Shabbat Greetings from Meredith Dragon 7.9.21

Last week I took a much needed vacation, with my family, to one of my favorite places, my hometown. I grew up in the sleepy beach town of Hampton Bays, a hamlet of Southampton, NY. Hampton Bays is where much of the local Hamptons population lives. Sprawling beautiful beaches on the ocean and the bays, rolling sand dunes and a loving community make “HB” unique and special. As I tell my children, I can still drive around town with my eyes closed and know where I am and whose house is on the corner, even though I have not lived there in three decades.
Sadly, a few years ago, my parents sold our family home. I did take a trek by our old house and asked the new owners if I could take a trimming from a tree I planted when I was a little girl. They were happy to oblige and invited me in for coffee. That’s HB.
The warm salty sea breezes nurtured my soul and provided opportunity for reflection. My favorite beach is called Ponquogue, a Native American name, and I call it my happy place. As I watched my boys boogie board, laugh with my childhood friends, share memories and make new ones, I felt oddly, normal. The stress of the last year and a half melted away in the comfort of home. Being home was like snuggling with a warm cozy blanket. It felt safe and right, for a moment, even as the world continues to swirl and change around us, often in very scary ways.
We enjoyed our favorite local fish restaurants and ice cream spots, while reconnecting with friends and family. Everyone feels like family, now, because it is such a small community. It didn’t always feel that way. Being home provided the footing to remind myself about growing up as one of the very few Jews, maybe eight total, in a school of 800. We were the most identified Jewish family. I was the one who brought latkes at Chanukah and created a model Seder at Passover. I was always, “the one Jewish – kid – friend – family.” In my graduating class of 100, I was the only one. 
Being the only one, in a town I loved dearly, shaped me in the best possible way. It led me to explore my Judaism, to identify proudly and to honor my difference. My family made every effort, including being active synagogue members, having a bar/bat mitzvah and connecting with other Jewish families to create important Jewish memories. My home town also led me to want to be someplace where I wasn’t the only one. HB led me to Israel.
After Shabbat, I’m leaving on another long awaited journey home. I am headed back to Israel on a national solidarity mission with Jewish Federations of North America.
I’m proud to be traveling with three community members, one of whom is Mark Henderson, our director of Jewish community security. This is Mark’s first trip to Israel. I am so excited and proud to have this opportunity to spend time with him, in Israel. 
On this mission we will be meeting with Israeli leadership, visiting with people and places impacted by the recent war, traveling to Sderot and Jerusalem, and visiting the Knesset. Additionally, we will be exploring Israeli social impact projects and grappling with issues of civil society and religious pluralism.
I will also be taking Mark to Jerusalem to see the new and old cities. And, of course, no visit to Israel will be complete without a stop in our partnership city of Modi’in. 
As much as we love seeing the sites, there is so much more to see, in addition to the places. There is diversity and nuance to explore. Things that go unnoticed, like road signs in three languages, people living everyday life, diversity in the best ways. 
We have all been through a lot. Like us, Israel is managing the impact of a pandemic. The recent war took its toll and the continued international vitriol about Israel has all of us concerned. Going home, to Israel, will provide much needed grounding and perspective on our Jewish world today. 
The hot Israeli sun in Jerusalem will fade into a shimmering pink Shabbat sunset reflected on the cool Jerusalem stone. 
The humid Tel Aviv air will curl our hair. 
Smells of the Carmel Market and Machane Yehuda will feed our soul. 
The hustle and bustle, blaring car horns, quiet of Shabbat, delicious fresh fruit and veggies will remind us of the diverse people living their lives, every day, just like us. 
On Sunday, I will begin posting a blog about our adventures with thoughts, reflections and photos. Please feel free to follow along with this link: Home | Eye on Israel.
From my home, in Rochester, to yours, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom.
Meredith Dragon, CEO


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