Israel Leadership Trip: Entry 1

Jan 22, 2024 | Article, JCRC

January 21

I am about 3 hours into my final 10-hour leg en route to Tel Aviv. My first observation is that this 787 El Al flight is sold out; travel to Israel is more popular than you may think. Close quarters in seat 26B, I am ready for a distraction.

That is where you come in. For the dual purposes of sharing what I experience as well as helping me cope with it, I will journal daily and post a few words to the Colorado Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) socials. By committing to you to write daily, this affirmation will keep me honest.

Tonight, I am thinking about why people like me from all around the world are flying to Israel to volunteer. Each day of our trip I hope to relay what I learned in our travels. Finally, when I squeeze back into this oppressive middle seat late on Thursday night, I hope I can put it all in context, exploring what it all means.

Our group of Coloradans is the second organized by JEWISHcolorado to spend the better part of a week helping the displaced, witnessing the situation on the ground, and bringing love to our beautiful Israeli sister community, Ramat Hanegev.

As this trip approached, I had to think through my purposes so I could articulate them when asked. Strangely, I had two repeated conversations on the subject.

One was with worried non-Jewish friends who asked why anyone would intentionally travel to a war zone, with the perception of threat as the undertone or explicit subject of the conversation. I think many American Jews will agree it is hard to discuss what is going on in Israel these days largely because of a fundamental lack of a uniform shared bond with Israel. In these interactions, I could only relay that my feeling of safety is rarely greater than when I am in Israel. Given how antisemitism has seamlessly moved from the shadows to the public square in the last few months in the States, I don’t expect my feeling of relative safety to be any different this time. The reality that Jews face explicit danger on both the political left and right is an old axiom that was very very old and is now new again.

The second conversation is with other Jews. These discussions range from envy at the privilege of being able to participate in a trip like this to overstating the impact we as volunteers can have. Certainly, this trip is one that only a few of us can afford to do, but although the cost is great, I expect to receive a great return on my emotional investment. As we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this month, I was struck by his quote: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I like the idea that we are taking an affirmative step to demonstrate support for Israel, but I am struck by the modesty of the gesture. We live with comfort and convenience in the diaspora where we can take Israel for granted, assuming it will always be there for us despite the challenge and controversy. We get the benefit of Israel as a homeland if needed without having to physically hold the line, patrol the frontier, and raise children with unspeakable threats only miles away. These incredible people fight enemies wielding the coward’s tools of terror; rape, kidnapping, infanticide, and senicide both above ground and below. Israel navigates geopolitical waters that are inherently impossible, while armchair critics worldwide sit in judgment.

Given all the challenges, it isn’t surprising that Israel is as imperfect as America is. I am headed there because Israel is improved in small ways by our engagement, not our turning away. So I am flying East to bear witness, bring a view from the U.S. to our Israeli friends, and come home with some stories. For sure there will be an Aroma ice coffee and falafel too. I am pissing my parent’s off by doing this, so it better be good. Thanks for listening.

See you tomorrow.

Matt Most
Chair, Colorado Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)