A Chabad-led tour of Israel gave a group of American Jews from the Midwest an up close perspective on the extremes of daily life in Israel when their visit coincided with the terrible massacre at Yeshiva Merkaz Harav on March 6.
Feelings of sadness mixed with feelings of pride, says Rabbi Dovid Rapoport, Chabad representative to Mequon, as his community members observed how the people of Israel resume living amid their raw pain and grief, with a unique intensity—a far cry from the rather quiet, peaceful pace of Midwestern suburban life.
A group of 20 members of Mequon’s Jewish community joined their Chabad leaders, in celebration of 25 years of the Rapoports’ dedication to Mequon.
The tour visited Jerusalem and all of the country’s historic sights, but, say some of the participants, most impressionable during their ten-day stay was the recognition that “despite what The New York Times says, this land is ours.”
Dr. Robert Kliegman, executive vice-president of the Children’s Research Institute at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, is a staunch supporter of the Mequon community and the land of Israel. Even though he travels to Israel four times a year to work in Hadassah Hospital’s pediatric department, this trip was unique. Last week he “saw the land through the eyes of the 15 people who had never been before.” For many of those, the trip was an epiphany.
“It’s an experience no Jewish person should live without,” insists Dr. Rick Bernstein upon returning from his maiden trip to Israel. Bernstein and his wife live in Las Vegas where they regularly attend Chabad activities. They heard about the trip from one of the Rapoport sons and decided to join. Their experience “transcends description,” as they lived “the people, history, and spirituality we read about in the Torah.”
For the Bernsteins and many others, it was the dichotomy of Israel that struck a chord. “We met with soldiers on their base across from Lebanon,” says Bernstein. “We knew that those on the other side of the border only want to murder Jews. And yet here at the base, these young, intelligent soldiers are giving up their youth to defend their country and to perform mitzvot.”
The Mequonites prayed at the Kotel on Friday following the massacre at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav. Dr. Kliegman describes the scene: “There was a group of teenage yeshiva boys dancing with soldiers in the packed courtyard.” While they mourned the collective loss, these proud Jews still found the joy to celebrate Shabbat. “That’s what Israel is about. We bury our dead and then continue to live and celebrate life.”
Jay and Reisa Met hope their pre-teen children will take inspiration from the family’s first visit to Israel. The Mets wanted their son and daughter to “see their roots” and “feel good about being Jewish.” Upon their return, Met says she herself “feels stronger about being Jewish,” and now has a great “pride in the land.”
Organizer Rabbi Menachem Rapoport says the trip strengthened their connection to Israel and provided an opportunity for community members to bond.
He describes the trip to Israel as "one long, powerful farbrengen,” leaving many inspired to grow in their spiritual observance.
Mequon, a typical Midwest suburb north of Milwaukee has grown dramatically since the early 1980s. Beginning with weekly minyan they started in their basement, it has sinced developed into a thriving community complete with an award-winning preschool and a fabulously upgraded property.