BY LESLIE KRAMER
At our Seder this year we included, as one of the readings, a poem my grandmother Chaika Shuman, OBM, wrote after she returned from her first-and only-trip to Israel in 1970. She was 80 years old, an immigrant from the Ukrainian shtetl of her childhood, a widow, and an ardent Zionist. Her trip was a gift from her children, and it was the first time she ever flew on an airplane. Her poem was her tribute and thanks to her children for facilitating this visit that allowed her to see for herself the miracle that is Israel.
Israel in 1970 was like a toddler in contrast to today’s mature Israel. The devastating but victorious Six Day War was fresh and still set the tone for the country. My Buba (what we called her) marveled at the land, the holy places, and at young Israeli soldiers present wherever she went, carrying guns and protecting our homeland.
My parents, siblings and I, too, became proud Zionists. Many of our conversations around the dinner table included the latest news about Israel. In 1974 my parents took all of us to Israel for three weeks, two of them living and staying on Beit Hashita, the kibbutz our Israeli cousins founded, with other chalutzim (pioneers). During high school I spent more time there on my own and then even more as a college student on a year-abroad program in Tel Aviv. I’m blessed to have visited many times since-so many that I’ve lost count.
Many in my generation and older had similar experiences and fell in love with Israel as young people. Israel was the underdog, small and poor and just establishing herself with a sustainable economy. And everyone loves an underdog.
Today’s young people have access to amazing programs to facilitate visits to Israel, and so many engage in Israel through them. Many fall in love her as we did. But now Israel is a tech giant, leading the world in innovation in many fields. Israel is no longer perceived as the military underdog in her neighborhood or in the world, and the anti-Israel rhetoric is strong. It pains those of us with my sort of experience when our children and grandchildren turn away from Israel because of dissatisfaction with Israel’s politics or policies.
I am certain that the qualities that drew so many Diaspora Jews to Israel years ago are still part of the fabric of modern day Israel. Still, just like real fabric, there are many more threads now than there were back then. Not only are the old threads still holding strong, but so many of the new ones are amazing and align with our interests and passions.
I cannot wait to return to visit Israel. I miss my family and friends there, I miss the atmosphere, the sunshine, the cuisine, the language, the landscape. When I am in Israel it’s seldom about politics-it’s simply a homecoming. Just like visiting any country there are politics and debate, but when I visit it’s those strong and beautiful threads that I feel and experience.
I am so grateful that my family and I are alive now, during the time in history where a modern Israel exists. For so many generations and centuries our ancestors dreamed of and prayed for the return to our homeland. And in THIS generation, we actually can do that! What timing, what luck, what fortune to be living in these days.
This Yom Ha’atzmaut, as Israel celebrates 73 years of Independence, we can’t physically be there. But we can-and should-celebrate her Independence. Israel is a haven for all Jews, and she is a safety net and a place that lends legitimacy to all Jews throughout the world. And Israel is also an incredibly fun and fabulous travel destination. The variety of things to see and to do is endless. The food is incredible, and I don’t know of any other country in the world that is so child-friendly.
In Buffalo we are so fortunate to partner with 18 other communities in the U.S. and Budapest, Hungary, and with the Western Galilee region of Israel. Now the cornerstone of our Jewish Federation Israel programming, this Partnership2Gether platform has embraced hundreds of Buffalo Jews through both programming and visits to the region. I am so proud of Buffalo’s P2G Council which we recently formed, and I am honored to Chair the American consortium of communities and to work closely with our Western Galilee partners.
The P2G platform is so broad that the best way to understand it is to participate in one of our dozens of gatherings. Right now, with no trips going, all gatherings are virtual and so easy to access. Make sure to read the P2G Pina (corner), a new column in the JJWNY, which lists some of the many opportunities for connection with our partners. Also please visit westerngalilee.org.il for a full list of programming and information about our P2G community. And don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or your local Jewish Federation
Years ago I met the charismatic and compelling Ze’ev Bielski, then the Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He talked about the global Jewish community and our common ties. He talked about Israel’s tech and industrial innovation and about how far Israel had come in so many fields. And he said something that struck me deep in my heart. “I understand that not every Jew will come to live here in Israel,” he said, “but don’t they want to visit and see all that we’ve done?”
I wish every one a happy Yom Ha’atzmaot. Let’s all remember the miracle that is Israel. And when we can travel there, let’s try to visit, to see what amazing things our People have done.
Leslie Kramer is the Western Galilee/Central Area Consortium Partnership2Gether American Chair, and Immediate Past President of the Buffalo Jewish Federation.