This letter is a tribute to my colleague Jim, a great supporter of Israel, who died on Sept. 24 from one of the most virulent cases of ALS every seen at a major New York hospital – seven months from start to finish. Jim was 47, fabulously handsome, smart, successful, and kind. He leaves behind three teenage children and a wife.
But here is why I write to your readers: Come on Jersey to Jerusalem 2 (J2J2) Feb. 14 to 22, 2009. Jim wanted to. He thought Israel looked like the most fabulous place on Earth. He was not Jewish.
Jim and I worked together for only two years. Soon after he arrived, we regularly shared 7 a.m. coffee together, and through this morning wake-up routine, we came to learn that each of us was active in our respective religious communities. It turns out that Jim was the lay leader of a large Presbyterian church in central New Jersey. We shared our successes and difficulties, urged each other on when we felt like giving up, pushed each other to do the right thing when we wanted to do nothing. But soon enough, there was one burning question I had to ask this man, possibly jeopardizing our friendship: Had his church divested from Israel when the Presbyterians were actively boycotting Israeli investments? With piercing eyes, he stared right at me and said: “Yeah, I got that letter several years ago, and with it, I doubled our church’s investment in Israel.”
This summer, Jim could barely get to work, but he showed up one morning franticly wanting to talk to me. He had learned that stem cell therapy might help him; he wanted to go to Israel for it. And, he said, “when I get better, I’m coming on J2J2 with you; it sounds like an astounding trip.” Jim didn’t make it. But we can. It will be a great trip, but what’s more important, it is a great country, worth experiencing every chance possible. Life is short. We do Israel and people like Jim honor when we recognize what a great nation Israel is by touching the land. Come to Israel with J2J2.
Leslie E. Billet
Co-chair, Jersey to Jerusalem 2, Community Trip to Israel
UJA Federation of Northern