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"Are You New Here?" CJDS Parent Rabbi Rachel Marks Reflects on Her First Night in Israel on the CCAR Solidarity Trip
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There was a great deal that I was intellectually prepared for as I embarked on this Central Conference of American Rabbis Solidarity trip to Israel. I understood that the Israel of today was vastly different from the Israel I left in March, when I was last here, with our group of travelers from TBI.

At JFK airport, I was prepared for the young Israeli man from ElAl asking me security questions to thank me for coming to Israel during the war. I was also prepared to see the photos of the hostages lining the main walkway from the terminal to the baggage claim at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. I was even prepared for the eerie feeling of standing in lines shorter than I’ve ever seen before in the foreign passport line at the border control.

What I wasn’t prepared for was a moment that occured right after I checked into the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv. I got onto the elevator with my bags, riding up to the fifteenth floor, where my room is located. Along the way, the elevator stopped, and two little girls, they must have been somewhere around 10 years old, got on. They smiled and asked, “At Chadasha Po?” (Are you new here?)

”Am I new here?” I wondered to myself, “This is a hotel, I guess I’m new here…” Then it hit me. These children are living in the Dan Panorama Hotel. They, along with so many in the hotel, have been evacuated from their homes in Kiryat Shemoneh, a city in the north of Israel, due to the northern front of this war. Our group of Reform rabbis from North America are sharing this hotel, a hotel that is normally swimming with tourists with Israelis who, for all kinds of horrific reasons about which we are all aware, cannot live in their own homes. And this is just one of many hotels in the center of the country housing displaced Israelis from the north and south.

The rest of the evening was full of really thought provoking conversations with a group of Reform Rabbis serving communities all over Israel, and with a keynote address from visionary leader MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the former head of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) who now represents the Labor Party as a Minister of Israel’s Knesset, who urged us to zoom out thinking about the larger geopolitical picture of this moment. I’ll be processing MK Kariv’s words for quite some time, and I’m sure I’ll share more about them with you when I’m less jet-lagged.

For now, as I head to bed after a very long travel day, I’ll be thinking of the children who asked the question, “At Chadasha Po?” Because though I’ve been to Israel more times than I can count, I am new here. I’m new to this post October 7th Israel.

An installation from Kikar HaChatufim in Tel Aviv

Rabbi Marks and other CCAR rabbis from across North America