Op-Ed: You’ve Got To See Israel To Believe It

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By Sheryl Silver

I just came back from visiting Israel for a month, and all I can say is “Wow!” You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Despite being involved in Israel advocacy for years via the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), StandWithUs and Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and despite seeing documentaries and reading articles about Israel’s high-tech sector, nothing compares with actually being in Israel and seeing all the new development.

It’s amazing to see the vast number of high-rise buildings in Tel Aviv and other cities — coupled with all the cranes dotting the landscape representing new construction under way.

Despite planning to stay only a week in Israel, I stayed a month. Why? In part, because my schedule allowed it but, more importantly, because every time I thought about packing and leaving Israel, I started to tear up. As a result, friends here have asked, “Why don’t you make aliyah if you feel that way about Israel?”

My response: “I’m not ready to give up my life in the U.S. Moreover, I think I can be of greater help to Israel from the U.S. where I can join organizations advocating on Capitol Hill with members of the U.S. House and Senate for legislation that impacts U.S. policy toward Israel.”

Being outside of Israel, I’m also more intimately aware of how students in the U.S. are being impacted by anti-Israel student groups. One can read about such things from overseas, but it’s different to attend events in the U.S. and meet students who have been directly affected. That firsthand exposure motivates me to keep donating to organizations like StandWithUs, ZOA and CUFI that provide resources, support — and sometimes even legal remedies — for pro-Israel students seeking to stand up to such harassment.

The view in Tel Aviv

Being in the U.S. also seems crucial in the effort to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, whether it’s through the StandWithUs B.I.G. (Buy Israeli Goods) campaign, attending Defeat BDS rallies or supporting the legislative initiatives individual states in the U.S. are passing to make it clear they won’t do business with companies supporting the BDS movement. We have a unique vantage point and the freedom in the U.S. to communicate directly with our elected officials that enables us to help combat — and ultimately defeat — the BDS movement.

That said, now that I’ve been to Israel and fallen in love with it and the Israelis I’ve met, I know I’ll want to come back soon.

More importantly, I want to encourage everyone who supports Israel to travel to Israel as soon as their schedules allow. The reality of Israel makes the miracle of its achievements even more amazing.

If you’re worried about your safety, let me say this: People aren’t walking around daily worrying about security. They trust that their government is doing that. From all I saw, everyone is out and about, going to and from work, walking their dogs, shopping for groceries, clothes, cosmetics, cars, furniture, phones — all the basics of life, which thankfully also include celebrating weddings, bar mitzvahs and baby namings.

People are at restaurants meeting with friends and going to clubs to dance and have fun. They’re out walking their babies in strollers, exercising or running on the boardwalk by the beach.

Not to be overlooked: Israeli dancing outdoors at Tel Aviv’s Gordon Beach every Saturday night. Held adjacent to the beach, it’s great exercise, great fun … and as one Israeli woman I met there said, “a lot better than a psychiatrist.”

Of course, there can be random terror events in Israel, but we have those in the U.S. now, too. Frankly, more than concerns about terror, the complaint I heard most often from Israelis during this trip is that the cost of housing is too high.

After this visit, I’m more committed than ever to make sure we defeat the organizations and governments trying to delegitimize Israel and destroy its economy with boycotts. I remain as committed as ever to visiting Capitol Hill and communicating via phone and email with U.S. senators and members of Congress regarding legislation aimed at protecting Israel’s interests and security. It’s the least those of us in the diaspora can do for our Israeli brothers and sisters who are living on the front lines in a very dangerous neighborhood, making the dream of a Jewish homeland a reality every day.

If you care about Israel as a Jewish homeland, as a bulwark of democracy in the tumultuous Middle East and/or as a hub of innovation in science, technology and medical research, make it a priority to visit soon. Not only will the tourist dollars from your visit help boost Israel’s economy, the visit will — without question — boost your spirit.

Seeing this exciting example of Zionism firsthand and being with Israelis every day is more inspiring than words could ever convey.

Sheryl Silver is a former national secretary of ZOA, founder of the Enough is Enough Initiative and a lifelong Temple Israel member.

 

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