When I was told Dallas would be “fetching” me from the airport in Johannesburg, his name of course caught my attention. I was tempted to ask him if he knew he shared his name with the great Texas city but I resisted temptation. He had probably been told it the same number of times as I have had random strangers awkwardly begin a spontaneous serenade of “Michelle my bell.” I would spare my new companion.
Dallas shook my hand and I was immediately captured by his smile; one of those ear to ear smiles that you can’t miss. As we made our way towards my meeting, he inquired as to my visit to South Africa. “Is this your first visit?” To which I replied this was about my 5th or 6th time in this beautiful country and finished off by begrudgingly sharing my disappointment in never having seen an animal reserve nor dipped my feet into the beautiful waters of Cape-town. Most importantly, due to time constraints, during all of my visits to South Africa, I had never had the opportunity to visit a township. He promised to take me everywhere on my next trip back.
As we stopped at a traffic light, we discussed everything. Weather and politics. Our families. We laughed realizing we were both parents to only girls. I have two. Dallas has five. He asked me where in Israel I live and I shared Jerusalem. “Jerusalem is beautiful. I am a runner. I loved running through Ben Yehuda Street and across the city when I was there.” Dallas had visited Jerusalem. I suddenly forgot my scratchy voice and shrieked with such elation. I was beyond thrilled to hear he had seen my home. He shared his two week adventure with me, from Jerusalem to Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheva, Dallas had traveled across our little land and loved every second of it. The food. The sites. The people. Eating in a restaurant in Tel Aviv completely in the dark, served by blind waiters. Walking onto the campus of Ben Gurion University of the Negev and observing Muslim students engaged in their daily prayer across the lawn. He shared with me how he literally counted down the months and days until his trip, which the South African Jewish community had gifted him with.
“I am an Ambassador,” Dallas proclaimed to me. “I am an Ambassador for Israel.”
And there it was. In that moment. With Dallas in Africa. A man who I felt such an immediate kinship for.
Someone whom like myself was led by ambition into a better future and out of the reality we had been born into.
A man who was 20 years old when Apartheid fell.
A man who knows what Apartheid was.
I asked him what it was like for him.
“That is not Israel” Dallas shared first.
“Anyone who thinks that is Israel should see what I saw. I will tell them the truth.”
I sat there in silence. In awe. In admiration. With gratitude. I could feel my eyes well with tears.
In all of the years I have taught others about Israel and through all of our efforts at StandWithUs to dispel this great defamation against Israel, I had never felt such a sense of fulfillment. Dallas is the very voice that people need to hear. That I needed to hear.
On our way back to the airport, Dallas asked me if I remain close to my parents being that my family are in the states and I in Israel. I am very close to family and miss them every day, I shared; I especially miss my Dad because he has passed away. Dallas frowned and shared his sorrow. When I told him what had happened to my Dad, my new companion put together in such simple words what many of my closest friends and family struggled with in their effort to comfort me. He truly is a special man.
In all of my years of traveling across the globe, I have met many people. Dallas was absolutely one of the most unique individuals I have ever met. He gifted me in our conversations with what no one else, in over a decade in this field, has gifted me with before. Dallas gave me conviction. He gave me the very conviction that I needed to understand that educating about Israel is critical; not only for myself and the Jewish nation but for Dallas. For Dallas and his story and the history of his nation. I am so grateful to have met Dallas in Africa. I am so grateful for the students and community members that I worked with while there. I am so grateful to feel that even as the Jewish community across the globe prepares for the onslaught of Israel Apartheid Week, including the incredible South African Union of Jewish students whom I was in South Africa with, and its hatefest on University campuses, Dallas in Africa is the light in the darkness. Thank you Dallas. From the bottom of my heart. I can’t wait to see you again in Jerusalem.