This Sunday I am going to get on a plane. I am going to travel halfway across the world to Israel for what is, most likely, the most important and wonderful experience of my life. And I am terrified.
I have spent the past four years developing and honing a platform from which I can advocate for Israel. It’s called “12 Cities in Israel”. Ironically, it was all originally just a plan to spend another summer in Israel at Ben Gurion University. But, it wound up becoming something more than that. It became something that defined who I was as a person. It also helped to define who I was as a Zionist and as a Jew.
This is important because we each find comfort in defining our camps. “I am a Progressive”. “I am Orthodox”. “I am on the Right”. These are all statements that publicize our unique definitions of individual identity. What is tremendous about this is that these definitions don’t detract from the multi-colored tapestry that makes Israel so diverse and rich with culture.
I was given a gift in being allowed to study in the Jewish Studies program at The City College of New York. Part of this gift was being made aware of the concept of a “seat at the table”. This is a tremendous idea. Basically, the premise is that if we treat every opportunity and interaction that we have in the same way as we would a guest in our home, then our relations and understandings of each other would benefit exponentially.
I have applied this idea and this concept to showing everyone the State of Israel. My Israel. The Israel that I have experienced. I have arranged to sit down with more than twenty of Israel’s brightest and most creative minds. I will be sitting across from a table, in front of a microphone, in the heart of Tel Aviv from academics, entertainers and heads of some of the most prestigious Jewish organizations in the world.
In the media and on the news, Israel is often misrepresented. It is shown as dispassionate and unempathetic. It is represented as devoid of the qualities that are required of a cultured Western state. In film and on television, the “Israeli” character is often portrayed as cold, unsympathetic and mechanically pragmatic. This is what I am going to change. This is why I am showing the world the “real” Israel.
These guests that I will be sitting down with are a cross of Israeli culture. Of the academics, I will have the honor of sitting with the first woman to hold the position as president of a major university in Israel. Another guest is the head of a high school for students from across the world who come to spend a year in Israel. Another studied under the tutelage of the late Elie Wiesel and now educates the world on anti-Semitism and The Holocaust. And, another coordinates the international program for a major Israeli university, sharing her country and her culture with hundreds of students from across the world.
I will also be sitting with individuals who have devoted their lives to championing causes that impact communities and individuals across Israel. One such person has dedicated her life to giving women within the Orthodox community a stronger and louder voice. She has championed the cause of the Agunot and worked to fight the erasure of women from Orthodox media. Another is a professional dancer, who through her organization fosters peace between the differing communities in Israel. She has brought Jews, Arabs, Christians and Druze together through dance.
I will also have the honor of sitting with my fellow members of the media in Israel. I have the special privilege of being able to share a table with a man who has spent decades working as the gateway between the media and the Israeli government. He will give his tremendous insight into how the world crafts its message when they speak about Israel. I will also be speaking to a man who is the voice for the people of the Jewish community of Hebron. His work goes all the way back to the evacuation of the Gush Katif settlement in Gaza and he continues to bring his message to the world today through his online podcast and his appearances on television news programs worldwide. Also, I will have the opportunity to discuss the media’s role in society with a woman who is both a news journalist and a documentary filmmaker.
All of these personalities are tremendous opportunities to show the world the diversity of culture and ideas that exist within The State of Israel and I haven’t discussed the stories of even half of those who will be appearing. I have numerous others whose lives add to the rich tapestry that I spoke of, the rich tapestry that is the Israeli experience.
There is one though, that I must speak of in order to illuminate for you the idea behind my fear of undertaking this project. Among all of these icons of modern-day Israel, I have been given the rare opportunity to sit with a retired general of the IDF. A general who despite his exemplary career and his track toward a leadership position among the political elite, gave all of it up to care for his physically and mentally disable son. He has been a part of all of Israel’s suffering and triumph and has served in almost all of its military engagements. He is now a part of a different life and heads an organization that brings care and community to those who suffer the same challenges as did his son. I will get to hear his stories; I will get to share in his insights, and I will get to be a part of his history.
This, this is where my fear that I spoke of in the beginning steps in. I need to get this right. It is a tremendous responsibility. I will be showing what I perceive to be the best of Israel and I will present it to the greater world stage. I will be showing that Israel works to allow all to have a “seat at the table” regardless of where they stand on the political, religious or social spectrum. I am going to show that Israel is a place of diverse cultures and ideas and that even though we don’t always get along, we still manage to make it through the day. That’s it. No pressure.
So, stay tuned.