Letter to a Friend: “Go to Israel as You’ve Planned. Please Go.”

by Rabbi Neal Gold

This is a response to a friend who has been planning to travel to Israel in December with his college-age children. He expressed trepidation about going to Israel since the war with Hamas began in earnest. This is my reply to him.

Dear K.,

Thanks for your email. I know you’re feeling anxious and nervous about going to Israel with your kids. I most definitely am going in just a few weeks, and as of today I have not heard a single peep from any of other members of our temple group that they are hesitating about going. Perhaps that will change, but I hope not. But I’m going no matter what, and I wish I were getting on a plane today.

As for you… First, I want to say that I hope everything that I’m going to write in this note to you will be soon be moot, and that the fighting in Israel will be over tomorrow.

But I want to urge you not to cancel anything, and to go to Israel with your children as you’ve planned. Please go.

I know you, my friend, and you know me – I would never knowingly put you in harm’s way. You know I care for you very, very deeply.  So let me ask you:  why are you going to Israel in the first place? Is it for a vacation? Is it to lie on a beautiful beach all day long, and then to decide which fancy restaurant to have dinner in? I know that that’s not why you’re going.

I presume you’re going, in part, because Israel is the most interesting place in the world for a Jew to be – spiritually, historically, personally.  And it also the most idealistic place for a Jew to be. The modern State of Israel – I know you know this – is the culmination of daily prayers of Jews for 2,000 years to be reinstated in their historical homeland… And it actually happened, and we live in a generation when those prayers came to fruition. That is an awesome thing, and you’re going to be blown away by being in that old-new land.

I know you, and you are an idealist. You’re my friend who has traveled all over the country to do volunteer work with communities and people in need. You live the spirit of Tikkun Olam.  I think you’ve got to go to Israel, and be with the Jewish people who are hurting in a time of crisis and who are feeling isolated and alone by the hypocrites in the court of nations of the world.  I think you’ve got to be there to show them that Jews everywhere stand with one another and support one another.

Last month, I got a flurry of emails from Israelis after Hurricane Sandy. They said we’re with you, praying for you, during this time of crisis.  This month, we – you and I – have the opportunity to reciprocate.

I have one suggestion: Let’s take a look at your itinerary for your trip. Keep in all the stuff that is exciting from the point of view of history, archaeology, and Jewish spirituality – and all the stuff that will simply be fun for you and your kids. (If your itinerary is going to take you any place that is genuinely dangerous, I’m sure that your tour guide will re-route you. Israeli tour companies are experts on safety and security. You know I would never put you in harm’s way.) But I also want to encourage you to build in some Mitzvah-work into your plans. I can connect you with some Tzedakah organizations, for instance, that work with soldiers (remember they are just kids, 18-20 years old – the same age as your kids) and let them know that they aren’t abandoned. Or other volunteer programs that work with people who are hurting or in need. There are countless Good People and organizations in Israel that tend to new immigrants (want to meet Ethiopian Jews?), or disabled people, or elderly people, or victims of terror…

You can do this! Let’s get together and talk about it, and share itineraries. I think your visit to Israel is more important than ever – for you, for your kids, and for Israelis – because you are a shaliach Mitzvah (Mitzvah-messenger) and an emissary of shalom.

In friendship,


Rabbi Neal Gold serves Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA.