Exploring Israel through Tucsonans’ eyes

Oshrat Barel

Oshrat Barel

Let me tell you about the best part of my role as a shlicha (emis­sary from Israel).

Without a doubt, it is the opportunity, every single day, to meet the most interesting people and to do what I like most: explore Israel through others’ eyes — your eyes. This is so fascinating!

Through your eyes, I have learned more about the complexity of the situation in Israel. One of the many inspiring conversations I had showed me that Jews, as a people, have the ability to see the Jewish reality as well as the Palestinian reality. We can be sorry for some of what our fathers did, even though we can’t and don’t necessarily want to change that reality — and no, this is not hypocrisy!

In one week I was inspired by people from different backgrounds, each with their own story that connects them to Israel:

I met a Syrian who was raised to hate Israel and the Jewish people. However, after his move to the United States, he met many Jews and Israelis and based on his experience, his hate changed to respect and love. The turning point was marked by an Israeli teacher. When he met this teacher, he thought he was going to be in trouble. But after learning he was from Syria, the teacher

provided him with extra assistance, attention and care. This man spoke about the impact of education on children’s thinking processes and their morality. He feels lucky to have had such an experience, which changed the hate in his heart and mind to love. Because of this experience, he wants to see peace between Syria and Israel. True peace, he believes, must begin with teaching our children that all of us belong to the same source, whether we are raised as Muslims, Jews or Christians. The teaching of morality, respect, help and love should be extended to everyone. He has visited Israel many times and told me that he would do whatever is needed in order to promote peace between Israel and Syria. I have learned much from him about different ethnic, religious and political streams in Syria — and I was so impressed and inspired by his vision. I learned that you need to have a huge vision, but also the ability to create many small steps in order to achieve your dream.

I participated in a meeting with Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of J Street — and I learned how his organization became proactive. As a result of this meeting I started thinking about whether there is only one way to support the land that we love and cherish and never want to lose again … for me, there is no right answer.

I received by email a link to a play based on a true story that touched my heart and made me question myself, for many reasons. The play is about a young Israeli woman who was wounded in the early ’70s in a terrorist attack in London. Twenty years later, the woman, who also lost her best friend in this attack, met with the terrorist in jail and later even fought to release him, since she said she saw “… a different man, with sorrow and regret in his eyes, lonely and considered as a dead man.”

Fortunately, I experience these inspirational and thought-provoking moments every week.

I’m blessed to work with a group of very committed and true lovers of Israel, the Weintraub Israel Center advisory committee.

As new mishpacha (family), we got together, ate, disagreed and in the end, created our new mission statement for the Weintraub Israel Center — “The Weintraub Israel Center’s mission is to engage the Jewish community of Southern Arizona, as well as the broader community, in building a living bridge to Israel, its people and its history. This is accomplished by using educational experiences, advocacy and outreach.”

At every Weintraub Israel Center event we plan to include a mitzvah project. At the recent Chanukah party hosted by the HeartBeat of Israel (our cultural arts series, which is one of our six areas of action to address our mission) we collected gently used jackets to donate to the Homer Davis Project. We also began collecting baseball equipment for teen teams in Israel — that collection continues through Dec. 18.

Don’t miss our Weintraub Israel Center Facebook page, where you can find interesting stories and pictures — and upcoming events for January, including a Tu B’Shevat seder, an Israeli film at the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival, a talk by the firefighters who went to Israel in October, and a visit from Adisa Yaso, a young Ethiopian woman from our partnership region of Kiryat Malachi, who will share her story of trekking to Sudan and coming to Israel with the Operation Moses airlift.

Oshrat Barel is Tucson’s shlicha and director of the Weintraub Israel Center.

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