Mission shows both sides of security issue

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Rabbi Paula Marcus knew she wanted to return to Israel, but this time not as a tourist.

So when an opportunity to visit with Rabbis for Human Rights-North Amer-

ica came along, Marcus, of Temple Beth El in Aptos, knew this was her chance.

Yes, there would be sightseeing and reconnecting with friends. But the group of 40 travelers, including Marcus and fellow North-ern California Rabbi Naomi Steinberg of Temple Beth El in Eureka, was in Israel for a different purpose: to listen.

“It was important for me to hear the stories of people, both Israelis and Palestinians, who are working for human rights,” Marcus said. “To read about their plight is really different than to see it with my own eyes.”

The mission was part of Rabbis for Human Rights’ yearlong “In Pursuit of Justice” campaign, marking anniversaries of Israel’s founding and the start of the rabbis organization. Rabbis, non-Jewish clergy and their supporters embarked on the 10-day solidarity mission Nov. 10 to experience life on both sides of the security barrier.

The North American group connected with its counterpart in Israel, an organization of rabbis from all sects of Judaism that provides education and advocacy to protect the rights of those living in Israel and the West Bank.

Participants planted trees at Kibbutz Mifalsm in Sderot and replaced olive trees in Palestinian fields that had been uprooted by Israeli soldiers. They also toured Hebron with a member of “Breaking the Silence,” a group of Israeli soldiers who tell their stories of service.

“Some days we were going from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Marcus said. “We had time for prayer and reflection in the morning and then it was on the bus to meet with people and listen to their experiences.”

The Reform rabbi met a Gaza woman whose son was hit by shrapnel while he walked to school. She stayed with a Palestinian family in Bethlehem that couldn’t obtain a permit to sell goods in Jerusalem, prompting the father to come to the United States in hopes of making enough money to support his family.

While speaking with Israelis and Palestinians about security, Marcus heard many Israelis praise the barrier for its help in stopping some of the violence.

On the other hand, many Palestinians des-cribed the placement of the barrier as an obstacle to their daily lives. One farmer explained that with the barrier in place, it now takes him two hours to reach his olive orchard.

“To not know what’s going to happen for you and your livelihood, that was difficult to hear,” Marcus said.

When she wasn’t conversing with people she met through Rabbis for Human Rights, Marcus took some time to pray with an egalitarian community that welcomed women’s participation in the service, even with a mehitzah separating men from women.

Throughout the trip, participants wrote about each day’s events in journals, which will serve as the foundation for stories told to their respective congregations and communities.

Marcus also studied Hebrew text with an Israeli-born rabbi and plans to use the teaching methods at her synagogue. She added that a highlight of the mission was handing out Barack Obama pins to everyone they encountered.

“I was inspired by the work people are doing there,” Marcus said. “I need to support the people who are making Israel what we know it can be. On all different sides of the country, there are people who want to see a peaceful resolution that honors the stories we heard. I feel inspired to add my voice.”