As I write these words, I am in the city of Jerusalem. My wife and I never need an excuse to come here, but we are here now for a combination of purposes.
First: We came to attend the wedding of my cousin.
My family came to Israel after the Second World War. If you have read Leon Uris’ masterpiece, Exodus, then you already know their story. They were “displaced persons” in Europe. They ran the British blockade to get to the land that was promised by G-d (and Lord Balfour) to the Jews and were interned on Cyprus when the British prevented their entry. After Israeli independence was declared, they were permitted to enter Israel just in time to fight in the war forced upon the fledgling state when it was attacked by five Arab armies. Since that time, they have fought in every war that was forced upon the Jewish state by those who would destroy her. They have flourished. They have become fruitful and multiplied. They have created a new universe after their old universe was destroyed.
My cousin, whose wedding we attended, is a third-generation Israeli. He is my second cousin-once-removed. Even in a community like Charleston, I wonder how many of my readers could say that they know their second cousin-once-removed, much less be ready to travel halfway across the world to attend his wedding. We did.
Shmuel married Shani, whose family emigrated to Israel from Yemen. She is one of the most beautiful women that I have ever seen, but I won’t go into that. The wedding was an extraordinary combination of joy and emotion. These two young people are the product of what has evocatively been called the “Ingathering.” The Ingathering was (and is) the process of gathering up the members of the Jewish people who had been scattered to the four corners of the Earth during the previous two thousand years of diaspora and bringing them home to the land that had been given to them by G-d Almighty. After Israeli independence, 850,000 Jews were forced to leave the Arab countries where there families had lived for millennia. (We always hear about the Palestinian “refugees” from Israel who, truth be told, were not ordered to leave by the Jews, but instead were forced out by their own leaders, but never about the Jews who were actually forced out by the Arabs.) Shani’s family was among those who found shelter and welcome in the Jewish nation.
So, we came here to participate in a miracle. The miracle of the marriage of two people whom the odds would have decreed would never have been born, in a country where the odds would have decreed would never have existed.
Which brings me to the next reason why we came here now.
Second: We came to accompany a group of South Carolina lawmakers on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Three years ago, I came to know a remarkable man who has since become one of my closest friends. Alan Clemmons is a member of the S.C. House of Representatives, representing Myrtle Beach and its environs. I first heard of him while still living in New York when I read that he had sponsored a resolution in support of the state of Israel, one that passed unanimously. I emailed him to thank him. He wrote back and we started a correspondence that resulted in a close electronic friendship. I learned that he had a deep love for Israel and as a New York Jew with limited exposure outside of my own community it amazed me that a Christian could feel so deeply for the Jewish state. At one point I told him that I would like to bring him to Israel and, to my surprise he promptly accepted. So I accompanied Alan Clemmons to Israel three years ago. It cemented his emotional ties to the nation in a way that even he could not have predicted. Then, Alan and I returned to Israel with our wives last year and his bond with the Jewish state continued to grow and solidify.
After each of his trips, Alan spoke to his colleagues about his experiences and they, in turn, expressed a desire to accompany Alan on his next trip. Alan arranged the trip for twelve of his colleagues and members of their families and my wife and I have had the great privilege and pleasure of seeing the land that we love through their eyes.
This experience has been profound for them. They have been able to see with their own eyes the extent to which they have been misled by the media and the American government who have painted a picture of Israel and the Palestinians that is so false and so skewed that they are astonished at its audacity.
They have seen for themselves that the places that shapers of American opinion call “settlements” are actually flourishing and beautiful towns. They have seen that the places that shapers of American opinion describe as centers of Palestinian poverty are filled with huge villas and luxury residences, many of which are owned by American Arabs who spend part of the year in Judea and Samaria and part of the year in places like Chicago.
They have seen that Israelis provide good jobs and decent livelihoods to 12,000 Palestinians in places that shapers of American opinion call “Occupied Territory” but that are in fact home to both Jews and Arabs who are living in relative peace and prosperity.
It is my earnest hope that the numbers of honest and reasonable Americans who come to Israel will continue to grow so that they can see and report for themselves the miracle of the modern state of Israel.
Stuart Kaufman is a retired lawyer, investment banker and businessman. He relocated from New York to Mount Pleasant in 2012. A friend recently told him that he has been a South Carolinian all of his life ... but he just didn’t know it.