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By Aaron Wahl

We set out today on our final adventure in Tel Aviv. We started with a very enlightening conversation with Jerusalem Post Political Corespondent Gil Hoffman. Immediately there was a affinity with our group because his wife graduated from Washington University. Gil was born in Chicago and graduated from Northwestern School of Journalism and took the 5th when questioned about the Cubs. Probably a good idea considering the crowd.

The topic of discussion were the municipal elections and Prime Minister Netanyahu. He explained that this election was a bell weather for Netanyahu and it didn’t look good because all of the candidates he endorsed in the major cities lost.

He also called these elections the Year of the Woman as the first woman was elected mayor of a major city, Haifa. His opinion has been that this is also the most important election for Ultra Orthodox run Beit Shemesh. The current mayor didn’t feel the need to campaign because of the Orthodox vote and his opponent, another woman, focused on helping English speaking Israelis which has resonated with that city. As I write this blog post, the results are too close to name a winner.

He continued to explain that the Ultra Orthodox control over Israeli politics has continued to wane due to the lack of leadership after the passing of the biggest Rabbis in recent years. He believes that religious pluralism can advance for the first time if this continues.

He didn’t get into his opinions of PM Netanyahu but rather wanted us to understand the recent uncertainty surrounding him and his wife. His wife has been indicted for misuse of campaign funds and instead of taking a plea deal, she is claiming innocence. He thinks this along with the recommended indictments for Netanyahu by the police will only embarrass them and the nation. Currently, there are three cases that have been forwarded to the Attorney General. All three are related to bribery in some form and it is believed that an indictment can be coming soon. This could make running the country more difficult.

Even with these alleged crimes, he is expected to win the next election by a landfall because Israel is the most secure it has ever been and Israelis believe he is the best candidate to keep Israel secure, he is seen as someone that gets things done, and Israel is in the middle of an economic boom. Not only that he is one of the only leaders that gets along with Putin and Trump and we are at a time where Israel is more accepted internationally than ever before. Another fun fact about Israel is that there are more female Supreme Court judges than male.

He left us with an E.A.S.Y. way to support Israel:

Educate – ourselves and our communities about what is going on in Israel.

Advocacy – be an advocate for Israel back home.

Solidarity – go to Israel and let people know that security is better than ever.

Your Money – give money to Israel and to Jewish organizations like the Jewish Federation that are supporting Israel.

Before we left Israel, we stopped at Rabin Square to see the Yitzak Rabin Memorial. Prime Minister Rabin was born in Israel and was a war hero. He was a big believer in peace and a two state system to achieve that peace. He was murdered by another Jew on November 4, 1995 because of that position.

We left Tel Aviv to have an experience very few Americans get to have. We picked up Eliad and Miyan of The Jewish Agency and went to the check point at the Israel-Palestine border in Yokneam-Megiddo. We stopped here because this is the region in Israel that St Louis partners with to help support. Second, it was important for us to meet with the border patrol to see just how calm it is at that border and learn that most areas have an amicable relation between the Palestinian and Israeli authorities. The Palestinians are allowed to come into Israel to visit and work and the two authorities work together to stop terrorist cells. It was just so quiet and peaceful in an area and unfortunate that the news portrays the opposite.

We left the check point and drove about 20 minutes to Kibbutz Dalia. 120 years ago the Kibbutz was designed to be a true socialist society however in the 80’s they began to privatize. Today 75% are privatized as large corporations with share holders that are no longer treated exactly the same. They receive different pays and then pay the equivalent to a co-op fee. Kibbutz Dalia is organized in this manner and makes money selling soap, farming, and acting as a hotel for the region.

Our afternoon activities included meeting Rabbi Michal Ken-Tor, a reform Rabbi in the region, and learning how she is helping to reintroduce spirituality in secular areas as well as helping Israel develop its religious pluralism. Her goal is to educate people to know that there are many ways to be Jewish.

After Rabbi Ken-Tor, we met Dege who is a descendant of the Ethiopian Jewish community that left Israel after the destruction of the 1st Temple. Their entire community thought they were the only Jews left and still practiced Judaism as they did centuries before. It wasn’t until her village was confronted by two strangers informing them that Jerusalem was real and they are invited to make Aliyah. She was separated from her family and had to travel through the night for months risking starvation, prison time, and being murdered. After two years she was reunited with her family in Tel Aviv.

THEN WE DANCED and we have videos and pictures to prove it.

Our evening activity was guided by Dotan, a nature therapist focusing on adolescents and teenagers. We completed group exercises that concluded with us discussing our experiences and what we like about the group. It became apparent that in a very short time we have developed a special connection as a whole. And after only 3 days!

Our evening concluded having dinner with some of the lay leaders of region. Another amazing day with many amazing experiences. So excited for what is in store tomorrow!