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Day 2: Knesset & Hand in Hand School

day-2

 

Our first full day was marked by meetings with Members of the Knesset, a visit to an incredible school where Arab and Jewish children learn side by side and dinner with one of the most respected journalists in Israel.  As we ascended the hills leading to Jerusalem for our meeting at the Knesset, Parliament, we were reminded that Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are like all other booming metropolitan areas dealing with issues of traffic and congestion.  However, the 90 minute drive to traverse the 40 miles gave us time to hear from Danny about history, politics and Israeli society which prepared us for a very thoughtful day.

Our first stop, the Knesset, included meetings with members from several parties in addition to an invitation to participate in a Knesset Caucus on Israeli-American Relations.  The caucus included several members as well as panel members from agencies in and outside of Israel.  Senator Schupp and Representative Barnes represented our group on the panel and provided remarks to the packed room about the support and ties Missouri feels toward Israel.  These remarks seemed welcome after some of the uncertainty voiced from members.  From there we were able to engage several ministers until the afternoon on issues related to Israeli society and the Peace process.

After a sobering set of discussions that highlighted the diverse opinions of Israeli law makers we were off to the Hand in Hand school where we saw one of three incredible schools that place Arab and Jewish children in the same bi-lingual learning environment.  This organization holds special significance as the Jewish Federation of St. Louis supports its operations and efforts to bring Arabs and Jews together as the society strives for peace.

From there we returned to Tel Aviv for an enlightening evening hearing from and asking questions of Alon Ben David, one of Israel’s most respected members of the press.  Alon shared his optimistic view of the environment and the opportunity to achieve a lasting peace.  Ben David engaged our group until after

10:00 pm discussing these complicated issues.  We were also fortunate to have Elysa Rappaport join us for dinner.  Elysa is Missouri’s trade representative to Israel and is doing an excellent job developing some five Israeli headquarters to establish North American bases for their products.

You can view pictures from the day here.

Trip Reflections

By Jane Mathews 

jane

Today was an incredible day! The drive to Jerusalem was so interesting and sobering.  The fences, walls and checkpoints are the reality for the people of Israel and security issues are a daily concern. The history lesson given by our guide on the bus ride is almost overwhelming as it is the history of a people covering thousands of years.

The hearing we attended at the Knesset on U.S. and Israel relations in light of our recent election was quite interesting on many points. First, I felt like I was at the UN (as seen on TV) with our headphones for translations! Secondly, our Missouri Legislators did us proud as Senator Jill Schupp and Representative Jay Barnes spoke to the attending Knesset members! I was moved by the concern Israel has about changes in our government and what they see as uncertainty in the new U.S. administration. We had the remarkable experience of meeting with several members of the Knesset. I was especially impressed with the youngest member of the Knesset, Sharon Haskell! She was a rock star!

We then toured Hand in Hand school where Jewish children and Arab children learn side by side in the same classroom. This is very unusual and provides hope for better relations in the future. We finished our day with remarks (over a delicious dinner) with a very popular Israeli journalist and expert on Israeli defense and military, Alon Ben David. He expressed extreme optimism for the future of Israel and its relationship with a Donald Trump administration. I have learned so much about this incredible country and its geopolitical challenges… and it is only day two!

 

 

By Representative Jay Barnes 

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Today was sobering and inspiring. I expected to be impressed by the Knesset, and was. Sen. Schupp and I participated in a roundtable discussion with the Knesset US-Israeli relations caucus. As with any change in administration, there is understandable angst in Israel at the unknown. Sen. Schupp and I shared examples from our state about the special relationship. American support for Israel is strong and I believe always will be.

To illustrate the point, I gave the example of my own children. When I travel, they usually do not care about the destination. This trip is different. They are all very excited at my opportunity to visit Jerusalem. Though my children aged 8, 6, 4 and 9 months obviously are not mature enough to understand the significance of a democratic ally in Israel, their interest and excitement for Israel shows the depth of the cultural connection between our two nations.

After the roundtable, it was interesting to hear from those serving in the Knesset – and sobering to hear first-hand the perspectives of elected officials on the peace process. While there is always some hope, the tragic reality is sobering. The existential problems faced by the state of Israel puts our differences in the Missouri Legislature in perspective.

You’d think the chance to participate in a roundtable discussion of the Knesset could not be topped. But by far the best and most inspiring part of the day came with our afternoon visit to the Hand-in-Hand school serving Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children. As the world around these families continues (and sometimes grows) in its segregation, these families and teachers have created a space for a more pluralist civil society to sprout and hopefully flourish someday. Increasing understanding between these cultures living side-by-side and sharing natural resources is vital for any long-term peace.

By Representative Holly Rehder

holly

I have been overwhelmed by the amount of Biblical history that I’m getting to see with my own eyes.  That coupled with the knowledge of our guide is priceless!  Yesterday, we got to see the home that the Apostle Peter stayed while in Jaffa, and today we visited Jerusalem.

I have been most surprised by the largely held “peace” sentiment regarding the Arabs from the Israelis that we have spoken to.  I came to Israel with the incorrect thought that the Israelis wanted to expel all Arabs from their land.  It seems more are actually focused on a peaceful resolution that would work for both.

By Senator Jill Schupp

jill

When David Winton asked Rep. Barnes and me to make some opening statements at the Knesset Israeli-US caucus meeting, I don’t think either of us realized the significance of what we were going to be able to do in such an historic time. Sitting with caucus members at the round table, our nameplates introducing us to the members and press, and listening to translations of other speakers’ remarks through the provided headphones was both surreal and exciting.

Including Knesset members, the Federation and the ADL, the Speakers’ comments ranged from recognizing the implausibility of accurately predicting what a Trump administration would mean for Israel, to great fear over the overt and more subtle messages of anti-Semitism, to a hopefulness that through marital connections to a conservative Jew-turned-advisor and acknowledgement that campaigning is not necessarily indicative of governing that our democracies’ shared values would move us forward positively.

While David’s provided talking points formed a basis for our messages, Rep. Barnes and I each developed our own messages to reflect the relationship between Israel and Missouri. Mine was a reminder of the current administration’s commitment to Israel through a trade desk, the partnering of Israel companies with the St. Louis area through MO Bio and our emphasis on agriculture, plant and life science, the support of entrepreneurial hubs, and JFed (Jewish Federation of St. Louis) and JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council), to name a few.

After visiting the parliament (Pre-session) and having a multi-course delicious lunch, we headed to the Hand in Hand School that is a very deliberate, thoughtful and promising public school that brings Arabs and Jews together to provide them an integrated education and environment. These children will grow up learning Hebrew and Arabic, celebrating and learning about each others’ cultures and possessing a new worldview. Their parents, in addition to enrolling the children and paying tuition, are encouraged to work together too.  This is how we will all learn to live together and work through difficult problems that otherwise will continue to divide.

In both areas today, the Knesset and school, the emphasis for success was on shared values, establishing a relationship upon those core values and building a foundation so that moving forward into the really hard arenas would not topple the foundation that had been built.