Dear Friends,

Our tour of Israel, “Meetings with Remarkable People”, has come to an end, and it exceeded all of our expectations. I know I can speak for everyone in our group when I say that we were uplifted and inspired by the passionate, courageous and principled individuals we encountered. We were able to experience an aspect of Israel that does not make the headlines: individuals from all sectors of the society who feel compelled to make a positive impact on the nation in which they live.

At times we traveled far off the beaten tourist path – sometimes literally, as our bus drove on bumpy dirt roads and across railroad tracks. We met a retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice and we met a Beduin woman who has started her own cottage industry. We met a Christian Arab High School principal transforming her impoverished students’ lives and we met a self-described punk rocker and hippie originally from Australia transforming the desert into fertile soil. We met a Palestinian Muslim man who, with his Israeli partner, daily risks his life to bring Palestinian and Israeli teens together, and we met an Israeli Jewish man who is guiding troubled Jewish teens to become proud men. We met a successful jeweler who is training Ethiopian Jews in his trade as his way of giving them an entrée into a stable economic life, and we met a passionate young Israeli woman who works for a solar energy company that is now providing most of the electricity for the city of Eilat, and has much bigger plans for the future.

We met all of these people, and many more. None of these individuals can solve the endemic problems of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. None of them can single-handedly undo the inequities of their society. None of them has any measurable influence on or significant access to Israel’s current governing coalition or Prime Minister Netanyahu. None of them has the power to stem the terrifying tide of angry nationalism and racism that is sweeping our world, or to hold back global climate change.

Yet none of them are giving up. In fact, what all of these individuals share is a twinkle in their eyes, and a fierce determination and love for what they do and especially for the people they serve. Each one of them has a vision and a purpose for their lives, and was eager to share it with us. Each one has identified what they are passionate about, and is pursuing their goals despite the daunting obstacles. None of these remarkable people is making headlines or rolling in grant money, but every one of them is an agent for positive change.

Perhaps you see where I’m headed with this: our trip not only reminded me that Israel is filled with good people. Our trip reminded me that the entire world is filled with good people. Anywhere you will go, if you know how to look, you will meet countless people who have empowered themselves and are committed to improving their societies. The people we met in Israel are remarkable yet also ordinary people, often very humble, but lit by the inner fire of love and of a sense of purpose, of wanting to be of service. Their sphere of influence is limited: a business, a school, a farm, a small city, a courtroom, a youth group, yet they are not deterred, because they are doing what they love and what they know must be done. They often spoke of their children, and of their desire to hand them a better world.

And so I came back from Israel with the gift of their inspiring examples. I came home encouraged and empowered to keep making a difference in the world within my own sphere, to act locally while I think globally, and I want to share this gift with you as well.

We are living in dark times, but there are good people everywhere. Find them, join hands with them, draw inspiration from one another, do work that you care about, and keep your heart open. That is certainly my goal.

I once again wish to thank our guide Kayla Ship and her organization Keshet Educational Tours for showing us this slice of life in Israel. I can’t wait to return.

If you want to hear more about our trip, you are invited to join me and members of our Israel group on Sunday, March 5, 11am-1pm at our monthly WJC brunch. We will be sharing our reflections and stories from our journey, and look forward to your questions and comments.

Shabbat Shalom and Love,

Rabbi Jonathan