As I write, I am packing for Israel, and by the time you read this column I’ll be back in New York. I’ve been to Israel dozens of times, but this time it’s different. I am going with my family—nine of us from three generations.
I want my children and grandchildren, who never knew a world without Israel, to see the country up close, so they don’t take the existence of a Jewish state for granted. I want them to see the impact of Hadassah’s work and to understand that even though I love them, even though I’m a hands-on savta when I’m at home, I can’t be with them as often as I would like because of responsibilities I willingly accept to help build Israel for all of us. And I hope to plant seeds that will encourage them to one day accept the same responsibilities.
Whenever I tell people I am headed to Israel, especially with my family, there is always someone who asks The Question: Is it safe? What about terrorism? What about last night’s news?
Fair questions. Our medical center in Jerusalem treats more terror victims than any other in the country; I know about terrorism.
Here’s the easy part of the answer: According to worldwide statistics compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the rate of violent crime in Israel is about half that of the United States. The figures include terrorism.
But when Canadians or Japanese, Europeans or Israelis plan trips to the United States, I suspect the question about safety is rather infrequent.
Why the fear factor when it comes to Israel? For one thing, people often fear what they don’t know. Someone who has never been to Israel may form opinions based on distance and difference.
People also fear what they think they know but happens not to be true—or they are swayed by the media. When I hear of a crime or tragedy in New York, I don’t think of moving to another place. That’s because I live in the city’s daily context and know that the news report, however accurate, is not the entire reality.
Foreign reporting typically focuses on extremes and ignores context; a single crime or terrorist attack appears as the entire reality. Israel is the nation most intensely covered by media in the world—but few of the foreign reporters there ever get around to the cultural scene.
Even if these explanations are convincing, they are somewhat beside the point. The truth is, I would go to Israel even if the statistics told a grimmer tale. The reason is connection.
Many immigrants came to America leaving behind family in Brazil, Russia, South Africa and other lands with higher rates of violent crime—and yet, when it’s time for a family visit, safety is a marginal factor in their decision, something that may affect which neighborhoods they enter or whether they wear jewelry in public, but not the decision to go. People generally don’t fear a place they think of as “home.”
Although I am very much at home in America, Israel is home, too. Many Hadassah members feel the same way.
I worry about terrorism in Israel, but I also worry about American Jews who have lost the connection that makes them think of Israel as the Jewish homeland. I worry about the damage done when fear is an obstacle to visiting—weakening the sense of shared Jewish destiny, not to mention the many Israeli jobs that depend on the tourist industry.
I can’t sustain the Israeli-American bond alone, but together we can—kulanu b’yahad. So make a reservation. I’m going with Ayelet Tours, Hadassah’s official tour operator. I urge you to do the same; go on a Hadassah Mission. If your family and friends see you going, they are more likely to go.
In this holiday season of renewal, let’s encourage one another to reconnect with the one place we can all claim as home.
Shanah Tovah. And bon voyage!