As a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, I had the privilege of working with our allies throughout the world. I saw the benefits of working together, not only to promote our democratic values, but to ensure our collective security. So last month, when given the opportunity to visit Israel — our most important ally in the Middle East — I felt it vital for me to attend.
I joined a bipartisan group of congresswomen for a trip organized by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and American Israel Education Foundation, where I met with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, NGOs, civil society leaders, and various cultural organizations. I was able to meet residents of our community, including Rebecca Bonder from West Caldwell, who teaches in Beersheva.
My trip was a powerful and moving experience that I won’t soon forget. It gave me a firsthand understanding of Israel’s regional challenges and its need for a long and lasting peace in the region. In visiting Yad Vashem I, like so many others before me, was reminded of the horrors of the Holocaust and of the events that preceded Israel’s founding. It served as a vivid reminder of our need to speak out against anti-Semitism and hate in all its forms.
I drew inspiration from meeting with a young and diverse group of women — some deeply linked with our communities in New Jersey, and many who are now shaping a bright, innovative, and optimistic future for Israel. There were the young women entrepreneurs who embody the start-up spirit of Israel’s tech sector, the doctors from Save a Child’s Heart who provide cutting-edge cardiac care for children, and the women who represented diverse views, including an Arab-Israeli woman, an Ethiopian-Jewish woman, and an LGBTQ woman. They provided me with hope for their futures as they shared their visions for solving age-old problems today.
I visited Kibbutz Erez, a partner community of our district’s very own Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ based in Whippany. I met Michal Zur, federation’s Global Connections director in Israel, who led our tour and helped us to better understand the living bridge that exists between Kibbutz Erez members and Greater MetroWest residents. I toured the bomb shelters — donated by Greater MetroWest constituents — that ensure the safety of the kibbutz members. I spoke with mothers who shared their gratitude for these shelters that now protect young children from rocket attacks. It gave me a great deal of pride to see firsthand how our community has affected the lives of the people of Kibbutz Erez.
The importance of our economic and personal ties to Israel and the critical role that the United States must play in bringing both sides together to ensure peace was never more evident. Our meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White chair Benny Gantz, and Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat reminded me of the difficult but necessary road ahead. And no matter who emerges as Israel’s next prime minister, it is clear that the bonds between our two countries must remain unshakable and our commitment unwavering.
Touring this extraordinary country — taking in all its beauty, its history, and the connection that I felt with the people I met — allowed me to experience what so many in District 11 have spoken about. It enabled me to see the importance of the relationships that have developed between our communities in New Jersey and in Israel. My visit strengthened my resolve to strengthen the economic ties and the bonds of friendship between Israel and New Jersey, and to ensure that Israel has what it needs for its security and a prosperous, peaceful future.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D) represents N.J. Dist. 11.