Monday, June 23, 2014

A Purposeful Trip to Israel

Brian Grodman wrote this article about a recent trip to Israel he took with his father. It was originally published in The New Hampshire Jewish Reporter.

In late April, my father and I spent nine days in Eretz Yisrael.  This was my tenth trip to the Holy Land, and my dad has doubled my visits.  I speak with many folks about traveling to Israel and I understand that, for many, there is hesitance.  Is it safe?  What do I do there?  How do I get around?  Who do I go with?  This particular trip included a myriad of activities.  I thought many readers could glean ideas as there is something for everyone.

Brian Grodman with his father, Larry, in front of the Fogel home.
Brian Grodman with Colonel Mordechai Kedar,
director Efraim Inbar, Professor Efraim Karsh, Larry Grodman,
and Jerry Haas at the Begin-Sadat Center for
Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.

We are fortunate to have 18 (chai) relatives living in Israel.  We landed during the late afternoon on Thursday.  On Friday, we visited a huge recycling plant outside Tel Aviv.  This facility is a tourist attraction with almost 1,000 visitors during peak times.  The facility includes a beautiful park overlooking the city below.  Friday evening brings much of the country to a slower pace as Shabbat is observed with family and friends.  While the vast majority of Israelis consider themselves secular (rarely attending synagogue), most honor Shabbat with a group of friends and/or family over a special dinner.  Saturday continues this feeling as couples, families and friends walk and hike everywhere.  There are fewer cars on the road.  Route 6, the major north-south artery (similar to Route 93) is quite empty.  This toll road was built a half dozen years ago with the same EZ pass system that was just installed in Hooksett.  However, there are no toll booths.  No electronic pass - no drive on Route 6!

My adventurous side was satisfied the following day as we rented small four-wheel buggies for a wonderful few hours in the Judean hills surrounding Jerusalem.  These fun vehicles seat two people and seeing the capital outskirts and historic sites in this manner was special.  Jerusalem is the only world capital not containing a foreign embassy.  The dozen countries that previously had their embassies in Jerusalem moved to Tel Aviv.

Tuesday provided us with a guided tour of Samaria (the northern half of Judea & Samaria), which is also called the West Bank (of the Jordan River).  This part of Israel is also described as "outside the green line."  The "green line" refers to the 1949 armistice borders that were drawn with a green marker.  Through my contacts, a community leader was pleased to spend four hours educating us regarding biblical history and current events.  There are 350,000 Jews living here.  Gush Etzion is home to 70,000 people.  Modi'in Illit has a population of 60,000.  The (Jerusalem) bedroom community of Ma'ale Adumim boasts 35,000 inhabitants.  The Little League home of Williamsport, PA is her sister city. Technically, the eastern part of Jerusalem is outside the "green line."  This is similar to partitioning the people of north Manchester from others in the city.  The violence that rained upon Jewish inhabitants prior to the 1967 Six Day War, from East Jerusalem, was constant.

My initial visit to Israel, in 1966, could not include the Western Wall.  Her US sister city is Mobile, Alabama.  From the Mediterranean city of Netanya to the "green line" is only nine miles.  This was the width of Israel according to the pre-1967 borders.  (The great Foreign Minister Abba Eban called these borders "Auschwitz Lines")  The elevation rises 300 feet during this quick drive.  However, continuing directly eastward to the city of Ariel, (with 20,000 population and Mobile, Alabama as the sister city) provides another 1,200 feet of elevation.  Thus, whoever controls the heights of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) controls the cities and communities on the coast below.  Additionally, 50% of water flows through the West Bank.  We drove deep into the territory and onto a hill called Three Seas Lookout.  From this vantage point we could follow the footsteps of the patriarchs.   In Itamar (population 1,000), we stopped in front of the Fogel family home.  The parents and three children (from newborn to eleven years old) were massacred, in their home, late in the night in 2011.  The newborn, Hadas, was decapitated.  I got out of the car and watched children playing quietly and walking on this residential street.  The 17 year old perpetrators are currently serving multiple life sentences.  Of course, there is constant security surrounding this, and other, communities with an armed guard and gate.

The following morning illustrated the diversity of Israel with a meeting at Tel Aviv University (TAU).  The CEO of their high tech venture capital fund explained various endeavors in the life sciences, computer sciences and other forays.  For example, US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was saved due to a special Israeli-designed bandage applied immediately after she was shot in 2011.  An amazing six Nobel laureates in chemistry, in the past ten years, have come from Israel.

We then drove from TAU to Bar Ilan University for a highly informative two-hour lunch meeting with the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) and three involved political science professors.  These men have high level contacts within the diplomatic and military communities.  Our discussion included, the Iranian threat, internal decision-making and foreign relationships.  When I asked for the three closest allies of Israel at the current time, I received a response of only one country: Canada.  All four believed the window of opportunity had closed for Israel to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities.

On Thursday, we were invited, on a very private tour, of the Israeli Navy SEAL (Shayetet 13) base outside Haifa.  I knew this three hour experience would be worthwhile when I had to place my cell phone and camera in a locker prior to entering the briefing room.  The highly guarded base provides the home for this unit of the IDF which is responsible for fighting the "war between wars."  The deputy operational commander was our guide and began with a Power Point presentation of some recent activities.  The constant threats and responses were illustrated and described.  We left this room and headed to the building where the dozens of Shayetet members Killed In Action, since 1949, are honored.  My request to see some of their special boats had been granted and we were escorted into a large boat hanger.  These boats are generally received from the US and then retrofitted.  Additionally, the US SEALS and Shayetet teams have some joint training.  Walking into the dormitory was interesting.  Instead of carrying backpacks containing computers and books, these young men between 19 and 22 years old, carry their automatic rifles and other weaponry.  These college-age men are listening to music, training and relaxing - knowing that they may be called into deadly action without notice.  Less than one out of 100 applicants becomes a member of this elite special force.

Friday (erev Shabbat) brought me to the Dead Sea for a hike in the 100° heat and then rappelling down six cliffs.  The view of the hills, sea and Jordanian coast is always beautiful.  I had stayed on the Jordanian side a few years ago and it was ironic to look across again.  I spent most of this time seeking bits of shade and thinking about the upcoming family Shabbat dinner!

After a failed early morning hot-air ballooning attempt, due to wind, I enjoyed the one hour drive to the family on Saturday as the roads were quiet.  We had a wonderful lunch of falafel, hummus, tahini and salads at an Arab restaurant (Jewish owned establishments are generally closed on Saturday).  Many Jews and Arabs packed the tables.

Thus, we had a plethora of activities during our nine days in Israel...and it was my first trip to Israel without being in the capital city of Jerusalem!  So, there are many interesting ways to spend time in this truly remarkable country.  Please feel free to contact me for assistance in planning your visit to the only Jewish country in the will feel at home.

Brian Grodman may be contacted at

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