From Eilat to Galilee, local D.A. sees complex Israel on JCRC trip

Kamala Harris, who grew up in Montreal surrounded by Jewish friends and even extended family, always yearned to visit Israel.

But it’s a long way from Quebec to the Western Wall, and Harris never made it to the Jewish state.

Until now.

The San Francisco district attorney was one of about a dozen mostly elected officials taken on a tour of Israel late last month by the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Personal highlights for the lawyer naturally gravitated toward her legal expertise. Speaking with an elderly survivor reminded her of nothing so much as counseling a shaken rape victim.

“I deal with people who are victims of violent crime all the time. They experience trauma, and when [the survivor] described the experience of surviving and then going to Israel and getting that feeling of ‘Why did I survive? Why am I here when so many were killed?’ that really jelled for me, knowing the experience victims of crime have,” she said.

The group took in Israel from Eilat to the Galilee, stopping to talk with a vast number of Israelis of all political stripes, ranging from settlers to Israeli Arab students.

“I tell you, what I got out of the trip was certainly a much better appreciation for the complexity of the issues that Israel faces and a much better appreciation for the depth and breadth of those issues,” said Harris.

Harris found something unexpected within Israel’s Supreme Court building as well — an American law library.

“Of course I asked what’s going on. And, contrasting the ancient history of the place and the newness of the country, the courts and supreme court justices may rely on laws of other countries or at least refer to those laws in creating their own jurisprudence.”

The JCRC has been bringing Bay Area community leaders to Israel for the past 15 years with the aim of shedding some light on the nation’s myriad complexities and spurring person-to-person relationships with Israelis in similar leadership positions.

“As we expose groups to the various issues within Israel, we give them a good picture, if you will, of the beauty of the land and its history,” said Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the JCRC about the trips, which are underwritten by the Jewish Community Endowment Fund and Bernard Osher Foundation.

“Our view is to open up this extraordinary society to our participants and help encourage a variety of long-term relationships to be built as well as a lifetime of interest in terms of Middle East issues.”

In addition to Harris, trip participants included state Assemblymembers Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento, Johan Klehs (D-San Leandro) and Rebecca Cohn (D-Saratoga); Jesse Blout, the director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development; and Steve Cohn, a Sacramento City Council member.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.