Beyond the Headlines: Travelling Towards a United Israel

The Bnai Zion Foundation is on a mission to build a
more inclusive, healthy and vibrant Israel. Travelling from
Jerusalem to Bethlehem, we
discover the ways in which travel, interaction and sharing stories
can break barriers both real and imagined.

Whether travelling for work, keeping up with friends’
destination weddings or squeezing in family time across the globe,
I make an effort to understand people and culture of each city far
beyond what I read online, scroll on Instagram or watch in the

While Israel is deemed one of the fastest-growing destinations
in the world, the country has lately received a bad rap. If we take
the media at face value, it is a place of geopolitical conflict,
ultra-religious pilgrimage and spring-break partygoers.

Earlier this year, however, I was able to experience firsthand a
different side to the country when visiting the Bnai Zion
Foundation. Located in the port city of Haifa, with clear views of
the Syrian and Lebanese borders, this organisation’s medical centre
aims to help people regardless of religion, nationality, age or

In 2006, rockets struck the heart of Haifa, just a few feet from
the hospital. It was then that Dr Amnon Rofe, CEO of the Bnai Zion
Medical Centre, made it his mission to protect both patients and
staff by building an underground, bomb-proof emergency room with a
state-of-the-art neonatal unit.

“This hospital is an excellent example of coexistence,” Rofe
says with passion. “Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs and Jews work
side by side, treating everyone in the city of Haifa.” It was a far
cry from the Haifa I had read about, and I couldn’t help but
mentally compare this cohesive approach with the healthcare system
in my homeland of America.

I later visited a factory on the West Bank that employed both
Palestinians and Israelis. It was refreshing to hear the manager’s
strict “No politics inside the gate!” mantra as he candidly joked
with us and showed me around. “We are like a family here; weddings,
birthdays, babies – we celebrate them all.” I thought to myself: is
all this diplomacy just for show?

Yet each new visit seemed to reinforce this spirit of humanity.
Another eye-opening project by the Bnai Zion Foundation is the
Israel Elwyn Supported Living
. I visited its complex in Jerusalem which serves more
than 3,000 children and adults with disabilities throughout Israel
every day. Unlike most homes for the disabled, Israel Elwyn
provides them with tools to gain independence so they can
eventually live and work in the community. After spending the
morning here, I left with my heart full.

Of all my experiences in Israel, talking to people was the real
highlight. From Jerusalem to Bethlehem, those I met were excited to
show me their Israel. One of my fellow travellers, Elizabeth
Savetsky, a Modern Orthodox Jewish mother of two from New York couldn’t wait to take
me to the Kotel (the Western Wall) for the first time. While I
don’t consider myself the religious type, I felt moved as I
approached this living piece of history.

It was a feeling that I would experience again and again as I
travelled around Israel – and that’s part of the beauty of such
conscious travel. How we interact with the world and find personal
fulfilment are highly individual. As I explored this Middle Eastern
country, my eyes were opened to the ways in which travel,
interaction and sharing stories can break barriers both real and
imagined. I was filled with optimism.