By Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande
I am here in beautiful Israel as part of Project Interchange, a program of the American Jewish Council. Despite the worldwide travel alert, I feel very safe.
For my first seminar, we had a fascinating introduction to Israeli society and politics with Dr. Elinat Wilf, a former member of Knesset. She described Israel for us as an idea of the mind. At the end of the Seder you say, “To next year in Jerusalem.” The worldwide Jewish community decided to make that happen literally by founding Israel. It is an incredibly diverse nation of immigrants. It is a Jewish state, which can be confusing for Americans, who are used to the separation of church and state. Zionism is an idea about bringing ethnic Jews together. I found it very surprising when our speaker identified herself as a Jew who is an atheist. She said many people in Israel are non-practicing Jews religiously, but practice the culture. Israel has a very sizable minority population – approximately 20 percent Muslim and Christian.
We heard from Professor Uzi Rabi, Director of the Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, about the changing Middle East with Israel, Iran and Syria. These are difficult times with the Syrian genocide and Egyptian instability. The U.S. is now seen as a superpower in retreat in the region. In the Arab, Turkish and Iranian press the Russians and Chinese are becoming players to be reckoned with. There is a general sense of a changing of the guard and every player in the Middle East is recalculating their strategy accordingly.
The contrast between old and new is striking. These pictures of Tel Aviv and Jaffa were taken from the same point in different directions. Tel Aviv is a 100-year-old city and Jaffa is a 4000-year-old port, and these two cities are next to each other!
I will continue to blog about all I am learning this week with my fellow legislators and Israeli officials. Shalom!
Click on photos for larger view
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