|Philanthropist Angelica Berrie brought nine non-Jewish community leaders to Israel in August. From left, Douglass Duchak, John Smith, Janet Sharma, Berrie, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Esther Paik Goodhart, Maxine Frampton, and Michael Maron.|
First-time visitors to Israel often come back moved and inspired. But at least two of the non-Jewish community leaders who visited Israel for the first time in August with philanthropist Angelica Berrie also came back surprised.
Douglass Duchak, president and CEO of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, and Michael Maron, his counterpart at Teaneck’s Holy Name Hospital, said they were struck by the sense of normality that prevails in the country.
“The Old City is different,” said Duchak, “with its history, added security, and the marketplace. But when we were in Tel Aviv and Haifa, [it felt like] it could have been in the U.S.”
“When I first decided to go on the mission,” he said, “people said, ‘Are you sure you want to go?’ But we never once felt threatened.”
|Douglass Duchak, CEO, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center|
Maron said he was also surprised by the pervasive sense of “tolerance” he encountered during the trip.
“I had no strong expectations ahead of time,” he said. “But in hindsight, I would have expected more anger and bitterness” between the Israelis and Palestinians.
He noted that rather than “living in fear and depression, they displayed unbelievable passion and tolerance” rather than hatred, engaging in open discussions of differences.
Duchak said he was struck by “how many Arabs live in Israel. It’s something we don’t think about,” he said.
|Michael Maron, CEO, Holy Name Hospital|
“I hadn’t realized the complexity of the situation – all the variations [among Arabs],” agreed Maron. Nor, he added, had he realized that Jews define themselves as a “people” rather than as a religion. “It was an eye-opener,” he said.
The two men visited Israel as part of a mission sponsored by Berrie and planned by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary. Nine representatives from Holy Name, Englewood Hospital, PSE&G, television news, and other community and political leaders joined Berrie and UJA-NNJ executive vice president Howard Charish on the four-day trip.
Both Maron and Duchak described the days, and nights, as “packed” with activities.
“There was no down time,” said Maron, noting that he couldn’t comment on his interaction with the other members of the mission “because there was no time to talk to them.”
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” said Duchak. “Everyday I see or read something that reminds me of the trip,” he added, noting that when he saw a picture of the Western Wall in a newspaper before Rosh HaShanah, “I said, ‘I was there.'” In addition, he said, the group met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
“It was incredibly powerful,” he said. “He discussed what he believes it will take to bring about peace.”
Duchak said he and his fellow participants were “blown away” by their access to so many sites – getting a personal tour, for example, of Yad Vashem and a private viewing of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“We also got to talk to military leaders and have discussions with the media,” he said, adding that the group heard “a diversity of opinions.”
Describing himself as a “history buff,” Duchak said he treasured the chance to walk around the Old City, “where the centers of three major religions are within a half-mile radius.” Throughout his walks, he said, he continually noticed the young age of the Israeli security forces.
“I have three children between the ages of 18 and 21,” he said. “It made me think.”
Maron said the trip was divided into what he called a “social/educational component” and a “religious component.” The first segment included visits to a kibbutz, an orphanage, and several museums, as well as to places like the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a Bedouin village in the Negev.
“Helicoptering was a great way to see the Negev” said Duchak. “Flying over the desert we saw the Bedouins and their animals. We looked at how they live off the land.”
The second part of the trip, said Maron, included visits to Christian holy places.
“I never thought I’d get a chance to do this,” he said. “We walked the Stations of the Cross with a Franciscan priest who was full of life and fluent in 10 languages. Everyone knows him.”
Duchak said that, as a Catholic, he was moved by his visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and also found walking the Stations of the Cross a “fascinating” experience. The path is now marked by Arab markets and “people hawking,” he said. “I was trying to imagine what it was like” in the past, he added.
During a trip to Ono Academic College, the group met with four religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze communities who were participating in a legal program at the college. The group also ate Shabbat dinner with Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee for Interfaith Consultations.
Maron called the dinner not only “warm, open, and inviting” but said it included representatives of different religious groups and was marked by “inclusiveness.”
“I came home with the determination to be more patient and understanding and to embrace pluralism,” said Maron.
“You only read about extremists,” added Duchak. “There are a lot of people in the middle.”
Maron said that during the trip he visited several hospitals as well as the Technion. There, he said, he was exposed to “brilliant minds and cutting-edge clinical research.”
“The next day we visited the Bedouin village and saw people who live as they did 2,000 years ago,” he said, and was struck by the contrast.
“I absolutely will go back,” said Maron, who plans to return with a team of medical leaders from his hospital. He pointed out that the emergency rooms in Holy Name Hospital and Shaare Tzedek Hospital are similar.
“Our architects got together and exchanged drawings,” he said.
Duchak said that in his position he can speak to “a lot of people about a lot of things.” He said he will share – and has already begun to do so – his impressions of the trip and his belief that the country is safe to visit.
He added that he would “absolutely encourage non-Jews to go to Israel,” remarking that the trip satisfied both his “love of history and need to better understand and know more about” what’s going on in that part of the world. If he can, he said, he will go again.
“It went so fast,” he said, “and it was so good.”