T en members of New York’s City Council, led by Speaker Corey Johnson, visited Israel last week on the 70th anniversary of its independence. Councilman Chaim Deutsch, chair of the council’s Jewish Caucus and a delegation member, described the trip as an “eye-opener” for his Democratic colleagues, some visiting Israel for the first time.

In addition to attending celebrations in Jerusalem, the delegation visited the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, Hadassah Medical Center, the town of Efrat in Gush Etzion, and Majdal Shams, a Druze town in the southern foothills of Mount Hermon; toured Israel’s northern and southern borders; and met with political leaders and opinion makers.

New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) sponsored this trip, continuing a tradition it has established for local elected officials and business leaders. Speaker Johnson, who has visited Israel several times, most recently in 2017, said he hopes his fellow City Council members “walk away with the knowledge and connections to make our existing partnership even stronger.”

Deutsch, himself the son of Holocaust survivors, said he was touched by what his colleagues learned during a three-hour tour at Yad Vashem, which also included a visit to the Children’s Memorial.

“They were very moved by this experience and they came out literally crying,” Deutsch said. “ I just kept thinking of what my father went through as a child and what other survivors went through and how they were treated.”

Deutsch also recalled meeting IDF soldiers on Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day). “It was extremely moving to look at those young kids and realize that many of their friends, just starting off life, were killed defending Israel.”

While the trip was not widely reported in the local media, Deutsch said it sent a strong message about New York City’s support for Israel, but more important were the personal experiences the delegation members brought back home.

“When you read the papers here, most of the time you get one side of the story about what happens in Israel,” he explained. “But when you actually go there and you meet terror victims, you meet people defending the country, and even meet Arabs — Israeli citizens — who speak highly of the state of Israel… When Council members see that, this gives them a totally different perspective.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 707)