Being in Israel leads to a commitment to Israel.
“It was the trip of a lifetime.” That’s how New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor sums up his trip earlier this month to Israel.
Thiele, who is my representative in the State Assembly, was with a group of 12 Assembly members including its leader, Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan.
Israeli officials whom the New York lawmakers met with included Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’Alon, Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
They spent time, too, with Racheli Fraenkel, mother of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three teens murdered this summer by Hamas terrorists.
They visited Sderot and got to see the impacts of the impacts of s the city’s being bombarded for many years by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
They went to an Israeli military outpost on the Golan Heights from which “we could see Damascus off in the distance and hear occasional gunfire” from the civil war raging between forces of the Syrian president and his opponents.
“Without exception,” related Thiele, the New York officials were told by Israelis that their biggest “security concern” now is “not the Gaza Strip or Syria but Iran and its nuclear capability. Regardless of political party what they are most concerned about is Iran.”
Further, they found Israelis worried about the negotiations led by the U.S. seeking to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons and “whether or not” what is being asked for of Iran “is enough.” The trip “gave me a fuller perspective on what future issues we are dealing with” and “how important Iran and its nuclear program are as a disruptive force.”
“The trip,” said Thiele, “was an opportunity to see unfiltered what the people of Israel are confronting without the filter of international media which has not always been that favorable to Israel.”
“Always brought up was the relationship” of U.S. President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that “is not exactly the best.” Still, “the point was made that the underlying relationship between us and Israel is so strong.”
The visit was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council. “It was not paid for by taxpayers,” emphasizes Thiele.
It included an afternoon at Yad Vashem “which was very, very emotional for everybody. That museum is so well done in the way it conveys the message of the Holocaust. It brought back something I hadn’t thought about for a long time. My father served in 10th Armored Division in World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received a Purple Heart. He was among the American soldiers who liberated a sub-camp to Dachau.” His father, the late Fred W. Thiele, Sr., also of Sag Harbor, “used to tell me stories about that when I was a young boy. Being there in Israel was the first time it all coalesced for me—the overall history and the fact that, in a small way, a member of my family had something to do with liberating the camps.”
Thiele said he has always been “a strong supporter of Israel, but with this visit got to see the country and meet with its leaders and meet with everyday people and learn what they are confronting.” With it, “I have a renewed belief in and support for what the people of Israel are dealing with. It’s a never-ending battle and requires diligence at all times.” Also, the U.S. has “a very important role through history and now” with Israel.
The Assembly members went to the Old City of Jerusalem and visited the Western Wall. They visited, too, Christian religious sites nearby including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Thiele, brought up a Catholic, was struck by the close proximity of the Jewish and Christian sites, as well as the Dome of the Rock mosque.
They had lunch with Racheli Fraenkel who, said Thiele, very much reminded him of Doris Gronlund of Sag Harbor, the mother of Linda Gronlund, a friend with whom he went to Pierson High School in Sag Harbor and like him became an attorney. She was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, taken over by terrorists on 9/11, that crashed in Pennsylvania. Both mothers have “the same temperament, a sense of inner peace.”
In Sderot, “we saw a lot of the remnants of the rocket attacks. What struck me was that every house has a bomb shelters and they have 15 seconds to react if there is a rocket attack,” said Thiele. “Obviously, that is not very much time.
“It was a short trip; we packed a lot into five days,” said Thiele. The small size of Israel—“about the size of New Jersey”—became very clear.
Further, “We looked at aspects of the economic aspects of Israel and spent an afternoon at Google Israel,” he said. “We heard about the many high-tech innovations coming out of Israel.”
The trip “gave us a really first-hand look at Israel.”
Trips to Israel such as the one Thiele was on are vital—an antidote to the vicious, full-of-falsehoods propaganda campaign being waged against Israel. The Jewish Community Relations Council and other groups organizing such visits deserve the highest of praise.