OpEd: An Unforgettable Trip to Israel

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Western Wall and Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel. (Getty Images)

Last month, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel. Accompanying me for the journey was my friend Rabbi Hershel Billet of Young Israel of Woodmere. Together, we crisscrossed the Land of Milk and Honey, dashing from religious landmarks and cultural touchstones to institutions of government, commerce, and medicine.

On a personal level, my trip was filled with countless experiences I won’t soon forget. Praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest and most sacred site for the Jewish people. Walking with Rabbi Billet through the unprecedented archeological excavation that dates back to the Second Temple period, between 516 BCE and 70 CE. Visiting the historic Jordan River, where according to the New Testament, John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ.

Standing at the site of the Masada, the majestic fortress King Herod built near the Dead Sea in the last century BC. Witnessing the sunset at the Sea of Galilee, or marveling at the snow-covered Mount Hermon. One cannot also forget their first falafel in pita with just the right amount of hummus! For a country the size of New Jersey, Israel certainly punches above its weight.

While I was traveling on my own expense, I knew that this was an important trip for me to take as Nassau County Executive. Above all, it was an opportunity to learn more about the culture and history of the Jewish people and their homeland. Especially in light of rising anti-Semitism and hate-fueled crimes here at home, I’ve sought to deepen my cultural understanding and solidarity with our proud Jewish community. 

As I walked the path through Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, I was reminded of just how important it is that we be neither silent nor complacent when confronted with hatred. In January, I organized a march of more than 2,500 Long Islanders of all faiths to take a stand against Anti-Semitism, and working through my new task force, Unify Long Island, we will continue to combat bigotry through education and unity.

Walking out of Yad Vashem, the first thing one sees along the mountain’s slope is a dramatic view of modern-day Jerusalem. It reminds you of the light that comes after the darkest hour — not just a new nation, but a beacon of hope built from the ashes of tragedy. 

Modern Israel is a gem, and today in 2020 we have much to learn from the Israeli people.

As county executive, my most important job is keeping our residents safe. My administration has especially prioritized securing synagogues, mosques, churches, and cultural institutions, working closely with community leaders to ensure the safety of residents of all faiths. It’s no secret that Israelis live in a dangerous geopolitical neighborhood. Meeting with local officials from Sderot to Efrat, I saw first-hand the advanced methods, tools, and know-how Israel champions to protect its citizens.

I’m working hard to build up research, development, and technology here on Long Island, and Israel’s tech sector has set a new global standard for innovation. In proportion to its population, Israel boasts the largest number of startup companies in the world. As Americans, we don’t just share with Israel timeless values of freedom and democracy; we also share common economic connections that help us all prosper.

Strengthening the bond between Nassau County and Israel has been a priority of my administration, and my trip to the Holy Land has inspired me to fortify that commitment.

I will continue to stand with the Jewish people and the State of Israel. As both continue to come under attack at home and abroad, that stance will remain firmer than ever. Am Yisrael Chai.

Laura Curran is the Nassau County Executive.