Day 8: I to We

Cohort X in front of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation – May 3, 2022

By Lauren Goldfarb

Coming to Israel with this incredible group of leaders is not only enriching but hilarious. Take 35 adults, all with strong personalities (we are leadership after all), put them on a bus together, in Israel, on a trip they did not plan themselves (and everyone is a planner), after being isolated through a pandemic, only to buckle in for daily emotional rollercoaster rides we call- Being an American Jew in Israel with a group of people you only “kind of” know.

The take-aways from our programming has been the catalyst for incredible conversations and insights- this morning was no different.

We heard from Einat Wilf, who artfully walked us through Israel’s “Land for Peace” equation and how they came to that strategy. She distilled the complexity of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a concise way offering 2 options to peace:

  1. The Success of Anti-Zionisim (the portrayal of Jews as a people who don’t belong on this land wins)
  2. Jewish Zionisim is allowed to stand with EQUAL claims to this land.

Option 1 is not an option, so wrestling with how we get to #2, that is the work. And it work we have seen being done with people we have met on this trip. 

When someone asked her what we can do – Einat said simply- Be proud of your Zionisim. Do not give indulgence to the Idea that Israel is temporary. Stand proud. (so that’s what we do)

Our next stop was to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. It’s a beautiful building overlooking the Sea in Yafo. Upon arrival we watched a video on Peres’ life- and what struck me was what his Grandfather told him before he left Belarus for the land of Israel: “Shimon, Stay a Jew”. This message same message being told to us from every speaker in a different way. 

Here we not only learned about some programs this center put out to foster peace and understanding between Israelis and Arabs, but it celebrated Israel’s incredible contributions to the world stage in the form of health, security, technology and agriculture and we learned about how Israel is looking to tackle the world’s future problems.

Our group used all of our senses for lunch, with half of us going to a restaurant to eat in the pitch black, allowing your other senses to be heightened and the other half taking in the colors of the many salads, the sea and the melting pot that is Yafo.

This evening, we observed the beginning of Yom Hazikaron. Due to traffic in Tel Aviv, we pulled over on the road to observe the Siren that marks the beginning of this extremely heavy day. Cars pulled over on the highway and passengers got out to stand in silence until the Siren stopped. 

We were joined with 400 other participants from around the world to hear the stories, as told by family members, of those who died fighting for Israel and those who were killed by terrorist attacks just because they lived in Israel. To say the collective weight of grief was deeply felt, is an understatement. As a mom of 3 kids myself, I put myself in these mother’s shoes, it’s gut wrenching. ( I have so much more to say but only 500 words to use!)

On our first day, Avram Infeld noted that our group is here during what he called “The Days of We”.

The days of Awe are the time of deep individual introspection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The days of We is the time between Yom HaShoah and Yom Haatzmaut.  It’s The Jewish People’s transition from despair and destruction to Independence and Strength of having a State. It’s our people’s communal way of remembering what was, grieving deeply for who we lost not only to get here, but to stay here, and celebrating what is. 

Cohort X began in 2019 as a group of I’s and through this collective experience, I believe the group is leaving as a proud “We” with even more questions and ideas. Get ready Minnesota. Cohort X is returning and we have a lot to say.