Let’s talk about opening our eyes

Between Us

It is nearly Shabbat here in Israel and after a week of non-stop traveling, experiencing, learning and bonding as a community of 125 DC-area participants, Federation’s “Israel YOUR Way” and NEXT DC Alumni Leadership Missions will soon come to an end. And what a week it has been! We saw Israel through the lenses of four different “tracks”: Business, Food & Culture, Eco Israel/Outdoor Adventure and Israel ‘Insider’. We saw an Israel that never ceases to amaze and yet never is allowed to just be. The security challenges are palpable, but the Israeli spirit never wavers.

We felt safe throughout our trip, but I am disgusted by the despicable acts of violence by terrorists against innocent Israeli citizens, and fully support Israel’s right to defend itself. I found Israelis living on edge, looking around carefully wherever they go. But go on they do, with extraordinary resilience. Life continues and thrives and inspires.

This week’s parasha is Vayeira, which contains a number of famous stories, including Abraham’s hospitality to the strangers, the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah and Abraham’s argument with God preceding their demise; the birth of Isaac, the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael and the Akedah – the troubling story of the binding of Isaac.

I am struck by the common theme of “sight” in these stories, each at a very different level. Abraham saw the strangers coming toward his tent and responded with famous hospitality. He “saw” into the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to find that there were surely some worthy of saving. He witnessed the miracle of Isaac’s birth, but was blind to the pain in his household between Sarah and Hagar and had to be told by God to take action. Finally, in the most profound example of blind faith, he saw no alternative but to follow God’s instructions and almost sacrificed his only son.

Same person, varied experiences, different levels of awareness. For all of us, being able to physically see is enough, but not sufficient. Understanding the world around us takes energy, patience and even faith. When Hagar was beside herself with grief for her parched son, it took God to “open her eyes” and see the well before her. Was it there before? Was she incapable of understanding what she saw? For me, the stories of Abraham’s different levels of “seeing” have helped clarify what we are all able – yet so often challenged – to do.

Here in Israel, we are able to see – and better understand – the issues facing Israel, without the filter of the media. Why don’t so many in the world see what we see? Why must we continue to defend Israel in the face of patently unfair media coverage and unjust worldwide condemnation, especially in the UN? But defend we must.

We are also driven by a desire to be responsive to human needs and to create effective and lasting partnerships between Israelis and the Washington, DC Jewish community. We came to Israel to see it, but leave with understanding — and a renewed commitment to act.