| Second Thoughts |

The Last Itinerary

President Biden visited his limousine, his luxurious hotel rooms, the opulent banquet halls, but in his cocoon, he never experienced Israel. No one asked me, but if I were managing his trip, I would prepare a different itinerary


President Biden has come to Israel and has departed. The obligatory rituals were all religiously observed: the airport greetings, the visit to Yad Vashem(though only Trump visited the Kotel), the handshakes, the pledges of eternal friendship. Then the president, having visited Israel, flew home.

But President Biden — like all visiting dignitaries — never saw Israel. He visited his limousine, his luxurious hotel rooms, the opulent banquet halls, but in his cocoon, he never experienced Israel.

No one asked me, but if I were managing his trip, I would prepare a different itinerary.

His first stop: a visit to the vast study hall of Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshivah. There he would see a thousand young men of post-high-school age poring over ancient texts and discussing them enthusiastically, while still others attend classes and lectures. They would be studying not technology or computers or accounting. Instead, they are dissecting the various teachings of the historic Talmud. On this day they would be analyzing the case of a lost object found in a public thoroughfare, and whether the finder must search for the owner or keep it. Asking why this is important, the President will be told that such legal discussions — though they seem esoteric — are the very underpinnings of classical Jewish life. He will be further amazed that there are tens of thousands of such young men throughout Israel who spend many hours each day in such passionate deliberations.

It is time for Minchah, so from there we whisk him to a small shtibel/shul in Meah Shearim. We stand in a corner and observe the recitation of Ashrei (Psalm 145) followed by the silent Shemoneh Esreh. He is visibly moved by the obvious fervor of the small group of young and old worshipers. As we slip out the door, we inform him, to his further amazement, that such midday prayers are found all over Israel every day of the week.

From there, a ride on the Jerusalem Light Rail. Here the president finds true diversity: Israelis who are black, blond, Slavic, Yemenite, Anglo-Saxon. And to his surprise, he will find Arabs freely mingling with Israelis.

We leave the train and visit a major Jerusalem hospital. There he will notice Arab doctors working together with Jewish doctors, Arab nurses interacting amicably with Jewish nurses, and Arab patients being treated with the same care as Jewish patients

It is only a short ride to the world-famous Machaneh Yehudah Market, a sprawling encampment of restaurants, cafes, shops, colorful and exotic vegetable and fruit stalls. Here, too, he will see Arabs and Jews shopping, mingling and haggling together. We will then make a quick visit to the upgraded modern Jerusalem Malcha Mall, which features name brands and world-class companies, and which attracts thousands of shoppers of all backgrounds, including of course Israelis and Arabs mingling amid a cacophony of languages. After all this — and especially when he learns that the Israeli Knesset has Muslim members — the president will surely wonder why Israel is sometimes called an apartheid state

By now it is Friday and the president is back in his hotel room. We usher him down to the busy street. It is noontime, and traffic is a bumper-to-bumper, horn-blowing gridlock. We bring him back to his room, but in late afternoon we ask him to look out his window. The sun is setting, the shadows have lengthened, and the busy street is now almost completely deserted. Wondering at the strange silence at this height of the rush hour, he learns that he is experiencing the gradual onset of the Jewish Shabbat, which begins at sunset. When the streets quiet down, vehicular traffic disappears, pedestrians take over the roadways, children play in the streets, and an ethereal calm descends over Jerusalem.

And then something strange will occur: For the balance of his trip, he cancels all appointments. When asked, his handlers shrug their shoulders and say that the president decided to spend his time reading and meditating inside the Mir Yeshivah beis midrash, that he is not to be disturbed, and that before returning to Washington, he desires to experience once again the simple Minchah in Meah Shearim, and one more Shabbat of true peace in Jerusalem.

So will end an unparalleled presidential visit. And so will end my unparalleled career as a presidential travel advisor. —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 922)

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