The column below is reprinted from the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston; their CEO, Lee Wunsch, documented the moving journey each day. Photos are courtesy of the Federation as well. See scads more mission photos here.
March 15, 2013
Earlier this week, a journey concluded when more than 150 Houstonians returned from Israel. Israel became a part of these individuals and all will forever be united with those who shared the journey. The group was no longer individuals traveling together; the group became a community experiencing Israel together. It was clear that those individuals that boarded the plane to Israel on March 3rd were not the same people that returned on March 12th.
For most, it was their first time to the land of our people and the first time to witness the miracle of the Jewish people. We trekked across the land from east to west, from north to south. We saw the sights that are rooted in the traditions of our people. We saw the sights that are embedded in the land of our people. We heard from Israelis about their lives, their insights and their perspectives on the major challenges facing the State of Israel. We celebrated as a diverse community of Jews representing a cross section of synagogues, organizations and institutions. We embraced the power of a visit to Israel. And, we returned to Houston changed -- we saw Israel not as an item on the evening news but as an integral part of our identity as American Jews.
We saw the impact that multi-generations of donors to the Jewish Federation has made on a country that has been part of the mission of the Jewish people for a millennial. We saw Israelis transformed from a country of immigrants to a country of social and business entrepreneurs. We saw a country wrestling to improve its social fabric and struggling with a hostile neighborhood seeking a new direction. And, we saw the spirit of Israel -- alive and well in the 21st century.
It is no coincidence that we returned home just two weeks before Pesach -- the holiday commemorating our liberation from Egypt. The ten days in Israel taught us that prior generations of Jews seized the moment when they declared an independent State of Israel and made it a lifeline for Jews across the globe. Indeed, we witnessed that global reach when we met Ethiopians, Russians, Moroccans, Yemenites, multi-generation Israelis and more -- we experienced the world-wide impact that our community has had in building the State of Israel - a state that started as a promise made on Sinai as Jews left the bonds of Egypt.
As we gather around our Seder tables in just ten days, we should be mindful of our history and those that made this most recent journey to Israel can take pride in what they did to step onto the land of our people. All of us can now appreciate, even more, the rabbinic mandate, "Kol Yisrael Aravim Ze La Ze" - every Jew is responsible one for the other.
It is my hope and prayer that as more and more American Jews experience the miracle of Israel, collectively we will strengthen ourselves, our bond with the people of Israel and together, lift our spirits.
I wish each of you a Shabbat Shalom and very meaningful Pesach -- may those who have just returned from Israel be enriched by what you saw and take to heart, with a new perspective, the message of our season of liberation.
President & CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Houston
Additional coverage about the Houston Federation mission to Israel that ran in Houston's Jewish Herald-Voice:
Israel through our eyes, Part I: Collective Responsibility
Israel through our eyes, Part 2: Friends, Family and Community
Israel through our eyes: Home and Refuge