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Bet Shalom trip accents lives of those of other faiths in Israel

Congregation Bet Shalom trip participants at the Haas Promenade in Jerusalem (L-R): Morrie Shoob, Alvin Juntiff, Alan Burke, Salley Juntiff, Louise Good, Bruce Dawson, Linda Kunsberg, Vickie Dawson, Andy Kunsberg, Geoff Winston, Sharna Shoob, Bernie Engelhard, Elinor Engelhard, Carol Richelson, Gary Richelson, Rachel Snyder, Ezra Alpert, Maiella Alpert, Sandra Snyder, Allan Schwartz, Anne Kobritz, Stewart Kobritz, Rabbi Avi Alpert

Each time we put together a Congregation Bet Shalom tour, we focus on a different aspect of life in the Holy Land. This time we concentrated on the idea of living as a non-Jew in the Jewish State. This two-week tour was aimed at proving the theory that non-Jews feel comfortable, happy, and blessed, to be living in, or even visiting, Israel.

From the moment we arrived we saw non-Jews thriving in the Jewish State. We were in Tel Aviv one week before the gay pride festivities and there were already hundreds of gay and lesbian couples (mostly gentiles) from all over the world sightseeing and enjoying the pristine beach. Also present were Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim residents and tourists from Africa, Europe, East Asia, and the Indian sub-continent, of every race, sporting crosses and head coverings, also making use of the beach and the streets of Tel Aviv and Yaffo.

Our bus continued to the city of Holon where we reached a high point in our exploration. There the mitzvah organization Save a Child’s Heart brings children and their parents to Israel from around the globe to receive free lifesaving heart surgeries. Most of the children are Muslims and many from enemy nations that have no official ties to the State of Israel. Many volunteers also come to help including doctors, nurses, and social workers of different religions and nationalities, who donate their time and expertise. The children and their parents are often shocked when they arrive in Israel, realizing that they were lied to; the Jews have no horns and are not evil, but are rather generously saving their lives. The children get to play and have fun in between surgeries. We were blessed to make artwork and play games with these children as they moved our hearts.

Three days later, our adventure continued up north as we visited a brand new mosque in Haifa and met with the imam who believes in a form of Islam called Ahmadi that rejects violence. It was clear that these Muslims are flourishing in the Jewish State. The same day we traveled to an Arabic speaking Druze village. There we learned all about their unique culture and religion. Our Druze guide also explained why these non-Jews are so happy to live in Israel and to serve in the Israeli military.

Congregation Bet Shalom trip participants at Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem (L-R): Louise Good, Salley Juntiff, Linda Kunsberg, Carol Richelson, Elinor Engelhard [Courtesy Rabbi Avraham Alpert)

At the end of our adventure we toured Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. The Israelis figured out a way to literally remove the odor associated with hospitals, and more importantly to treat Arabs, Hebrews, and all people alike in this state-of-the-art institution. It was rewarding to see so many religious Muslims and Jews strolling around the hospital — a campus that looks more like an inviting shopping mall than a center for medical treatment.

All of these experiences, and more, made us abundantly aware that Israel is a safe and welcoming place for non-Jews. The stories that permeate the news are laced with falsities and anti-Semitism. I came back from the Holy Land even more invigorated than usual, as I witnessed every person who joined our adventure fall in love with the land and its people. Come to Israel with us and see for yourself!

P.S. We are already putting together two more separate Israel adventures — a culinary tour and a young family tour. Contact me if you are interested! rabbi@cbsaz.org.

Editor’s note: On Monday, Save a Child’s Heart announced it was selected to receive a 2018 United Nations Population Award. The award, established in 1981, recognizes outstanding achievements in population and health.

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