How do you know you are in Jerusalem? When you see a Greek Monk order Turkish Coffee from a Muslim Shopkeeper in the Jewish Quarter.
OK, I stole that joke from a comedian who performed at the World Mizrachi Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. However, it is a great representation of the ebb and flow of Jerusalem and of all of Israel today. We are in a multi-talented, multi-cultural, high- performing and highly respectful society. As you will see from the fascinating week I had here, all of these adjectives are highly evident.
This trip, for all intents and purposes, feels like a continuation of our Passover trip. Maybe it feels like that since Barbara was in Israel with baby Ora and her family until May 15th. She arrived home on Monday, and I left on Thursday May 18t;, first stop, Denver, Colorado. I was invited to the Scientific Day in honor of Erwin Gelfand, the Chairman of Pediatrics at National Jewish Health, and my mentor when we lived in Denver and I was training in Allergy and Immunology. We had a celebratory dinner on Thursday and a Scientific Program on Friday morning. I spoke, as did another of the lab crew from the late 80’s, Harald Renz. We were among the 4 formal presentations. It was a great tribute to a terrific physician and leader in the scientific community. It was also fun to spend time at the hospital where I trained and see some old friends who had come to celebrate with Erwin. I spent Shabbat at our great friends Michelle and Isaac Teitelbaum, and was happy to see people in our old Shul (East Denver Orthodox Synagogue aka EDOS) and spent time at lunch with the Rubinovitch and Calm families.
Sunday early morning I left Denver for Toronto, en route to Israel. Nomi, Shoshana, Shlomo and Nadav were there, having just dropped off Elan who was taking a group from Toronto to Israel in celebration of Jerusalem’s 50th anniversary of reunification. They flew EL Al, I flew Air Canada. We all arrived safe and sound. My purpose was to join the Premier of Quebec Phillipe Couillard and over 100 representatives of Quebec in a Science and Technology Trade mission. More about that a bit later.
The Jerusalem 50 celebrations began with a concert at the Jerusalem Conference Center, organized by the organization Elan works for, World Mizrachi (The World Religious Zionist Organization). This was actually much more than a concert; it was a major tribute to Jerusalem and to what it stands for, not just as the center of Judaism but truly the heart of our country and people. The speaker’s list was full of all-stars: The Israeli Minister of Education Naphtali Bennet; former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; Gov. Mike Huckabee, of Fox News Fame; Racheli Frankel, who lost her son 3 years ago following his abduction along with two other friends by terrorists; and the deputy mayor of Jerusalem. All spoke very passionately about Israel and Jerusalem, but the most poignant line of the night came from Gov. Huckabee. He recounted that on his trip this time (he comes to Israel frequently) he went to Nablus (in the Palestinian Territory) to see Joseph’s tomb. He needed to be escorted there by an armed squadron in the dark of night. He stated that it was a tragedy that a Jew or Christian cannot go freely to holy sites; and in fact, prior to 1967, the Western Wall and the rest of the Jewish Quarter as well as Christian holy sites were off limits and often desecrated. He said this was clear justification for a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, where all religions are treated with respect and allowed full access to religious places.
In addition, there were two choirs, the chief Cantor of the IDF, a moving tribute to the recapture of Jerusalem during the 6 Day War in 1967, a tribute to the three paratroopers who were photographed with tears in their eyes at the Western Wall in 1967, with pictures of them today (as well as them being at the concert in person). It was all extremely moving and very powerful. But, the piece de résistance was a concert by Yaakov Shwecky which had everyone dancing in the aisles. It was a fitting start to a week of parades and celebration in and around Jerusalem! Happy 50th Anniversary!
The Quebec mission was a very special experience. There were 4 groups, a general political/economic group, and three science focused groups: Universities, Life Sciences, and Aerospace and Technology. I was in the life sciences group. We toured places like Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital, Weitzman Institute, Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer, and attended a large Biotech Conference. The Israeli institutions showed us how to be more cutting edge, efficient, and utilize technology to our advantage. The visit to Tel Hashomer inspired everyone; they are using new monitoring systems to predict patient deterioration on the wards, they are using large dataset driven tools to predict side effects and responses to medications, and are even collaborating with people at our MUHC research institute on a Data Warehouse project. Overall, there were lots of similarities, but lots of interesting angles for joint technology development and investment.
What was more interesting was the response of the delegation to Israel itself. While I was in Denver, they started off with a Shabbat Dinner at the King David. Rabbi Poupko gave them an explanation of Shabbat and entertained them and educated the group very eloquently. All the scientists I toured with were really impressed. I had many long talks with members to do some explaining of Judaism, Israeli Culture and even gave a few Hebrew lessons! Moreover, Premier Couillard, in his final address at a cocktail party at the Ambassador’s Residence in Tel Aviv, spoke about things that show the face of modern Israel today. He mentioned the Hand-in-Hand Schools that Rabbi Perton is involved in, and a hockey league with Jews, Christians, Druze and Moslems playing together. I think they were all impressed with the safety, the pace and excitement of Tel Aviv, the spirituality and history of Jerusalem and the diversity of the country. The whole concept of Start Up Nation, the high tolerance to risk and the ability to say that failure is a positive learning experience rather than a reason to give up was a recurrent theme in the Premiers’ discussions with us. This was a major Kiddush Hashem- how Israel really acts as a Light to the Nations. As the mission finished I have to say I was very proud to be a Jew and Quebecer all at the same time.
Last evening I went to Givat Shmuel and picked up Gila, Elisha and Ora to come to Netanya for Shabbat. Ariel had to really work late (till almost midnight) but was able to take a taxi here. This morning I took Elisha to the beach (forgot my phone so sorry, no pictures) but make no mistake, there is nothing quite like sand and water for a three-year-old! Shabbat will begin soon and we will have fun together in all too short a time as I return home on Sunday to prepare for Shavuot.
We wish you an amazing and inspiring Shabbat!
Barbara and Bruce