea where time seems to have stood still, I thought, we all have the power to choose. Will we look out for our friends, the ones we know and love? Will we be willing to make new friends? Or will we stay with the tribes we’ve already chosen and forsake all others. History tells us that our chances are slim of surviving, in Israel, in troubled countries around the world, even in America. But today’s lesson is that we must hold fast to friendships of all kinds, from the friends we already love to the new ones we are still making. It’s a path open to each of us.