By the time you read this post, I’ll be around halfway through my odyssey back to the United States from my first visit to Jerusalem. I’m writing this at around 10:30 pm ET on Thursday, which is almost the time I’ll be getting back to Minneapolis on Friday. Thanks to free wi-fi at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, I have a few minutes to offer my general thoughts on this trip, the conference, and to relate a story that I think sums up the people of Jerusalem and Israel.
First, I am glad I attended the conference. It gave me more insight into the nuanced, complicated debate in Israel on foreign and domestic policy, especially as compared to the general AIPAC vs J-Street binary nature of the debate in the US. Most of the speakers had interesting insights, with a couple of exceptions. While I didn’t necessarily agree with their analyses (and there were competing visions even if the conference had a significant liberal bent), getting out of the more restricted views on Israeli policy in the US was a refreshing experience.
I didn’t get much of a chance to get outside the hotel, but the best of Israel was in abundance at the conference: its people. They were friendly, supportive, curious about America and American viewpoints, and the best ambassadors Israel has. I can’t name names here, but I met an activist who works within one of Israel’s major parties on policy direction who recognized my name while I was eating breakfast. We struck up a friendship over the three days, and late last night he passed on a chance to attend an important reception to give me a tour of the Old City. He couldn’t believe I hadn’t had an opportunity to at least get a glimpse of historical Jerusalem, especially given my Catholic faith. We stayed out until after midnight going through the Christian Quarter, walking the Via Dolorosa, and visiting the Western Wall.
Here, too, the spirit of Israel’s people came through. As my new friend prayed at the Wall, I went into an indoor area of the Wall with libraries and more people praying. Almost as soon as I entered, I was greeted by a man not much older than me. He asked me where I was from.
“America,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Manhattan?” he asked.
“Minnesota,” I replied.
“What’s your last name?”
He looked at me for a moment and asked with a smile, “Catholic?”
I said yes, and he shook my hand again and said, “Welcome. Come in. Sit. Pray. Cry. Ask God to give us all peace.”
And so I did.
I’ll conclude on a fun note. One of the many people I met at the conference was Erielle Reshef, a news reporter from IBA News’ English service. She interviewed me on the second day of the conference, and they put the clip on the conference’s YouTube channel. (Below) We bumped into each other a few times afterward, on one occasion getting a picture of the two of us together. I’ll hopefully get a copy of it, along with a couple of pictures my friend took in Jerusalem last night, which I’ll post this weekend if I get them in time.