Summer has just arrived here on the Upper West Side and with it that joyous feeling that the warm weather brings, no matter the conditions of the sky. Despite it being mid-June, since returning from Tel Aviv on Sunday, I don’t think I’ve seen the sun. I smile remembering that my Zionist adventure began 20 years ago in my quest for a summer with uninterrupted sunshine. Why else would a mother of three young children take up residence in a Jewish Agency sponsored absorption center in Ra’anana during the hottest part of the summer? Clearly, I was searching for bright Jewish experiences to warm my soul so that the Judaism that I shared with my children was one that harmonized all aspects of a beautiful life filled with moments of personal and collective pride.
Since selling the Jerusalem apartment last summer, I’ve made three trips to Israel and all of them have been based in Tel Aviv. Last week’s trip was centered on the magnificent HaZamir Israel concert Thursday night in Nes Tziona, attended by hundreds of proud Israeli parents from across the country, as well as lovers of fine Jewish choral music. Beloved Israeli composer Nurit Hirsh graced the stage with her talent, as she did in New York City last spring at Lincoln Center, singing “Oseh Shalom” with HaZamir. The professional head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Isaac “Boogie” Herzog, was also in attendance and from the stage recognized the unique Zionist work the Zamir Choral Foundation is doing through the vehicle of the musical arts. Having helped grow the HaZamir Israel program on the Jewish Agency Partnership platform, I was very gratified for the public recognition of HaZamir and especially Vivian and Mati Lazar. As I have said over and over, of all the projects I have been involved with in the Jewish world, none is as personally gratifying as my support of HaZamir. In the world of HaZamir, our simple message is that harmony amongst the Jewish people is possible, if we only take the time to listen to each other before we raise our voices.
These trips to Tel Aviv have shown me a very different part of Israel than I was used to in Jerusalem, not to mention that I’m hotel and not home based. Shabbat dinner found our group of six in the dining room of the Tel Aviv Carlton enjoying a delicious meal. At the table next to us was a large group of people connected with the Jewish National Fund. Amongst the special guests was a strikingly beautiful very tall black woman who was recognized as a former Miss Israel. A simple internet search revealed that Yityish Aynaw was the first Ethiopian Israeli to be crowned Miss Israel, representing the Jewish state in the Miss Universe contest in 2013. I smile recalling our simple conversation where I thanked her for representing us so beautifully. It was one of those “only in Israel” moments where in on a beautiful Erev Shabbat by the beach I crossed paths with an immigrant from Ethiopia who became Miss Israel. Literally, a beautiful Zionist moment.
This particular trip to Tel Aviv coincided with Tel Aviv Pride. It is no surprise to me that in a country that embodies the extreme nature of all things, this celebration of love, acceptance and difference was hugely colorful, pulsing with a vibrant energy. We got our taste of the parade scene as we navigated our way through the crowd to get to the market on Friday. What struck me the most about Tel Aviv Pride was the number of non-Jews who traveled to Tel Aviv to be a part of the the Pride festivities. In a a global climate where anti-Zionist sentiment seems to be in vogue, I don’t take for granted these visits by foreigners who aren’t a part of the Jewish People. I took advantage of the opportunity to chat with Pride visitors, thanking them for visiting Israel and sharing my hopes that they see a very positive side to our very complicated homeland.
To be entertained while traveling on this particular trip, I downloaded the Israeli show “Shtisel.” I chuckled to myself as I watched an episode sitting on the balcony of the Carlton, overlooking the Tel Aviv beach. There, on a sunny afternoon in mid-June, I was literally surrounded by the extremes of Jewish life in the Jewish state. After so many years as an Israel activist, what I know is that in order for the Jewish state to thrive with the support of the Jewish people, we must find a way to harmonize the values that define both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. That was always the essence of Sacred Rights, Sacred Song. That is why I devote so much of my time, energy and resources to the mission of HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir. That is why I am so grateful to be a part of the Israeli Judaism committee of the UJA-Federation of New York. That is why I am so proud of my children and grandchildren as they live very loud and proud Jewish-Zionist lives.
The sun has finally come out on this first afternoon of summer, 5779. May the clearing skies be the beginning of a summer that holds countless moments of beautiful harmony as Jews and Zionists the world over share their pride in the modern miracle known as the State of Israel.