A trip of a life time describes the whirlwind tour of Israel by Virginia, Maryland and Colorado attorneys and their spouses. Our group included Edward Weiner, President of the Virginia State Bar and Cheryl Hepfer, former President of the International Academy of Family Lawyers. For 10 days in April we visited sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Caesarea, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. One afternoon was spent relaxing in the Dead Sea which has the lowest elevation on land and the highest saline content. The 34% salinity allows people to easily float with their natural buoyancy.
We were treated to camel rides, winery and beer tours and “shuk bites” food tasting at various local markets. On the last night, we relaxed at a grand hotel of Las Vegas proportion in Eilat in preparation for a day trip to Petra. A UNESCO world heritage site, Petra has been named one of the new seven wonders of the world. This city carved into vibrantly colored sandstone cliffs was lost to the western world until the early 1800s. It was a major center for trade and commerce around 300 B.C. More recently it has served as a stage for scenes in the blockbuster movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
While the variety and beauty of Israel is extraordinary, the historical significance and struggle of its people is the real story. It is hard to imagine when you visit world class cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that Israel as a state was only established in 1948. We had the unique pleasure of meeting with the former Chief Justice of the Israel Supreme Court, Ashur D. Grunis. Chief Justice Grunis received an LL.M degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. We learned about the religious and non religious court systems; that Israel still does not have a Constitution; and that Israeli’s are the most litigious people in the world due in part to the fact that one need not have “standing” to sue another.
The struggle of the Israeli people was placed front and center as we visited the unforgettable Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum; Avalon Institute; a munitions factory secretly located under a bakery and laundry; and the strategically important Golan Heights. The Israelis have turned land, which they describe as “sand, scorpions and stone”, into an agricultural region of wine, olives, apples and other products. They have shared their techniques for agriculture with their neighboring Jordanians who have also transformed desert land into a prosperous region.
Jerusalem contains the most sacred places in the world for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The pilgrimages and prayers of those at the Western (Wailing) Wall; The Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the location of Jesus’ tomb; and Harem Al-Sharif where the Prophet Mohammad left earth to visit heaven were sites that left an indelible impression on everyone.
Despite the life changing adventure, what I found most memorable was the graciousness and hospitality of the Israeli people. They were so very appreciative for the group taking the time to visit their country and for us to see what progress they have made. While their country is rich with history they are driven to have us look not so much at the past but what future generations have and will continue to offer the world.
Albert M. Bonin