Karl and Iris Raschkes of Salem were part of a group of 10 Rotarians from the Salem, Beaverton, Portland and Vancouver Clubs hosted by Rotary Clubs in Israel.
Our first impression of Israel was of the modern international Ben Gurion Airport. As we drove to Jerusalem we noticed the highway system was as modern as any in the US.
Jerusalem is a beautiful hilly city with historic buildings, theaters, parks, museums, modern malls and open-air shopping areas. The Jewish quarter looked very clean compared with the rest of the walled city. Our guide explained the ancient-looking buildings, synagogues and streets there were rebuilt after the 1967 war – when Israel took control of the entire city from the Jordanians, who destroyed the Jewish quarter when it was under their control. Jerusalem has excellent public transportation including buses and a new electric tram system.
In Haifa, we took an under-the-mountain tram to the top of Mt. Carmel and saw magnificent vistas of Haifa – including the Baha’i Shrine. Baha’i is a pacifist religion that moved its headquarters to Israel because of the religious freedom.
We went to a viola recital and noticed the doors to the concert hall were thick steel. The usher explained the hall doubles as a bomb shelter. Security in Israel is very prevalent.
In Tel Aviv we saw a modern city of shops, outdoor cafes, pubs, restaurants, malls, theaters and beautiful beaches. It is a city that never sleeps. Israelis like to go out at night and socialize late.
We visited an Israeli hospital that specializes in state-of-the-art heart surgery for infants and children. About 40% of the patients are children from Gaza who come for free life-saving cardiac surgery. (The day’s news reported rockets were being fired at southern Israeli towns from Gaza.)
Israel is a melting pot of people from all over the world where the Jewish people miraculously have returned to their ancient homeland after 2,000 years in exile. Israel is a tiny country only 9 miles across at its narrowest. We hope for the safety and security of Israel and its people, who seem to thrive despite living in a very perilous area of the world surrounded by enemies.