Parashat Shmot: A Different Side of Israel
Michael Jordan (Meir Yaacov) Halbert is a leader in Toronto’s Orthodox community and sits on Boards of various Jewish educational institutions, including a counter-missionary organization called Jews for Judaism. He has led successful US public school literacy initiatives and is currently focused on Canadian counter-terror legislation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
My wife Iris and I recently returned from a trip to Israel with another couple. They’re friends; he is also a business partner of mine and a very influential public figure.
While my friend was relatively knowledgeable on Israel-related issues, as a non-Jew, he didn’t hinge his identity on Judaism, Zionism or, for that matter, Messianic heraldry. In fact, we had to overcome the hurdle of world media, of which he’s a part, which predominantly inspires antipathy toward our Homeland, conjuring up brutal images of its failings, some part of which may even be occasionally verifiable. Our goal, therefore, aside from having a great time, was to create two new Zionists.
As an educational, experiential journey then, I aimed to span history, religion, geography, arts, archaeology, security, international relations, Arab affairs, politics, business, education, science, medicine, Canada, social service, thrills, physical exercise, intellectual challenge, emotional attachment and personal revelation. We would span the upper echelons of Israeli society down to its grass
roots. The only remaining challenge demanded by this very personal, high stakes vision was how to bring it to life.
I quickly realized that no canned tour would suffice and that we had to build it from scratch using whatever resources we had at our disposal. Fortunately these were substantial and I called in all my cards, chief among them, The Wexner Foundation.
A brief email request for assistance in linking personal contacts snapped into a wealth of opportunity: Cindy Chazan immediately fired off my mission description to a select group of Wexner Israel Fellows and, within hours, we had their all-embracing replies in hand! The Israel Fellows, for those unaware, form a group of mid- to upper mid-career Israeli public officials, from all walks of life, ten per year, selected by The Wexner Foundation to earn an expense-paid Masters degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Thanks greatly to The Wexner Foundation, we met and shared meals and hospitality with an extraordinary group of individuals, often including their families, who dropped everything to accommodate us, remarkably including one whose wife (extending regrets she was pre-occupied) had given birth a few days earlier and another who fit us in between three sleepless nights officially hosting a foreign government delegation and a flight abroad to lead a Harvard forum. Our other hosts, apparently leading a more serene existence at the time of our visit, were merely magnificent. Every single one of these Wexner alumni enhanced our program immeasurably, driving us home to our objective. In fact, as the Wexner factor asserted itself, “You mean he/she’s part of your Wexner organization too?” became the familiar back of the van reprise.
Before leaving town, I asked one of the world’s most brilliant poskim (halakhic decisors) what lesson I should most focus on, noting that I’m taking non-Jews to Israel. His reply: Emphasize continuously that all your guests see, do and experience, all the good and great, is only now available and is the pure result of Jews being in their Land; nothing else.
Our program was, by all accounts, a resounding success, having succeeded in introducing Israel to our friends, experienced in all its depth, texture, beauty and awesome complexity. Indeed, we established yet one more successful, fruit-bearing bond among our dear friends, the Jewish people and our Land, the benefits of which we’ve already seen materialize, tangibly, in extraordinary ways, with significantly much more to come.
We could not have pulled this off without the help of the Wexner network. I encourage all of you to take full advantage of it.
If you are planning a mission to Israel and would like to brainstorm speakers or themes, please contact Brigitte Dayan or Cindy Chazan at 212-355-6115.