From January 27th through the 30th, I have the experience of traveling in Israel, the birthplace of the Jewish people. Thanks to support from the Israel Consul General in Atlanta, Shmuel Ben-Shmuel and his staff, especially his deputy, Aviv Ezra, and Deputy Director for Public Affairs, Gideon Meir, I have the opportunity of participating in this cultural exchange trip and sharing my journey with the community by way of the Public Broadcasting Atlanta website. This partnership enables PBA to continue its commitment to educate, inform, and to provide cultural exchanges as part of our continued mission to increase global understanding and awareness.
I will spend four days exploring, interviewing and examining Israel’s people, its culture, and its historic contributions to mankind. Israel possesses richness in history and geography that is distinct beyond the images of conflict that most Americans know. To discover that richness, will be part of my journey. My chronicles here on PBA’s website are intended to help us better understand Israel’s rich culture, religion and the national identity born out of thousands of years of history.
My first day begins with a tour of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Since its establishment two years ago, the Jewish agency’s fund to aid victims of terror has helped improve the quality of life for over 1600 families of terror victims in Israel. Then I’ll have an opportunity to a meet with Ethiopian new immigrants; visit an Israeli Arab village and lunch with Bishop Jon Battist Murion. Throughout the remainder of the week, I will visit with officials from The Second Television and Radio Authority, which is the public authority that supervises commercial broadcasts in Israel. I will also learn about Israeli High Tech, Israeli higher education and Israel’s Partnership 2000, which links members of more than 550 Jewish communities around the world with residents of 38 Israeli regions. They work towards regional development in Israel, Jewish unity and identity.
Please join me in following my journey into the hearts and minds of the Jewish people who have never severed or forgotten their bonds with this land named Israel.
Shalom, Milt Clipper President and CEO
My first full day in Israel was enlightening and rather emotional. My first stop started at 8:15 a.m. at the Jewish Agency for Israel, Immigration and Absorption Ministry. The center is headed by Andrea Arbel, Advisor to the Director General. This is one of the most unique agencies in the world. Its core business is to facilitate the immigration process. There are thirty-five centers that support immigrants from around the world. They are taught lessons in Hebrew, economics, financial support for housing, and the basic tools to live, work and to become a contributing citizen in Israel. Twenty-three of these centers are for Ethiopian immigrants. It is not until you see the smiling faces and pride of these new immigrants do you understand this unique and important program. The department also provides daycare for their adult students. In addition, there is the “At Home and Together Program.” This program was launched less than a year ago and has succeeded in coupling more than 650 immigrant families or singles with either veteran immigrants or native Israelis. The impact on the immigrants in helping them to develop a friendship with someone close by who knows the ropes is tremendously valuable to their psychological well-being. This process of nurturing is an important process that helps create a healthy social fabric for Israel.
From there, it was off to the Magen David Adom in Israel. I met with the Director General, Avi Zohar, Ronen Bashari, Jerusalem Region Manager, Dalia Edell, a paramedic, and Becky, a volunteer originally from Los Angeles. This center can be compared to a combination of our city ambulance and paramedic services and the Red Cross. It is prepared to react to any emergency or disaster event. Even the employees operating the call centers are medics ready at a moment’s notice to provide emergency medical support. This quality team of “angels” could find themselves at any time in harm’s way while saving a life. As a result, for the last three years the paramedics drive armored proof ambulances.
My next stop was to the main facility of the Jewish Agency for Israel. This historic building was once the center for the entire Israeli government during the early 1900’s. The Jewish Agency now focuses its commitment and attention on constantly improving the quality of life for its citizenry. Today, the Jewish Agency continues to build upon its achievements, laying the foundation for a new century in Israel while cementing a vibrant, Israeli-centered, Jewish-Zionist education and an identity for Jews anywhere in the world. My meeting was with several new immigrants and administrators. They came to Israel by choice and their joy and affection in being an Israeli citizen was awe inspiring. Even though they came from different parts of the world, their personal stories of their journeys to their new homeland seemed to be of one voice. They spoke of joy, commitment, unity, tolerance, and opportunity. Through the hard work of this agency and a fundamental philosophy of human rights, Israel is developing bridges of mutual respect and dialogue among diverse groups.
My next stop was truly inspirational. We traveled north to Abu Gosh, an Israeli Arab village. This village is an example of peaceful cohabitation which is equaled only by its beauty and religious significance. I had the opportunity to have lunch with an extraordinary gentleman, Rev. Jean- Baptiste Gourion. Pope John Paul II appointed Rev. John Bettis Gourion to be the auxiliary Bishop to Israel’s tiny, but growing community of Hebrew Catholics. Gourion, who has lived in Israel since 1976, is fluent in French, Arabic and Hebrew, is the community’s long time Episcopal victor. This extraordinary soft-spoken man of the cloth leads the Crusaders Church of the Benedictine Monastery, Our Lady of the Resurrection. This church was built in the 12th century by the Knights of St. John. Uniquely, a pool was built in a crypt below the church where the spring of Kyriat Yearim has flowed since the second century. The walls of the church are approximately 9 ft. thick and remnants of 12th century frescoes still adorn the walls. The acoustics are almost perfect. A whisper can be heard throughout the church. On my way to the church I saw the path where David took the Arc of the Covenant to the mountain and danced. On my return to the hotel, my heart and mind filled with inexpressible emotion. I hope one day to return to this sacred place.
I ended this incredible day by having a most informative dinner with Gideon Meir, Director General for Public Affairs, Joe Bar-el, Director General of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Johnathan Peled, Spokesman for the Ministry of Public Affairs, Eden Motti, Managing Director, IBA-TV Channel One, and Yoni Be-Menachem, Radio Director, Kol Israel.
Day two started with a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. When I opened the blinds to my hotel room the all rain from yesterday had finally stopped. As the fog lifted, it revealed the Wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. This beautiful beige stone wall was built 700 years ago. The stone is called Jerusalem stone and every building built in Jerusalem is required to be built from it. Sights like this really bring time and circumstances into perspective!
My driver, Eli Yona, was punctually waiting for me to begin our one and a half hour drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Eli is a good example of youthful commitment to his homeland. He speaks of it compassionately and never intends to leave. He has spent his 24 years of life in Jerusalem. One of four sons, he served three years in the Israeli army. He displays the same commitment and passion for his country that seems to be echoed throughout. They feel tied to this land because every family here has paid the ultimate price for its existence. He also does not take his job as a driver lightly. He strives to be the best at everything he does. In six months, he plans to marry, raise a family and find his place in the fabric of his country.
We arrived in Tel Avi early, so Eli showed me the Mediterranean Sea. The morning sky glistened on the blue water as the waves crashed on the beach. The scenic peacefulness of our walk was broken by the sight of a memorial with the names of 21 young Jewish teens killed in a nearby discotheque where a terrorist bomber walked in killing them and himself two years ago. The memorial read — “We will never stop dancing.”
From there we slowly walked to the David Intercontinental Hotel to meet my guide, Jill Reinach, for my morning meeting and tour.
After picking up Jill, we headed to Channel 10 to meet with Guy Zohar, Executive Vice President of Programming, Ram Landes, CEO and Editor in Chief, and Modi Frydman, CEO. The TV station is one of two commercial stations in Israel that was launched in 2002. Getting a commercial station off the ground and being competitive can be a struggle. The hopes for a successful future will rest on their financial stability and their continued commitment to quality work. At a glance, they seem to be moving towards success. As we toured the broadcast facilities, the news team prepared for the January 29 Israel-Hezbollah exchange of prisoners of war. Although this has taken place before, it is an event that is heavily viewed and always brings tension and concern. Hopefully, for the families of the soldiers, it will bring peace of mind and closure.
As I moved on to my last meeting, Eli, my driver, explained that the traffic would be slow because a bomb was found in the Azrieli Mall, which we passed earlier today while on our way to Channel 10. Thanks to good intelligence and a vigilant citizenry, the bomb was found and removed safely. Even after such an event like, Israelis valiantly try to maintain normal lives under abnormal circumstances. It is amazing to see such dignity and exuberance for life.
My last meeting before heading back to Jerusalem was with two remarkable men, Joseph Zur and Joseph Mendellevich. They were representatives of bereaved families. Both men had lost sons in a suicide bomber attack on a bus, March 5, 2003. During our conversation they amazingly never spoke of hatred or revenge. Mr. Zur carries his son’s wallet displaying a hole from front to back caused by metal pellets packed in the bomb. The two gentlemen, along with a representative from the Security Fence for Israel, an apolitical volunteer group, spoke passionately for a critical search for a peaceful solution. They were advocates for a continuous and effective security fence as an essential part of the fight against terrorism. As a result of the unceasing terror, Israel decided to erect a physical barrier. Without it, infiltration into Israeli communities becomes a relatively easy task for terrorists. A 140 km fence was completed around August 2003. At that point, the government called for an additional 55 kilometers of fence along the border of Jerusalem. Initially, the cabinet approved only a 10 km segment, but soon thereafter approved the remainder, to be completed in November 2004.
One father explained that as we sit today in this beautiful restaurant on a beautiful day —someone is planning to shatter Israeli lives with a bomb. Even though the fence is a temporary defensive measure, people must understand its necessity, explained Mr. Mendellevich. The decision to build the security fence was taken only after other options were tried, but failed to stop the deadly terrorist attacks.
We closed our conversation with the hope of someday seeing peace for all.
Today we headed for Rechovot, a small town outside of Tel Aviv that is also about an hour’s drive from Jerusalem. As we started our journey, I noticed a few more police on the street, and assumed the day would be another day in a bustling vibrant city as people made their way to work with coffee in hand and busily getting their children to school. Seeing additional police or extra military soldiers patrolling the sidewalks seemed to only add to the feeling of security. Nothing slows down or stops here. I actually felt safer here than in many other major cities. The day was warm and the drive was pleasant.
We soon arrived at our destination and as we pulled into the parking lot of the Center for International Agricultural Development I was greeted by Shachar Zahavi, the founder of IsraAid and his assistant and welcomed by the Director of Training, Abraham Edery. Abraham had been listening to the radio report of a bombing that had just taken place in Jerusalem. I immediately tried to dismiss it, only because I wanted to concentrate on this humanitarian center. This center for international cooperation was founded over 40 years ago as part of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is responsible for the design, coordination and implementation of Israel’s international development programs. Israel cooperates with over 130 different countries. Today, I had the opportunity to enter a room where there were approximately 30 smiling faces. They were adult students from several Spanish speaking countries present for their first day of class. The tradition is to start class with a toast and introductions. For the next few weeks, they will learn how to build greenhouses, use fewer pesticides, crop and livestock production, irrigation and water saving methods and farm management. This was just one of 10 humanitarian centers throughout Israel that train approximately 4000 people a year. Every day that I am here, I continue to marvel at Israel’s long arm of humanitarian out reach.
As I prepared to leave the center, the contrasting thought of today’s tragic reality immediately came to mind. This country, on one hand, had just suffered — only a few hours ago — a devastating attack, and, with the other hand, continues to reach out and share its heart and abundant resources. The beauty and compassion in this city overwhelms you and gives you hope for the future.
As I headed back to Jerusalem, my next stop to Channel 2, which leads commercial broadcasters in its marketplace. The commercial broadcast industry in Israel is small and very young compared to the United States. Channel 2, the first commercial broadcaster in Israel, has been in business for only10 years. On a busy news day like today, covering a bomb attack and the Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap, the CEO and Editor in Chief, Shalom Kital and deputy general manager, Ori Chelouche, found time to meet with me. As we toured the facility it appeared that all 250 staff members were focused on today’s events. One of the unique areas was their foreign language translation center — translating foreign news stories from all over the world into Hebrew. Although not required by the government, Channel 2 was preparing to make its digital transition. They have an outstanding operation in a state of the art facility. Even though Channel 2 provides a full range of programs, the tragic news of the day and the Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap would dominate their broadcasting schedule.
My final stop for the day was the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The Israel Museum, Israel’s largest museum and a leading cultural institution, is one of the world’s great museum stories. It was built on a magnificent hill with an equally magnificent view of Jerusalem. No journey to the land of Israel is complete without a visit to see the wonderful treasures throughout the museum’s four wings.
My tour of the museum started with the Abel Pann exhibit. The exhibit: Abel Pann Paints the Bible is the first retrospective of this leading 20th century painter. Having an art background, I was mesmerized by Pann’s use of pastels to depict the religious figures. This Jewish artist found inspiration in Jewish texts and traditions and by adapting the new artistic initiatives of the European avant-garde set forth a highly individualistic vision. Photos of these works were not allowed.
I then toured an exhibition entitled: Envisioning the Temple: Scrolls, Stones, and Symbols. The exhibit gives you the opportunity to examine the scrolls in a comprehensive and contextual way. It presents the 28 ft Temple Scroll — the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls — as the centerpiece and interpretive presentation that explores the institution of the Holy Temple as a cornerstone of Jewish tradition. Along with the Temple Scroll, the exhibition highlights other selected scrolls and archaeological finds from Qumran where the scrolls were discovered, in addition to ceremonial and fine art.
Today marks the end of my tour of Israel. My day started at 7:30 a.m. and, as usual, Eli was patiently waiting for me outside the hotel. Today was our last trip together and I will miss our great conversations.
My first stop took us on a 3 hour drive to the Jordan River. This was a trip I had been waiting for all week. The weather was perfect for a long drive — blue skies and plenty of sunshine. The countryside was checkered with orchards, plowed fields and a variety of crops. The road signs listed names of towns I had only read about like, Afula, Tiberias and Nazareth. There was a beautiful memorial in Afula built by the Hands to Sons Organization. It was dedicated to the sons Israel lost in conflicts. Further down the road small settlements were carved into the hillsides of Mount Tabor.
As we drove closer to our destination, the Sea of Galilee appeared on our left majestically through the morning mist. A photograph would never do justice to this amazing body of blue water against green fields. When we passed through the town of Tiberias, Eli proudly pointed out where his cousin and grandmother lived. Harod’s son, Antipas, founded Tiberias around 18 AD. It is on the site of the biblical Rakkath, situated on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Harod Antipas, who ruled from 14-37 AD, named it after his patron, Emperor Tiberias. The Tiberias village overlooked the sea where small shops lined the streets. Green hills above the town were covered with bleached white houses that had red clay roofs. Small gatherings of people enjoyed the morning sun as they started to fill the marketplace. Tiberias is known for its hot springs and figs. One side of the town’s road was laced with narrow parks adorned with umbrellas that followed the sea, and on the other side red, orange and yellow plants trimmed the road.
Within minutes we had finally arrived at our destination, the Jordan River. Eli pulled into the parking lot, parked and we both walked through a large gift shop. As we passed through the shop, we stood at the place where Jesus was baptized — how awesome it was! The Jordan River is 233 miles long and it twists and tears from Syria to the Dead Sea.
I never thought I’d have the opportunity to stand in the blessed cool waters of the Jordan River. There were very few people at the river this particular morning as we stood in prayerful thought. This was a day I will always remember.
In our return to Jerusalem, Eli drove through Tiberias and I noticed a large number of soldiers lining the streets. Eli learned that one of the fallen soldiers, whose body was returned during the Israel-Hizbullah exchange, was to have been buried in Tiberias today. The town will grieve and honor him.
The last stop of my journey was the historic wall that greeted me every morning when I opened the drapes of my hotel room — the City Walls of Jerusalem. After a short walk from my hotel, I stood at the base of the walls. According to inscriptions’ on several towers and gates, the walls were built by the Turks under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1540-42. The wall has 34 towers and eight gates. When I walked through one of the gated entrances of the walls, I could only imagine whose footsteps I may have traced from centuries past. The main street inside the walls was lined with small shops where their owners enticed you to buy their wares.
I purchased a small guidebook from one of the shops and the preface read: May there be peace within thy walls, tranquillity inside thy palaces. For the sake of my brethren and companions I shall say — Let peace repose in thee. Because of the House of the Lord, our God, I shall wish good things for thee.
This trip far exceeded anything I could have imagined. Journeying through this land has been inspirational and a life altering experience that can’t be explained. It is a journey I feel everyone should experience, for Israel is a land of humanitarianism, diversity, tolerance, innovation, beauty and faith. I’m looking forward to returning to this blessed land soon.
There were a number of people who made this trip possible and I would like to recognize and thank them.
- Gideon Meir, Deputy Director for Media & Public Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Jonathan Peled, Spokesman, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Joe Bar-El, Director General IBA
- Mona Levy, Royal Service Company
- Eli Yona, Royal Service Company (Driver)
- Jill Marie Reinanch, Foreign Press Liason
- Shmuel Ben- Shmuel, Consul General for Israel in Atlanta
- Aviv Ezra, Deputy Consul General
- Steve Rakitt, Executive. Director, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta
- Paulette Clipper (my wife)
- The staff at Public Broadcasting Atlanta