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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2017 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


August 11, 2017  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Israel, Turkey and hope for the future

By RABBI GARSON HERZFELD Temple Beth Shalom, Winter Haven

I am writing this message having just returned from a trip to Israel and Turkey. In Jerusalem, I attended the Rabbinic Torah Seminar at the Shalom Hartman Institute. This year’s theme was “1917 (Balfour Declaration), 1947 (UN Partition) 1967 (6- Day War): The Legacy of the Past and the Future of Modern Israel.” Appropriately enough, two major foci dominated many discussions – the future of the Temple Mount and the West Bank.

A close Turkish friend from Tampa joined me in Israel for eight days – his first trip to the country. Then together we flew to Istanbul and Izmir/ Cesme.

Turkey is an amazing country with its own unique energy and customs, unlike any other Muslim state. Seen through the eyes of my dear friend (and his family), I experienced sights and neighborhoods that are beyond the scope of most tours. While President Erdogan has built a modern infrastructure, he is gradually reducing personal freedoms, controlling the judiciary system, and moving toward a more religious state.

My attempts to visit the Jewish Museum in Istanbul were thwarted by anti-Israel demonstrations. Moreover, I was denied entry into the largest synagogue on Shabbat because I was unaware that the Jewish Council required a prior application and approval for visitors. This was a bit of a shock.

Just a week before in Israel, the seminar at Hartman had concluded Thursday before the incident on the Temple Mount. So my Turkish friend was denied entry into the Al Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers. We ultimately commiserated on how being denied access to public worship felt for each of us.

During my stay in Israel, I visited the West Bank on two separate occasions. The first time, sponsored by Truah – Rabbis for Human Rights, I spent several hours with a Palestinian family. The second time, sponsored by the Hartman Institute, I visited with Israeli settlers. Both families want a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both families want to live day-to-day feeling safe and secure. Both are opposed to violence and terrorism. Yet, each one has a vastly different vision of Israel – whether ultimately there should be one state or two – secular or religious. Moreover, during the two weeks at Hartman, I heard many different options for a solution to the conflict, but none seemed to satisfy both sides.

In spite of what I saw first hand, I am still optimistic. In Turkey, I played with my friend’s 10-month old niece – bright-eyed, a bundle of energy, open to be loved by everyone. She doesn’t know about religions – Muslim, Jewish, Christian (her nanny). She is unaware of conflict. In Israel, I visited Kurdish Jewish friends of 40 years. Their granddaughter stopped by to say hello. I held her as an infant more than 20 years ago. She is pregnant – another child will enter this world not knowing of religious differences or political conflicts. Both children represent the future.

As an older adult, I have found a friend here in Tampa who is as close to me as any lifetime friends (or family). We were born worlds apart – culturally, religiously, politically – and yet we find more in common than differences that may separate us. And here in Tampa, our Jewish community is planting seeds for our children, grandchildren – the future – by initiating Jewish- Muslim dialogue through the auspices of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Once we know our neighbors as human beings and dispel common misconceptions about our differences, the bonds of friendship will prevail. I firmly believe this to be the case, no matter where one resides.

Yes I am an eternal optimist. Each year as the High Holidays approach, I pray for the end of conflict. I pray for peace. Will 5778 be that year? I hope so. But if not, I will keep working toward that goal.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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