Israel at 75 – A Journey of Learning

A group of 28 Ottawans  representing the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and Congregation Machzikei Hadas along with four Kingston residents recently joined UJA Federation Toronto and Jewish communities across Canada for a historic trip to Israel to mark the nation’s 75th anniversary. Ottawa trip participant Peter Waiser shares this personal recollection of what he calls his most meaningful trip to Israel.

(Photo: Peter Waiser with Tazhi Halevi from Fauda)

As many of you know, I am a passionate photographer – I talk with my camera and my photos will be how I best tell this story. In fact, I took around 4,000 photos in this trip, which I will plough through over the next several weeks so that I can get them up on my website here for all to see and enjoy.  

We did so much in such a short period of time. We laughed and we cried. For this column, I will do my best to share a few of the experiences that most touched my heart.  

An emotional and meaningful visit for the Ottawa group was when we went to visit the resting place of Rabbi Reuven Bulka z”l and his first wife Naomi Bulka z”l. We were joined by his son Rav Binyamin. We also visited the grave of former Ottawan Howie Osterer z”l who was known and respected by so many in the Jewish community. 

I was touched by the work done at a company called BrainQ, who uses technology to treat neuro-disorders. We met Yaron Segal, co-founder of BrainQ, and learned about his son who was born with a rare genetic disorder. Yaron built a device that maps the brain's network activity and helps the nervous system heal itself. In addition to possibly helping Yaron’s son, it helped a man regain some use of his arm after several months of treatment. After several months of training, this man was able to pick up a pea. Quite a leap toward his independence. 

To connect with how Israel is portrayed on TV, we toured the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood, Mea She’arim. This was amazing for me as I love to photograph Orthodox men. We then met Neta Riskin who played the character Giti in the TV show Shtisel. She talked about the making of the series and what it was like to make the show.

The group also learned about the making of the series Fauda. We met with Tsahi Halevi, who played Naor, and learned about the work of anti-terrorism from members of the anti-terrorist unit, Mista’arvim, on whom the series is based. Since the representatives were on active duty, we were not allowed to photograph them. I developed a personal relationship with Tsahi and I hope he comes to Ottawa for a visit in the future. 

On a more serious note, we were in Sderot just days before the recent missile strikes. We must say prayers for our brave brothers and sisters who persevere when under constant attack. This is not just a news report in a far-off place. This was real. 

Being in a country where I wasn’t a minority is a soul-enriching experience. We cried for the fallen soldiers and then we celebrated the 75th year of Israel’s Independence. Our emotions were tossed around like leaves on a stormy night. This trip drew me closer to my people and I became friends with group members I have photographed for years but didn’t really know. I will be forever changed by this experience.