There is no better way to experience Israel than with Dr. Joe Frager, a well-connected activist both in the U.S. and in Israel and also a very good friend.
Next week, G-d willing, we will be in Israel with Joe and his wife, Karen, exploring the internal workings of the Jewish state from inside the Knesset, as well as participating in an array of meetings with the country’s movers and shakers, briefings, tours of military sites, and visiting the Knesset and the Prime Minister’s office.
As in the past, this summer’s excursion is featuring former governor Mike Huckabee, a great friend of Israel, former presidential candidate, and currently a popular Fox News analyst.
After traveling with Joe to Israel more than a few times, you learn to pace yourself so as not to run yourself ragged in the face of his boundless energy. It is important to understand that each time we travel to Israel, Dr. Frager brings new faces with him from the American political landscape. These are often personalities making their first visit to Israel and they want to experience and see everything in those few days.
So that is what I mean by the requirement to pick your spots in these jam-packed days of dealing with Israel up-close and often from the inside.
We are arriving a few days prior to the group, most of whom are departing the U.S. on Saturday night and arriving in Israel on Sunday around noon. Some of us will be there for Shabbos, but it is a very long day at this part of the year, and what would we do with them on such a long day anyway?
Some of the great advantages about traveling with Joe are the new things that he manages to unearth and make us privy to that we have not seen previously. Last summer, for example, we spent a few hours at the Tel-Nof Air Force base where we were briefed by the commander of the drone division of the IAF. We were taken to a corner of the base as well, where we saw one drone just arriving back from a mission doing reconnaissance over Gaza and another preparing to depart.
Next week, on the first day of what I will refer to as a mission, we will be traveling to Israel’s Pentagon, which I can only say is somewhere near Tel Aviv. From there it is back to Jerusalem, where the group will tour the Western Wall tunnels. Now there is something that those who have traveled to Israel most likely have done more than once. But the fact is that this is not something that should be passed up, because Israeli archeologists are always discovering new aspects of ancient Jerusalem, which always serves as a wakeup call of sorts that speaks to the connection of the generations going back sometimes several thousand years.
From the tunnels we will daven Minchah at the Wall, and then it is on to one of those magnificent homes overlooking the capital while dining on an elaborate barbecue attended by important Israeli personalities, including members of Knesset amongst others. Once again, here I am limited about how much I can reveal about the plan in advance, so more on this after we return.
The next day, the members of our entourage, featuring Mr. Huckabee, will meet with the Israeli press over breakfast at the King David Hotel. Following the press briefing it is on to Hebron to meet with community leaders in this great and important ancient city that is so filled with Jewish history directly out of the Torah.
Hebron is not just a walk through those early parshiyos in Bereishis; it is connecting with our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. It is about Dovid HaMelech and the small, quaint, and ancient city that was the seat of King David’s rule until it was moved to Jerusalem more than 3,000 years ago.
And today it is also about the very modern-day Hebron where the Israeli presence is a reality that the local population is mostly resigned to. The Arab area is, unfortunately, a garbage-strewn mess, with ramshackle edifices and huts that the locals call home. Nearby Kiryat Arba is a booming and growing city that is always expanding and building to make way for the young families dedicated to their presence in this biblical city, working in the direction of the realization of the Jewish destiny in the land of the Jews, Eretz Yisrael.
Right now our itinerary calls for traveling from Hebron down south to Sderot where every visit—especially by Americans—is a confidence-building boost for the locals who have repeatedly been tested over the last 15 years and who are the front line of the Jewish state.
While we are in Sderot we will be escorted to a recreated Gaza City built by IDF planners and in which drills are held and training is conducted to prepare for an Israeli takeover of Gaza should the need arise.
Upon our return from the south, we will have about an hour to prepare for dinner with Israel’s former justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, a leading political personality in the country but one whose political future is rather uncertain. At present, Israel is planning on holding redo elections in September, and right now Shaked is planning on running.
The itinerary says that Tuesday should be quite a day. Following davening and breakfast we are heading for Yad Vashem, which, as you may have guessed, we have visited on more than several occasions over the years. But even though we have walked through and studied the way in which the tragedy of the Holocaust is depicted and memorialized here, I have to say that there is something special and out of the ordinary when you visit the venerated location in Israel with people who are either in Israel for an inaugural visit or at Yad Vashem for the very first time. It is always a deeply emotional experience to observe these folks witnessing what the Holocaust was really about from this deeply researched and unique vantage point.
Last year, one of the non-Jews on the Yad Vashem tour with us was just inconsolable. He is an attorney here in New York, and after we completed the guided 90-minute walkthrough and viewed the exhibits, he said to me, “I don’t know, I’ve worked with Jews all my life, I have plenty of Jewish friends, but none of them ever mentioned anything like this.” I couldn’t explain it.
After Yad Vashem we are heading for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office in the center of Rechavia where we have a meeting with the Prime Minister scheduled, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
There are a couple of museum visits on the schedule and a trip over to the Knesset to meet with several government ministers.
It’s a pretty busy schedule, but there will be time to do some other important things as we are arriving a few days prior to the larger group. One of my first stops is to the cemetery in Bet Shemesh where my parents and my father-in-law are buried. Then it is on to Bnei Brak for an audience with Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, and a few other notable chareidi leaders.
Though the schedule is a busy one, it is the small stuff that looms large for us. One of those things is on the first day, after we get settled in the hotel, we make the short ride into the Old City and walk to the Kotel to daven Minchah and Ma’ariv.
After all these years, there is still nothing like your eyes meeting up with that ancient biblical piece of construction that was an integral part of a penetrating holiness that still lingers in the air at the Western Wall. Those first moments and first words that we utter, leaning our heads against the warm stones, create the feeling that we have arrived and are very much at home.
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