Before I begin, I would like to thank the Jewish Federation of Cleveland for inviting my wife, Bridget, and me to Israel on what can only be described as a lifelong and cherished memory.
We began in a city built on a sand dune by 60 families crazy enough to think they could build their own version of New York City, but in the ancient land of the Jewish people. They didn’t have much, but they did have a dream. You may know the place – Tel Aviv. Seventy years later, the city clearly surpasses the imagination of those 60 families. Almost half-a-million people call the city home. It’s one of the most important technology centers in the world and has the largest economy in the Middle East. It’s a place where a dream became a reality that is truly a miracle.
We spent two remarkable days in Tel Aviv, understanding its people, its history (they prefer “memory”) and its institutions. Among them, the Weizmann Institute of Science stands out and speaks to the intellectual power of this young nation. Started 14 years before Israel existed as a nation and during the crisis engulfing Europe, the Weizmann Institute has kept its promise to make the world a better place for all of humanity. We also visited the Yitzhak Rabin Center. A fitting tribute to an amazing man, the center pays homage to his life. But it’s more than that. Once there, you realize the story of this man mirrors the story of this nation: smart, brave and determined. All of that in spades, but also flawed. We experienced the very spot where, on a Saturday evening at a rally under the slogan, “Yes to peace, no to Violence,” then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke and was murdered by a Jewish radical. I’m certainly no expert, but it seemed some of the nation’s hope died with him.
From Tel Aviv, it was time to head to the holy sites of this incredible land. Names, places and phrases I hadn’t heard since my Catholic nuns beat me with a ruler for failing to properly recite them ... the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, Nazareth the Mount of the Beatitudes. Our amazing tour guide, aptly named Abraham, took us to a spot just yards from where Jesus gave his sermon on the mount. We gathered together and sat in silence so quiet you could hear the wind pass through the palm trees just above our heads. Beatitudo, Latin for blessed, gives these simple laws for humanity their name. Ideals that we haven’t reached as mankind, but a stark reminder that we need to keep striving to do so.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
As it turns out, we had met just a peacemaker the day before. We had an amazing lunch and as we struggled to digest the endless courses of food, a local resident, leader and Israeli citizen, Mohammed Darawshe, spoke to us about being Arab, being Muslim and being Israeli. The stunning contractions, complexities and intricacies of the West Bank came to life before our eyes. He spoke of the need for leadership, the need for a common understanding and the importance of celebrating our similarities and downplaying our differences, universal truths that we should all remember.
One of the more touching moments was meeting the children the Federation supports in Beit Shean. An off-the-beaten-path, forgotten village, Beit Shean has a future because of the support from Cleveland. Our Cleveland. I’ve never been prouder of our hometown.
As we ascended to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount came into view, suddenly everyone realized we had reached a special place, an important place and a place mixed with beauty, an ugly history and an uncertain future. A holy city with more than 3,000 years of history. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Dome of the Rock. The Foundation Stone. And, of course, the Western Wall. Attempting to put the emotions you encounter when visiting this sacred place is a fool’s errand, so I won’t even attempt it.
But I will say this, if you have the chance, make the journey. Whether you are a believer of any faith or none, Jerusalem must be on your list. It’s changed my life and the others on the trip for the better. It can change yours, too.
Bernie Moreno is chairman of Ownum and president of Bernie Moreno Companies.