This morning we heard from Mois Navon, one of the founding engineers at Mobileye, the primary company that works in automated driving. Mois spoke passionately not just about the company but about how this is the best time in history to be Jewish, and the state of Israel is where history is being made. Mois recalled the many failed ventures in his life and how with each venture, he kept going toward something new. Recently, Intel bought Mobileye for 16 billion dollars, and interestingly kept the name Mobileye as the primary company name for this product. Where at one point companies often did not want to be connected to Israel, Intel has shown that being connected to the Jewish State is important for business — Israel truly exists internationally as a start-up nation. Mois wove together Jewish teachings, Israeli history, and technology.

An evening with Israel Story

Last night we had an activity with the Podcast, Israel Story. The podcast modeled itself on NPR’s This American Life and tells stories about average Israelis who have human stories. We heard a moving story about a Haredi couple where the husband lost faith and stopped being religious, while the wife remained religious. The two remain in love, with a very different life than the one into which they got engaged and married.

We then made our own podcast, featuring Sophie’s story from Friday in the Shuk, along with the group’s sound effects.

Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State

We have begun the “main course” of the trip, a week exploring the central theme of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. On Sunday morning, we began with a session from Neil Lazarus, an Israeli educator who introduced us to core aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We continued with a trip to the Israeli Supreme Court, a majestic building, whose architecture echoes its mission to be a seat of justice for the Jewish people, one tied to the history of Jewish texts and the modern nation-state. 

We continued yesterday by hearing from Rabbi Yehoshua Weinberger, a Hassidic rabbi who lives in Givat Ze’ev and gave us a taste for an Ashkenazi Haredi (ultra-orthodox) vision of Israel. Students strove to hear his perspectives that were vastly different than their own. Ethan Harris noted that he learned in classes at Rochelle Zell to always read texts with compassion, and only afterwards to critique them. He, and others, strove to do the same here. (See videos below of reflections from the various speakers).

Today, we had the great privilege to welcome former Member of Knesset, Rabbi Dov Lipman, who served in the Yesh Atid party. At age 32, he made Aliyah with his family and quickly became involved in his local society. Early during his time in Beit Shemesh, he noticed that there were signs that stated (in Hebrew), “Women should not walk around in clothes that are immodest.” And he decided he needed to do something about this — people should not be policing others’ clothing. So he went one night and spray-painted over the sign. Sure enough, the next day, the signs were back up in his neighborhood. For several days, this process went back and forth — he painted over the signs and the signs went back up by others. After awhile, the paint was costing him a lot of money, so he decided to paint over just a couple of words, leaving the sign “Women should not walk around in clothes.” And sure enough, the signs disappeared.

The humorous story was emblematic of his personality, one of humor and determination. He volunteered to work with the Yesh Atid Party, seeking to bring his passion for what the Jewish state should look like. Because of his work, he was honored with the 17thseat on the Yesh Atid ticket, never thinking that the party would get that many seats in the Knesset (Israelis vote for a party, and not a person, with the percentage of votes for each party equaling the number of seats for the party as it relates to the total 120 seats). Sure enough, Yesh Atid was voted into the Knesset with 19 seats. Just a few weeks later, he received a letter which let him know that he had to renounce his American citizenship, as a Knesset member cannot have dual citizenship. The decision to do this was quite painful, and yet, represented for him just how passionate he was to contribute to the Israeli experiment and more specifically to the Israeli people. Rabbi Lipman was the first person in Knesset history to use the language learning stipend to learn Hebrew (every MK has the opportunity to learn a second language). This was his deepest fear — that he wouldn’t be able to communicate himself in Israel’s legislative halls. And sure enough, he was able to pound on the table and communicate himself, gaining not only language skills, but developing the confidence to speak in the back-and-forth atmosphere of Israeli society. “If I can do it, you can, too,” he reinforced.

We concluded the day with a visit to Shalva, a non-profit that offers free services to children who have special needs. The beautiful campus serves 2,000 young Israelis from Jerusalem, Arab and Jewish, providing after-school care, pre-school, kindergarten, and services for parents. Students found the institution to be an example of what Israel represents at its best, a location that lives its values, caring for the must vulnerable among us, prioritizing education and support for its children.   

Partnership with Kiryat Gat

We are fortunate to partner with the city of Kiryat Gat, where we spent the afternoon with Israeli high schoolers, discussing the important characteristics of Jewish history. Students built a model Jewish museum and it was interesting to see how Israelis and Americans viewed the history of the Jewish people — what were and are the core elements that define us as a nation?

Todah rabbah to the many Kiryat Gat students who are hosting our seniors tonight. We look forward to touring Jerusalem together tomorrow.