Virtual Voices

Thoughts from Israel

Middle East

It's a privilege to write to you again from Israel. I've been blessed to be able to travel here three times since 2008, and I'd like to share a few thoughts about the Jewish Sabbath, the fence, toleration, entrepreneurship, and danger.

The Jewish Sabbath

I'm writing this column on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. I took an hour walk in Rehovot, the hometown of my generous host, David Peiffer. Rehovot's typically frenetic streets are quiet today. The hundreds of shops here are closed. Not one of them is open. During the entire hour I saw just one taxi in this land of the ubiquitous cabbie. It reminds me of the blue laws of my youth.

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The Fence

Rehovot is south of Tel Aviv. David, his son, and I headed north to the Galilee region a few days ago to raft the Jordan River and visit a friend at a kibbutz. Along the way we drove past miles of the contentious fence that the Israelis erected along the West Bank to keep out terrorists. The fence has worked. Another benefit is that the fence has helped to establish a border for a Palestinian state if one is to come about. The two sides agree upon about 75 percent of the border. The fence is a clear demarcation of territory providing a stable border. Of course, settling the remaining 25 percent of the border will be difficult because it involves Jerusalem and the settlements.

Toleration

Contrary to what most people probably think about the Israeli people, they are incredibly tolerant of Muslims within their borders. Drive just about anywhere and you'll see minarets and mosques dotting the land and you'll hear the Muslim call to worship. When I strolled the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem down the Via Dolorosa to the Temple Mount, I took a wrong turn and wandered deep into the Muslim Quarter. No problem. I turned around, found my way to the Temple Mount, but was politely asked by security if I was a Muslim. I said no and was asked to return at 1:30 because the site was closed to non-Muslims until then. I had been there before so I headed back up the Via Dolorosa, took a left on Haggai Street, passed through Israeli security, and went to the Western Wall. For the most part, Israelis and Muslims live peacefully and prosperously together thanks to the well-ordered society Israel provides.

Entrepreneurship

I had breakfast with a venture capitalist with dual American-Israeli citizenship who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for 90 business startups. Indeed, Israel is Start-Up Nation, a veritable beehive of creative entrepreneurial activity. Take a ride down the coast from Haifa to Tel Aviv and you'll see that Israel is home to some of the high-tech and pharmaceutical industries' best research and development units.

Danger

I had dinner with an Israeli intelligence officer who has seen his share of war and death. This country owes its vitality and peace to a highly trained, brave, and ever-vigilant military that lives on the fine line between life and death.

Peace, innovation, prosperity, and diversity are words rarely associated with Israel but they're here in abundance. And so is a collective sense of purpose. Israel: It's so much more than the images we see on television.

Lee Wishing
Lee Wishing

Lee is the administrative director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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