Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

From Israel, with love


Darcy Grabenstein

For all UF alumni and students: A poster of Tim Tebow, former quarterback for the University of Florida's Gators (2006-2009).

Whether it's your first time in Israel or your 50th, there's something undeniably magical about Eretz Yisrael. For me, our December trip was my fifth visit to the Land of Milk and Honey. It was my husband Micah's first.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned at all about security prior to our trip. We traveled on El Al and, knowing the airline's stringent security procedures, we were confident of our safety. On advice from a friend who had recently traveled to Israel, we packed pepper spray in our luggage. Although it was unopened, El Al confiscated it at the Newark Airport. However, security personnel did not confiscate the packages of candy and cards I brought for Israeli soldiers from Hebrew school students. More on that later.

Once we were in Israel, however, we felt safe. We both said we felt safer there than in some parts of Philly. In fact, we walked back to our Jerusalem hotel at 11:30 at night after an evening of Israeli dancing. On our walk, we saw several people walking their dogs, and women walking alone as well. We did wear backpacks a lot, in a feeble effort to thwart any potential knife attacks from behind.

However, signs of previous terrorist tacks are inescapable. Every time I saw a young person walking with a cane or in a wheelchair, I had to wonder what caused their physical condition. Was it service in the IDF? A terrorist attack? We often think of the fatalities, but we also often forget those who must live with injuries for a lifetime. And our view of the now-defunct Dolphinarium from our hotel in Tel Aviv was a stark reminder. The nightclub was the site of a Hamas terrorist attack in 2001, killing 21 Israeli teens and four adults. The building stands as a memorial to the victims.

We had a slight scare one night in Jaffa. It was a Friday night and, although Jaffa is a mixed city of Arabs and Jews, the shops were closed. We walked up a darkened alley to window-shop, and I stopped to take a photo of a plaque about an old synagogue. We then heard several popping sounds, and Micah said he smelled gunpowder. We calmly walked out of the alley back into the lit plaza, a bit dazed and shaken.

While riding in the relative safety of our tour bus, I did notice police frisking a young Arab man close to the Old City in Jerusalem. Our bus went through East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank. In the West Bank, our tour guide explained the ABCs of Palestinian control. Area A is under full control of the Palestinian Authority and consists primarily of urban Palestinian areas. Area B is under Palestinian civil control and shared Palestinian and Israeli security control and includes the vast majority of the Palestinian rural areas. Area C is under full Israeli control. My husband and I declined an optional tour to Bethlehem, which is under Palestinian Authority rule.

When our group was walking in the Muslim section of the Old City, I saw a nearby vendor take a small knife out of his pocket. I kept an eye on him the entire time, as he proceeded to peel a piece of fresh fruit. I felt slightly guilty about profiling him, but one can't be too careful.

In the Golan Heights, we saw United Nations observers who were monitoring the situation in Syria. We could actually view Syria at one point. I was half expecting to see and hear Russian warplanes overhead.

We were on a group tour, but we had plenty of free time. As an active member of Hadassah Greater Philadelphia, I contacted Hadassah in Israel in advance to arrange a tour of the new Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower at Ein Kerem. This visit was one of the high points of our trip. It held special meaning for me; my mother, Janet Landy, passed away in March and one of my Hadassah "sisters" made an extremely generous donation to the Tower in my mother's memory.

When our taxi pulled up to the Tower, we noticed a military helicopter on the landing pad not far from the Tower entrance. While it may have been unrelated, the afternoon that we visited the Tower, a terrorist rammed his car into a group of Israelis at a bus stop in Jerusalem; six of the injured were brought to Hadassah Ein Kerem. We were oblivious to this; I only found out later from an Israel news email I received.

We ended our hospital tour in the chapel that bears the famed Chagall windows. While they certainly are beautiful, it is disappointing to me that this is all most Israel tours show. Hadassah is so much more than that; it conducts cutting-edge medical research and is a bridge-and a window-to peace.

Other highlights for me were giving the students' candy and cards to off-duty police at the Western Wall and to soldiers in the northern Galilee; witnessing two bar mitzvah processions in the narrow walkways of Tsfat; being the only person from our tour to walk up the snake path to Masada; riding a dromedary (not a camel) for the first time; running into a University of Florida student whose friend knows my son (also a student there) at the bar at a kibbutz hotel; seeing two folks wearing Gators gear at another hotel; revisiting Yad Lakashish, Lifeline for the Old in Jerusalem, which offers senior citizens social services, trains them in crafts and sells their beautiful merchandise; and lighting the candles on the last night of Chanukah with Dr. Ruth Westheimer at our hotel in Jerusalem!

Darcy Grabenstein

UN observers in the Golan Heights at the Syrian border.

As I was writing this article, I received an email about a terrorist stabbing attack at the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City. Three people were killed, and another critically injured. This hits terribly close to home, as we used that gate numerous times during our stay in Jerusalem.

Everywhere we went in Israel-Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Tiberias, Haifa and Tel Aviv-there were no visible signs of fear among the residents. It was business as usual, with throngs shopping in the markets for Shabbat, people relaxing at sidewalk cafes and filled city buses traveling their routes.

Would I go back to Israel any time soon, given the recent terror attacks? In a heartbeat. Israel needs our support now more than ever.

Am Yisrael chai.

Darcy Grabenstein, formerly Darcy Silvers, is a former editor of the Heritage Florida Jewish News, and now lives in Philadelphia.


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