A huge reason why my wife and I recently joined Temple Sholom in Cincinnati is its real commitment to social justice and social action.
It’s a congregation that truly fights for change — led by the incredibly progressive, open-minded, and dedicated Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp. (Here she is below at Cincinnati’s Fountain Square where she performed one of the first marriages of a same-sex couple after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 2015.)
Awesome, right? Unfortunately, she couldn’t join us on this trip (new baby!) but she planned much of the itinerary. Day 2 highlighted her dedication to social justice. We were the only one of nine congregations on the trip to visit south Tel Aviv — an often forgotten part of the city with a large refugee and migrant worker population.
We stopped in to hear from the folks at BINA, one of the organizations leading the charge for social action in the area.
BINA works to create opportunities to explore Jewish values and texts in a pluralistic Israeli setting (appealing to the enormous secular population) as a path toward individual growth, leadership development, empowerment, and positive change in Israeli society.
The center also has an impressive sustainability element to it that educators incorporate into activities and lessons.
Next we were off to the ancient city of Akko in the northern part of the country. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited since the Middle Bronze Age some 4,000 years ago.
And the most amazing part of this city is what you can’t see from the surface — you have to go underground.
That’s where, just 30 years ago, more of the city was found — far below ground.
It belonged to the Crusaders and is more than 900 years old.
We even got to go through the tiny underground escape tunnel.
Then it was off to tour a mosque. The al-Jazzar Mosque.
It is the second largest mosque in Israel and the only one open to the public.
The courtyard was particularly beautiful.
And included some furry friends.
To finish the day, we visited Israel’s incredible grottoes. This was the scene above them.
We took a cable car down for a look inside.
There, we got to explore the caves which have been carved by thousands of years of waves.
Then, just before we left, we visited the border between Israel and Lebanon. There’s no demilitarized zone there. An Israeli defense base sits just beyond the gate which is watched by armed guards. The only picture we were allowed to take was this one facing the wall.
This was the site in 2008 of a brutal Israel-Hezbollah prisoner exchange that aired on live TV. Israel released a large number of Lebanese militants in hopes of getting back two of its captured soldiers. After Israel delivered on its end of the bargain, much to the shock of everyone watching, Hezbollah opened its gates and delivered the coffins of the two Israeli soldiers.
Walking up to the fence and looking through the chain links straight into Lebanon was my first taste of just how close Israel’s enemies are. I didn’t know it then, but I would get many more chances as my trip continued.