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A Different Kind of Packing List for Visiting Israel

A Different Kind of Packing List for Visiting Israel

Let us take part in enriching your visit to Israel in 2016 by helping you pack. Here’s what you need to bring:

Take your matzpen (Hebrew for compass), a very close relative of matzpun (Hebrew for conscience). Be sure to bring your most accurate internal GPS, the one that guides you in the direction of courage, not cowardice, truth not lies, reality not fantasy.

Take your “mensch-detector,” the one taught by years of experience. You will need to rely on it to identify the beautiful Israelis. Make sure your mensch-detector is color blind and oblivious to race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or religion. Beautiful Israelis can be Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, Bedouin, and foreign refugees. They can be black, white, and every shade in between.

Do not pack your Jewish "eternal victim kit.” It will not be useful on your visit to Israel. The kit distorts your ability to analyze history and obstructs your ability to gain your own insights. In this complex land, Jews are not always the victim. The “eternal victim kit" will disable your ability to wrestle with this reality.

Pack a hearing aid, whether or not you are hard of hearing. Pack your most sensitive aid for hearing racist slurs. Racism against minorities is a dangerous and rapidly growing phenomenon. You will find that your hearing aid will pick up covert and overt hate speech everywhere. Pack your hearing aid with great care. These instruments are delicate and very old. Three thousand years of antisemitism have perfected them to pick up the slightest notes of hate speech. Listen to Israelis talk about minorities and strengthen your resolve to fight racism.

Leave at home the official travel warning of your state department. It is more a correspondence between diplomats and insurance companies than a real message for you. The listed dangers are, statistically, not the ones you should be worried about. If there was real truth to them there would be such a warning for anyone visiting Baltimore or Cardiff.

Pack lotion to protect against romanticizing Israeli militarism. It's true that everyone looks better in uniform. It's also true that there are some wonderful people in the IDF, but the IDF is not the only key to the security of Israel. Every IDF chief of staff in the last 70 years has been quoted saying that peace is the best security for Israel. Many leaders of the Israeli peace camp are former IDF military commanders. Maybe it is time for you to see how good they look without uniform.

Don’t take a fancy sophisticated camera. You don’t want to be a slave to technology and miss out on the rare moments of life. Experience Israel with your senses; your camera is not one of them. Buy a book with photographs of Israel on your way home in the airport. It will remind you of what you saw, it is cheaper than all the equipment you are going to schlep. Let others miss out because they were searching for just the right lens. You focus on the moment, lock it into your memory. Instead of sharing pictures, share your memories.

Pack an English copy of Israel's Declaration of Independence. Study it (it's short) and learn what the original dream was about. Here's a little taste:

The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. 

Make 2016 the year you visit Israel. You won't regret it, and take my packing tips to heart. An educated tourist is our best partner.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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