Israel Unveiled: A Senator’s Insight into Faith, Politics, and Tenacity
By Senator Holly Thompson Rehder
Navigating the Intersections of Faith, Politics, and Human Resilience in Israel
I’ve had the great honor to travel to Israel twice in the last 8 years. During these trips, I was able to delve deep into the intricate tapestry of this ancient land’s spiritual, political, and social dynamics. The journeys, far more than mere trips to me, were profound spiritual explorations and stark encounters with geopolitical realities. Here, I share my experiences and reflections from visiting Israel’s historic sites and offer insights into the resilience and challenges faced by its people. In this time of war for Israel, and the intense pushback they are getting from so many across the globe, I want to unpack my multifaceted experiences. In this article, I intertwine faith, politics, and the enduring spirit of the Israeli people for all that are willing to listen and learn more about the complexities this great country faces.
Discovering Spiritual Insights in Israel:
My connection to Israel is deeply rooted from my earliest upbringing in the Seventh-day Adventist faith, attending with and learning from my grandparents, to my move as a teenager with my mother to a non-denominational church. The Old Testament, a cornerstone of my upbringing, became vividly alive in Israel’s landscapes. From the youthful days of studying biblical texts to physically walking through these historical sites, the spiritual resonance was overwhelming. This journey wasn’t just about seeing – it was about connecting with the rich historical and religious fabric of Israel, understanding the profound ties between my faith and the land’s ancient stories.
We were blessed to have guides along the way. One of the most simplistic, yet profound, moments was when we were shown the “Eye of the Needle” gate in Jerusalem. My immediate thought was “Hold up! Does this have something to do with Jesus telling the story of the rich person getting into Heaven?” Yes. Yes, it does. For those of you who are not familiar, in the Bible, Matthew 19:24, Jesus is teaching and says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
For those who have grown up like me and have been in and out of fire and brimstone churches, chances are you’ve heard this scripture taken more literally in the past. Not necessarily that a rich person couldn’t get into Heaven, but, well…something close to that at times. My Pastor for over 30 years, my adult life, has always taught that God wants us to do well. He wants to bless us abundantly, and scripture certainly supports that. But that one story…the camel and the eye of the needle…has always been a mystery to me. However, seeing with my own eyes, the “Eye of the Needle” gate–with its narrow opening making it hard for a camel loaded down to squeeze through–I started wondering what other mysteries would be uncovered for me on this amazing journey of the Holy Lands.
Political Engagement and Advocacy:
My role as a legislator extends into shaping U.S.-Israel relations. I’ve been actively involved with the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) and have advocated for legislative measures to strengthen this bilateral bond. Notably, I’ve taken a firm stance against Missouri’s engagement with entities boycotting Israel. In 2020, I led the charge to pass legislation to push back against the Palestinian-led BDS movement that’s sole purpose is to delegitimize the Jewish state. “BDS” stands for boycott, divestment, and sanction Israeli institutions and businesses. Our bill, now law, requires companies that contract with the state to sign a contract pledging that they will not be a part of the BDS movement.
Missouri and Israel have strong economic ties. As a state, we should not be helping companies that are working to harm our economic partners. In 2022 alone, our state exported well over $100 million in goods and services to Israel. As a Christian, I’m against the BDS movement simply due to its core mission. Once you see the political realities faced by Israelis, it’s much easier to understand the dichotomy they face daily in regard to their desire for peace, and their need to protect themselves from the threats that surround them.
Lived Realities and Resilience:
Beyond the political and religious facets, my visit revealed the stark realities of life in Israel. From the tense Israel-Syria border to the dangerous border with the Gaza Strip, the palpable specter of conflict and the constant threat of violence were ever-present. As our group visited a kibbutz very near the Gaza Strip, we were shown kites appearing to be a child’s toy that were actually sent over from Gaza tied to diesel oil-soaked tampons for the purpose of igniting fires once they landed. This is the everyday life for those living in Israel near the border of Gaza.
The personal stories couldn’t have been more eye-opening, like one of a mother from the kibbutz explaining to me that when the bomb sirens go off, she has seconds to choose which child she can get to in order to save at least one in that moment of danger. Listening to her, my brain was screaming, “But how do you choose which child to save?” I honestly cannot fathom. Her face–her words–painted a vivid picture of the resilience and strength that define the Israeli spirit amidst adversity.
Yet, this is the reality of their daily lives.
Support for Israel and the Broader Discourse:
Throughout my travels, my unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself was reaffirmed. Israel is about the size of New Jersey. It is about 290 miles from north to south, and about 85 miles from east to west. However, it does have even narrower sections in some areas. In addition to being so small, they are pretty much surrounded by their enemies. While visiting a commander in the Israeli Defense Forces near the Syrian border, our group was shown tunnels that had been found where Hezbollah terrorists had moved weapons and fighters into Israel. Hezbollah’s purpose of digging and using tunnels into Israel is solely for the destruction of Israelis. This is a photo that I took of a graffiti wall inside a previously bombed deserted building that Hezbollah had been using near the Syrian border.
My frustration with social media’s often one-sided discourse calling for Israeli restraint in the face of attacks is that they do not take into mind the constant nature of the threats and attacks. They also don’t take into mind what they would want, and most certainly expect, us to do in America if this were happening to us. After 9/11, I don’t remember anyone saying, “We must show restraint. We have a much larger and more sophisticated military than those that attacked us.” That is ridiculous. Hamas must be dealt with fully. I mean wiped out. They are terrorists, they will be back. Standing in solidarity with Israel is crucial.
My experiences in Israel have woven a rich tapestry of understanding, showcasing the land’s spiritual depth, political intricacies, and the unyielding spirit of its people. The transformative power of visiting Israel has brought forth a comprehensive picture of this resilient land for me. My encounters highlight the importance of nuanced understanding and steadfast support in navigating Israel’s complex geopolitics and daily realities. Ultimately, these narratives converge to form a cohesive story of faith, politics, and the enduring human spirit of Israelis. I pray that I’ve been helpful in giving you a bit more of understanding into this beautiful nation.