An elderly woman who had never visited in Israel decided to join a group tour. She asked a travel agent when was the best time of the year to visit. He told her “don’t go in December, January, February or March. It’s too cold. Don’t go in June, July or August. It’s too hot. Don’t go in September or October because there’s little to do during the Jewish holydays.”

The woman asked “But what about April, May and November?”. The agent replied “April is the Passover holiday and you don’t want to be away from your family. May is a maybe. And November is your Thanksgiving when you, your children and grandchildren will be seated at the table laden with roasted turkey and all the trimmings”.

“Alright”, the woman told him. “Make me a reservation for May”. And he replied “I’m terribly sorry madam, but we are fully booked for May”.

So in disappointment she bought a bus ticket for Montreal and from there, she took a train to the Canadian Rockies. While on a walking tour to admire the beautiful scenery she overheard a large group of some twenty people, all speaking Hebrew. “Where are all of you from ?” she inquired. And they told her “We are all Israelis from the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem”.

And the woman took a deep breath and sighed, “Thank God. I’m finally in Israel”.

On a serious note, the Israeli press mentioned a 40% drop in tourism from the Diaspora. Americans in particular think that Netanyahu is playing for time and for more “land grabs”. Maaleh Adumim, among other settlements, will soon be annexed and joined to the municipality of Jerusalem. But not if the ultra-Orthodox haredim can help it.

Joining settlements to create a greater Jewish population in Jerusalem will be fiercely opposed by the haredi groups who have strong connections to the religious parties in the Knesset. An influx of non-Orthodox Jews will become the majority in Jerusalem and in an election, the haredim will lose the votes.

Sadly, many diaspora Jews who made aliyah to Israel in good faith have been sorely disappointed and are returning to their former countries. There are many reasons, among them the difficulty of learning to speak Hebrew, the difficulty in finding jobs for which they were trained, the high cost of living, high rentals and exorbitant prices to buy an apartment ranging in a million, and often more, dollars.

As one oleh from Canada remarked, “Israel is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there for a long time. It is wonderful to come here as a tourist but it is much less wonderful to become a citizen. Life is hard here and frought with too many dangers.”

Another factor of deep concern to Diaspora Jews is the lack of religious freedom. While there are about one thousand synagogues in Israel, the number of Conservative or Reform synagogues can be counted on the ten fingers of one’s hands. Only Orthodox prayers are permitted at the Kotel.  Men and women are completely separated (segregated) which was not an enforced policy prior to the creation of our State.

Women are forbidden to don the religious articles of worship which are required by men. They are forbidden to sing because a female singing voice can be “erotic” in the thinking of the extremely Orthodox.  And if women read aloud from and lift up the Torah, they jeapardize their safety. Orthodox men have been known to throw chairs and rocks from their section into the reserved sections for female worshippers.

All of this is alien to Jews from countries which separate religion from state, such as the USA, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand among others. For them, the religious question is a deeply serious conflicted one.

I long for the days of the first great Chief Rabbi in Palestine, HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, who served from 1921 to 1935. He was beloved by every Jew in Palestine. He asked no questions. He welcomed every Jew, religious or non-observant, socialist or communist, city dweller or kibbutznik.

He never entered political circles but concerned himself with love and welfare for his flock of Jews. Tens of thousands of them marched in the procession of his funeral to his burial place on the Mount of Olives. He remains a legendary beloved hero in the eyes of most Jews in Israel.

In one of our religious songs there is a statement “lo kam b’Yisrael k’Moshe od navi……”  There never arose a prophet in Israel as great as Moses. And for Jews all over the world, there never arose in Israel a Chief Rabbi as great as HaRav Kook of blessed memory.

Since his death, the majority of our Chief Rabbis have been tainted with politics and the search for power and personal glory.

In the meantime, I truly hope that the elderly woman will succeed in getting a seat on an El- Al flight to Tel-Aviv in the month of May.

Hatzlacha rabba  (much success) to a first-time tourist to our beautiful Israel.