Our trip has led us to an amazing array of sites to learn about Israel’s economy, culture and non-profit sector. Many of the visits today focused on another important facet, Israeli military history. The modern nation of Israel has spent much of its 70 year existence in a state of conflict, both in the form of war and constant threats. For the first time in three generations young Israelis seem to feel the state is part of the world community and not as threatened as in early years. These threats greatly influence the Israeli character, and to understand Israel’s society, government and culture, it is necessary to learn about the conflict in the region.
Our morning started at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, the site of key battles in 1948 and 1967. It occupies strategic ground necessary to defend and secure much of Jerusalem. There is a brief video on the site that describes the battles fought there and provides context on their significance.
From Ammunition Hill we stopped at a nearby site, Radar Hill, which provides an excellent view of Israel and the West Bank. From this vantage point our group learned about the security perimeter erected in the 2000s in response to increased suicide bombings. The fence is a high-tech endeavor that provides Israeli authorities with information triggered by three levels of sensors in order to prevent terrorist acts.
We then visited the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun and received a tour by a young Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier. This interesting and personal memorial and learning center brings the concept of war home to those willing to listen. Our group learned of the bravery and sacrifice of the nation’s military to ensure a democratic state and home for the Jewish people.
Our final stop took us from military memorials to a remarkable human services organization. We visited with leaders of Shekel, a community service agency that works with both Arab and Israeli individuals with developmental disabilities. Shekel runs a suite of programs that support clients in a dignified environment through a combination of government and private funding. Part of its mission is to create income-generating businesses that act as training and employment opportunities for clients, including a cafe at the front of the building.
You can view pictures from the day here.
By Jane Mathews, wife of Representative Kirk Mathews
This morning we visited three different military memorials, AmmunitionHill, Radar Hill and the Armored Corp. Memorial at Latrun. There was so much to try and take in, but I was struck by a few things. During a movie we saw about the Six-Day War there was a scene with actual footage in which a soldier’s radio message announced “We have control of the Temple Mount!”. It is hard to comprehend that there was a war right here in this city with lives lost and people uprooted. This fact was also evident as we drove down a street that our guide described as the “seam” between two countries. There was once a barrier dividing the great city of Jerusalem. We saw buildings and homes with widow openings cemented closed except for small slotted openings for guns. Bullet holes marked some of the buildings along this route. It is hard to comprehend such a war in the city where you live and at the doorstep of your home and your children’s school.
This afternoon we visited an organization called Shekel which provides services to citizens with special needs including adults with developmental disabilities. Shekel is doing amazing work… much of it I believe is God’s work. We visited several of their programs in which developmentally disabled adults were learning job skills ranging from assembly line work to working in a cafe to high-tech computer work on traffic safety projects (for some very high performing adults on the autism spectrum).
The evening was spent walking through the huge outdoor marketplace eating things here and there and just taking it all in! It is such an incredible experience… the people, the colors, the smells… it is so amazing. We finished the evening by sitting down and eating some more!
By Representative Kirk Mathews
Today we visited three battlefield locations that are very significant in the history of Israel: Ammunition Hill, Radar Hill and the Valley of Aijalon. In its brief 68 year history as a modern sovereign nation, Israel has had to defend itself multiple times and in so doing has exhibited amazing military skill, strength and resolve. We watched a documentary on the Six-Day War of 1967 and then walked through some of the defensive trenches atop Ammunition Hill. We climbed the memorial tower at Radar Hill from which on a clear day you can see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
But for me the most interesting part of the day was the presentation by a 20-year-old soldier in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces, which is the Israeli army). We were at the memorial and museum for the Israeli Tank Corps in the Aijalon Valley. He began his presentation by describing the strategic nature of this valley going all the way back to when Joshua and the Israelites fought against five Amorite kings at this very location. This battle is depicted in the book of Joshua, Chapter 10, and during the battle Joshua called down a miracle of God and had the sun and moon stand still, providing more daylight in which to fight the Amorites. Once again I found myself amazed that we were standing in a place of such history. It was also remarkable to me that this young soldier had such an incredible depth of knowledge about his nation’s military history. I believe we Americans would do well to instill our history into our young people.
Finally, on our walk to dinner, an Israeli woman passing us on the street apparently recognized us as Americans and stopped to comment on our recent presidential election. It illustrated something very important. Nearly everyone we have spoken with is aware of American politics. Every Israeli seems to understand the importance of the American/Israeli relationship. American elections and resulting policies have a great impact on the world and especially on Israel. We must never forget that and our relationship must always remain strong with this incredible country.
By Michelle Moore, fiancee of Senator-Elect Denny Hoskins
We’ve now been in Israel five days and with every new site we see, I’m still in awe of the fact that I’m here. Besides making some amazing new friends, this has truly been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I have been raised my entire life learning the stories of the Bible, however, actually seeing the places we’ve only read about is surreal.
I’m a lover of the “underdog,” so my favorite part of today was visiting the Shekel. The idea that these special needs men and women are being afforded the opportunity to be normal, something they unfortunately aren’t given typically, is unbelievably heartwarming to me. I can’t imagine the pride they must feel accomplishing a task at work or taking home a paycheck or living on their own.
I’m also enjoying the cultural differences between Israel and the United States, some I’ve come to appreciate and others are still a challenge for me. I love trying all of the different cuisines and tasting food I would generally never consider eating. Lunch today at Naurah was one of my favorites. But I’m definitely craving a fountain drink Diet Coke!!
I really enjoyed the atmosphere in the City Market, the crowds, the noise, the people watching and most of all, the endless sampling of delicious foods. What a fun way to end the evening, walking through the busy market with our new friends.