(HEADER IMAGE: Mark Vandermaas & Goldi Steiner at JNF Educators Mission opening ceremony, Rosh Tzipor Birdwatching Center, Yarkon Park, Tel Aviv, July 22/19)
My wife is a travel agent with more than 30 years experience. Clients often talk about 'trips of a lifetime.' Imagine going on the trip of two lifetimes that was so intense, so emotional, so educational, so thought-provoking, so impactful, and so relevant to your life's work on so many levels that it left you thinking about nothing else, yet utterly incapable of sharing or organizing your experiences and thoughts to share with others. That's what happened to me after coming home from Israel in July.
Three weeks ago I returned to Canada from a 7 day Educators Mission to Israel sponsored by the Jewish National Fund Canada-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF-KKL) with help from Canadians for Israel's Legal Rights (CILR) and the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation (CAEF) who covered my airfare expenses. Only today am I finally ready to try to begin to write about the experience.
ABOUT THE MISSION (don't miss the slideshow!)
The Educators Mission was part of JNF/KKL's 2019 World Education Conference attended by approximately 150 educators--mainly classroom teachers--from Canada, USA, UK, France and Australia. Our bus had mainly Canadian teachers with several from the UK. We were led by Yifat Bear-Miller of JNF Canada and guided by Ze'ev (below) and Avi, both of whom never failed to amaze us with their knowledge and ability to keep us on schedule.
Teacher extraordinaire, Aviva Polansky, from Toronto's CHAT high school where I taught several classes about Israel's land rights earlier in the year has graciously given me permission to upload and share her short, but terrific slideshow set to Hebrew song containing highlights from many of our stops. See below. (Watch around the 10:39 mark for shots of Goldi Steiner and me at the US Embassy in Jerusalem where we paid respects to the US government for its pro-Israel policies. At 12:47 you can see a collection of exploded rockets stacked beside the Sderot police station.)
SO MUCH TO TELL...
This will be the first in a series of posts on topics such as (in no particular order):
- The staggering, inter-generational contribution of the Jewish National Fund to the Jewish state. If Israel is a miracle, and I believe it is then, arguably, the two organizations most responsible for making it so have to be the Israel Defence Forces and the Jewish National Fund. If you thought as I did...that the JNF was some organization you send $18 to so you could have a tree planted in the name of a loved one, you'll be utterly shocked at all they really do and have done with your money. Oh yes, the JNF has planted a few trees...about a quarter of a billion of them! One was planted by me in the name of the province of New Brunswick (thanks for that JNF-KKL. It was a wonderful surprize).
- My impromptu decision, inspired by my dementia-suffering mother-in-law, to try to help the Resilience Therapy Center in Sderot treat kids via an unusual 'experiment.' By the way...can you guess what percentage of the town's 6000 children are experiencing some level of trauma due to rocket attacks from Hamas killers in Gaza, just 1km away? See the very bottom of the article for the answer (in red).
- What it was like seeing Israel and visiting Yad Vashem with a child survivor of the Holocaust by my side as my friend and ally.
- What I learned from Yad Vashem (Israel's Holocaust Museum) about BDS (Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions) even though the subject of BDS never came up. And...what made me finally 'lose it' in the museum's very last display.
- The hope that springs forth in my heart and that of my travel partner, Goldi Steiner of CILR after the many discussions with our fellow travelers which revealed that although teachers of Jewish children are generally unaware of the international law recognizing Jews as owners of all land west of the Jordan River known as the Mandate For Palestine and Note re Trans-Jordan many are hungry for the knowledge so their kids don't go to bed believing the lie that Jews stole land.
- How we were inspired by the healing and refuge offered to people with mental issues at Kibbutz Harduf, both long and short term. While there I shared a hug with a former IDF soldier working in the gift shop who was recovering from suicidal desperation. She gifted me a copy of her children's book written after her first 'episode.' We had a great deal in common.
- Why I told the JNF that visiting Ammunition Hill, site of the seminal Six Day War battle by the unit that raised the Israel flag over Temple Mount made the greatest impression on me, and how one of the warrior heroes who helped liberate the land from Jordanian occupation that day offered his help in furthering our mission to liberate Israel from the 'occupation' narrative.
- The intense love and respect Israel's people have for their land, for safeguarding the environment and for making it accessible to disabled people, and their willingness to endure any oppression by terrorists to defend it.
- The incredible story of visiting the elite Egoz commando unit, handling their weapons, and meeting a wounded hero who pairs IDF veterans with autistic kids so they can heal one another.
- How it felt as a former peacekeeper and advocate for Israel's land rights to stand on a bunker complex on Mount Bental in the Golan Heights overlooking the Syrian border battle site and seeing the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) station below.
'FOR EVERYTHING THERE IS A TIME'
Forty-one years ago in 1978, when I came home from my six month tour of duty as a United Nations peacekeeper in the Middle East I had the strangest sense that Canada was not part of the 'real world.' I wanted to go back to be near the conflict, near the history, near the struggle of Jewish people building their state against impossible odds.
No one shot at me during my tour of duty and I shot at no one. The closest violence came to me was when an Egyptian soldier pointed his rifle at me when I illegally and unknowingly tried to enter the buffer zone after dark because I had gotten lost in the extreme darkness of the night desert. Mostly, my tour involved some easy work of inspecting vehicles coming in for repair from Swedish, Ghanan, Indonesian and Finish contingents; swimming in the pool; and going on R&R (Rest & Relaxation) trips. Yet, I had come home to a place that didn't make sense at first.
I hesitate to call it even an extremely mild form of PTSD because I cannot put myself into the same category as wounded warriors (I've assisted a Canadian combat soldier in a small, but important way, so I do know what 'real' PTSD looks like), but that term might convey a sense of what I experienced to those who don't quite get what I felt in 1978, and am feeling now after my 2019 six month tour of Israel completed in just 7 days.
I saw Israeli humanity and nation-building at its best, and I only wish the well-meaning people who have been suckered in by the antisemitic 'occupation' libel spread by Jew-haters could see it, too. Even if you had no idea that in 1922 the world recognized the Jewish people as owners of all land west of the Jordan River under international law in the Mandate For Palestine and Note re Trans-Jordan, you could not see what we saw and hear what we heard and still believe the Jewish people were capable of stealing land from other people.
But, the hate and terror based on the 'occupation' lie is there and it affected us even though it wasn't the focus of our trip. I saw the carcasses of terrorist rockets aimed at children; the bomb shelters in the playground; a piece of the wall that protects highway travelers from Arab snipers. I visited a therapist treating child victims of Hamas terror; and walked with an armed guard through Jerusalem after praying at the Wall.
Coming home to my little, safe, idyllic village in New Brunswick, Canada where I am surrounded not by monsters who want to kill me, but with friendly, hardworking, ordinary people peacefully going about their daily business seems more than a little surreal. No rockets from Prince Edward Island. No terror tunnels from the neighbouring village of Edgetts Landing. No threats of nuclear annihilation from Maine. No soldiers with rifles protecting the highway to Moncton.
Yet, I don't want to leave you with the idea that Israelis live in fear and can't laugh or enjoy life; exactly the opposite is true, in fact. They live with the world's scrutiny, the hate, the terror, and the security precautions with grace and determination. If I dropped you off pretty much anywhere in the Israel I saw, including a town in the liberated areas I spent a night in after the trip, you would never know the extent of the stress they carry on their shoulders...at first.
While their enemies try to burn down their precious trees and kill their children, they cry, they laugh, they debate, they learn, they buy fire trucks (with JNF help!), they go to war, and they build. They create bird sanctuaries, plant accessible forests, build schools, reclaim swamps and deserts, teach the world how to build water infrastructure, and they reach for the stars. Israel's people live their lives every minute and every day as reluctant testimonials to the truth of the Ecclesiastes verses about there being a time for everything:
3:1 For everything there is an appointed time,and an appropriate time for every activity on earth:
3:2 A time to be born, and a time to die;a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted;
3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
3:5 A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
3:6 A time to search, and a time to give something up as lost; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
3:7 A time to rip, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak.
3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
Perhaps part of the altered reality I experienced is realizing that we, in today's Canada, have little sense of the deepest meaning of these verses at a national level. Israelis live intensely with such truisms every single day as they build a miracle in the desert under impossible conditions in what one of our guides referred to as a 'pretty rough neighbourhood.' Something in this Gentile longs to be back with them.
I owe JNF and our wonderful co-ordinator Yifat Bear-Miller, and my partners at Canadians for Israel's Legal Rights an apology for my tardiness in sharing the things I learned about Israel at their expense. The not-so-simple explanation is that I've come home with an altered sense of reality as well as a sense of hopeful possibilities for bringing the good news about Israel and her modern land deed to more people, and it's taking time to unravel it all.
I suppose 'there is a time for everything' applies to me, too, but it's frustrating to think you might be letting down people to whom you owe so much. That's in my mind, not theirs I am sure, but thank you anyway for your patience, Yifat, Goldi, and Irving.
One of the JNF's requirements of the trip was to outline a 'project' we would undertake in the year following. I originally told Yifat that CILR and I are working on the idea of a cross-country training tour for me. Now, we have 40 teaching colleagues who may be able to open some doors for us. Wow!
Some of us, however, were inspired by what we saw into possibly altering, changing or adding projects. One married couple who teach autistic kids discussed with me their interest in duplicating in Canada the Kibbutz Harduf experience where an entire community is built around helping and caring for the most vulnerable residents. Will it come to pass? I don't know, but I know this: every one of us was changed by this trip for the better.
For my part, yes...CILR and I will continue to work on a Canadian tour, and to teach as many people as possible about Israel's modern land title deed, but I have added 2 projects to my list: I don't want to say too much, but the first is an enhanced plan/proposal related to the preservation of the Jewish legacy, honour and dignity. The second is an experiment I am working on with one of the therapists in Sderot to possibly help traumatized children with mechanical animal companions. It may come to nothing, but if it works, it could be expanded with your help to make a big difference in healing the kids.
While in Israel I was interviewed by Rachel Avraham, a journalist, political analyst and consultant to Shurat Hadin and the Safadi Center. I'll post the article when available, so be sure to join Israel Truth Week here.
Thank you to the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael for including me in this experience of, as I said earlier...two lifetimes. Before I left, I wrote an article entitled, Former United Nations Peacekeeper Going 'Home' to Israel. And truly, it was a homecoming. Everything I believed about Israel that was good and true I saw with my own eyes: a compassionate, but determined and innovative people who seem to harbour no hate for the people trying to take their land and kill them. As near as I can tell, their only hatred is for the injustice of being demonized and boycotted once again by people using and/or justifying violence against their children.
Thank you to the incredible, compassionate and passionate teachers who shared this trip with me/us. I learned much from you, and we learned much together. It truly was an honour to ride the 'Canadian' bus with you all. Thanks especially to Aviva Polansky for recommending me to the JNF, and also for permitting me to upload and share her slide show with you. That courtesy allowed me to focus on telling my story instead of having to go through all my pictures and create my own slideshow/video.
Thank you to Ze'ev and to Avi who served as our amazing guides. They, along with Yifat, herded their Canadian and UK 'cats' all over Israel with grace, patience and intimate understanding of their nation. I am proud to be one of 'Yifat's Cats.' (English isn't Yifat's first language, so I was never sure if my attempts at humour in comparing her to someone trying to do the impossible task of trying to herd cats was clear or not.)
To call this trip 'well organized' would be an insult; it was carried out with military precision that set a bar so high that if it were a TV show, it would be called, 'Extreme Tour Organizing.' As I mentioned in opening, my wife has over 30 years in travel. Trust me when I say that this trip was in an entirely new category of 'organized.'
Thank you to Renanah and Joe Gemeiner for your never-ending support. Someone on the tour referred to Renanah as 'The Walking Heart.' Those who know her know it is true. Her husband Joe is 'The Walking Heart 2IC' (military acronym for '2nd In Command).
Thank you to Ardie Geldman of ITalkIsrael.com (below, right) who put me up for a night after the tour in his Efrat home located in the liberated reclamation area in the Judean hills where the cool air was a welcome respite. Thank you especially to Ardie's wife and daughter for their warm welcome on very short notice. Ardie uses my training booklet to educate people visiting Arab areas who want to know Israel's side of the story.
Thank you to Canadians for Israel's Legal Rights and Irving Weisdorf of the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation for covering my airfare costs, but more importantly...for sending the magnificent Goldi Steiner to be my travel partner. She's a teensy bit, just a little mind you...older than me, but I had to struggle to keep up with her. We were an awesome team: I got teachers excited about Israel's land deed and she recorded their contact info in her 'little black book.'
Here is an incredible picture of Goldi, taken by teacher Ruth Berkovich at the Hula Lake bird/wildlife sanctuary near the Golan Heights. From Holocaust child without a home to land rights warrior standing on the land of Israel, the 'Never Again' guarantor for the Jewish people. What a breathtaking honour to be her ally, travelling companion and speaker for the organization she co-founded with the late Salomon Benzimra, my mentor, and the author of The Jewish People's Rights To The Land Of Israel (which you really need to order!).
I opened with a picture of Goldi and me on the first day of the tour. Let's end with a picture of her just hours after the tour ended on Sunday, July 28th as she received an award from Im Turtzu for her tireless land rights work with Member of the Knesset (MK) and former Israeli Minister of Public Security Avi Dichter in the audience. The great scholar, lecturer, analyst and former IDF Lieutenant-Colonel Mordechai Kedar drove us to the event; he is the second man to the left of Goldi.
Well, I've got a project proposal to write up and some yardwork to do. Thanks for reading, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support over the years. I don't know where this is going, but I sure like the direction, and it couldn't happen without you.
WANT TO HELP US HELP ISRAEL?
1. If you think your organization would like to be a host or donor in support of a future cross-Canada Liberating Israel training tour, let Goldi Steiner know you're interested: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Please...do join Israel Truth Week (for free!) so we can keep in touch.
3. If you haven't already done so, take my free Liberating Israel training online.
4. I'll talk more about the Jewish National Fund later, but be well assured that every bit of the support you have given and could give to them is well-deployed. You can donate here.
Donations to JNF Canada and Canadians for Israel's Legal Rights are tax-deductible.
ANSWER to the question above as to what percentage of the children in the town of Sderot near the Gaza border do you think are suffering some sign of trauma from Hamas rocket attacks. Your guess was too low...it's actually 70%. Approximately 4,200 children are showing signs, whether minor or major, of trauma from Gaza terror against civilians. And then there are the adults.
POSTED BY: Mark Vandermaas
Mark Vandermaas is the founder and trainer for IsraelTruthWeek.org, and is the official lecturer for Canadians for Israel's Legal Rights. His mission is to liberate Israel from the antisemitic 'occupation' libel that lies under so much of today's anti-Jew, anti-Israel hatred. His Liberating Israel training can be accessed at IsraelTruthWeek.org/#deed. For a brief insight into Mark's thinking about winning the counter-propaganda war for Israel's dignity in the face of the relentless accusations of stolen land see this reprint of a Canadian Jewish News op-ed, 'Truth Before Solutions.'