What a difference a few thousand miles makes. Here in Ottawa, we are just about fed up with the snow. But, in Jerusalem last month, my grandkids, like so many other kids, were all excited about the snow. Roads were closed, Jerusalem shut down, there was no school, and kids built soon-to-melt snow stuff. What could be better?
Well, lots could be better. But, for now, allow me to focus on the reality and the perception of Israel – a perception that could, and should, be better.
As to the perception, we all know how much Israel is pilloried in the media, at the United Nations, and on university campuses. For people who do not know any better, their picture of Israel is that of a big bully that tramples on everyone.
I just returned from a group tour to Israel that was promoted through my radio station, CFRA, and was led by Rev. John Counsell and me. I joined near the tail end of the trip.
The people on the tour, who were mainly from Ottawa and were mostly non-Jewish, returned with a different picture of Israel. They visited the holy sites of the three main faiths with hardly a blip. Access was easy, though slowed down somewhat by security checks.
The group literally breathed the fresh air of respectfulness for all faiths, amid easy movement, security notwithstanding. And this was not an antiseptic tour limited to a tightly bound area.
To their credit, the group was not scared off by reports of terrible events, including the summer war with its rocket attacks, which came at the time they had to commit to the trip. Subsequent brutal terror attacks in Jerusalem did not cause them to change their plans.
Those of you who travel to Israel often are probably wondering “what’s the big deal?” There is nothing in what I am reporting that is new.
That is precisely the point. There is nothing new in what I am reporting here; perhaps, therefore, nothing newsworthy. But, when the reality on the ground is so vastly different from the media perception, it should be newsworthy.
It is newsworthy that Israel is a peace-loving, peace-promoting country. It is newsworthy that Israel is committed to the protection of all faiths and their holy sites. It is newsworthy because the reality is so different from the picture most people have.
With all the threats to its very survival, the ordinary in Israel is, indeed, extraordinary. The culminating message of the seder, “Next year in Jerusalem,” is about the ordinary Jerusalem. But ordinary Jerusalem is extraordinary.
We dare not take the ordinary for granted, nor should we allow the picture painted to be such a distortion of the reality.
We also sometimes do with our families the same as with Israel; that is, taking the ordinary for granted. Pesach has become, for good reason, quality family time. As we hopefully gather in a family setting, it is an appropriate time to contemplate the blessing of family and friends – how much the ordinary is truly extraordinary.
We do this at the same time as we contemplate our history which, by any measure, is truly off-the-charts extraordinary. The confluence is momentous. Enjoy it.