This e-mail letter, sent in February 2003 from Israel to American friends, is from Gary Rather, of Los Angeles, director of the American Jewish Congress U.S. Southwest region, whose president is Steven Teitelbaum. The letter was acquired by Midstream through the good offices of the Teitelbaum family and is reprinted here by permission of Gary Ratner.--EDITOR
It is Monday morning, and I have been in Israel since Friday afternoon. The minute I arrived at my hotel, I met Arnold Seid, and we proceeded to the old city to have Shabbat dinner with a doctor friend of his who made aliyah about eight years ago. Not being that religious, [I sensed, nevertheless, that I was part of] a wonderful experience with about 15 other people from around the world. The warmth and hospitality of our hosts were amazing, and talking with Jews from Brazil, Australia, Canada, Holland, and the U.S. made me feel closer than ever that we are one people.
After dinner, we discussed the week's Torah portion (something new for me). The hosts believe in the Rebbe and prophecy. It was very interesting and makes a secular person think about the wonderful heritage and values of our religion.
The next day, Arnold and I went to the Chabad shul in the Jewish quarter, and I was honored to have an aliyah to the Torah, the first since my son's bar mitzvah nine years ago. Even though I could not understand all that was going on, I felt at home and a spirituality I rarely feel.
Later that day, we met up with Mark and Sylvia Karlan and went to the Kotel despite the fierce rainstorm. There are very few tourists at the Wall (e.g., my plane to Israel was only half full and consisted of over 95 percent of Israelis coming home); it was sad to see so few people. No matter how many times I have been to the Kotel, it is still a spine-tingling experience to touch and pray there and leave your little prayer note in the crack of the Wall. I prayed for peace and an end to terrorism, and for the Jewish people to be done with the evils of war and antisemitism, in addition to personal wishes.
Later that evening, I walked to Ben Yehuda Street in downtown Jerusalem. Yes, at night, and it was very safe. No problems, but again, it was heartbreaking to see so many shops closed up and so few people out and about on Saturday night. Still, there were a few young people there, and I ate a falafel and walked around until about one A.M.
The next day, I met up with Mark and Sylvia, and we went to plant a tree in the JNF forest near Bet Semesh and stopped at the Ilan Ramon memorial. As you know, when he was in space, he told the prime minister of his wish to plant 14 million trees--one for every Jew in the world. Well, we did our part, and there are now three more trees in Israel. The Ilan Ramon memorial plaque is just up a ways from the Challenger memorial, which I had never seen. Quite impressive, and as we went through the American forest, the ties between Israel and the U.S. were again so apparent--from the space program to all of the many American Jews who have parts of the forest named in their honor and have planted trees there.
In the late afternoon, the three of us went to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus to visit with victims of terror and hand out baskets from "Stand With US" and the ITF, as well as T-shirts. As you enter the hospital, the first thing that hits you is how many Arabs go there for treatment. I think there were more Arabs than Jews. This is the kind of story that should be told--how wonderful and humane Israel is (and how advanced in medicine) to treat these people, in spite of the fact that the hospital is full of severely wounded people from suicide bombings perpetrated by Arabs. …