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First Memories and Miracles of Eretz Yisrael

By Charles O. Kaufman, B’nai B’rith International President


Do you remember when you first connected with the modern Jewish State of Israel?

Perhaps you recall hearing about the roll call vote on United Nations Resolution 181 partitioning Mandate Palestine, held Nov. 29, 1947 — the original two-state solution. Perhaps you or your parents or grandparents were huddled around the radio on May 14, 1948, listening to David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, declare independence. Or, you later learned of these momentous events.

Perhaps your most memorable moment was flying into Lod Airport (renamed Ben Gurion International Airport in 1973), playing paddle ball on Tel Aviv beaches or visiting Independence Hall, the King David Hotel, the first parliament at the Jewish Agency building, the Knesset or the Museum of the Scroll. Or maybe you strolled through the open-air markets eating shawarma or hummus.

My very first visit to Israel was in 1980, following a visit to Cairo, Egypt. These were heady times, with Israel and Egypt having only recently signed, on March 26, 1979, the famous peace treaty following the Camp David Accords.


This photo and those that follow are souvenirs of my first trip to Egypt and Israel in 1980. Documents found in its geniza (a synagogue storage space for archival documents) reveal that Cairo’s Ben Ezra Synagogue existed prior to 882 C E and is probably pre-Islamic. The revered Jewish philosopher, physician and astronomer Moses Maimonides lived near the synagogue from 1168 until his death in 1204, when the country was under Muslim rule.
My bride Vonne and I toured the pyramids and quickly learned that no guidebook acknowledged the identities of the slaves who built them, as has been told for thousands of years at annual seders.

We visited the synagogue in Ancient Cairo and the magnificent, then-remodeled synagogue in New Cairo. Touring groups attended Friday night services. Security was tight, with a guard booth in front of the massive building and plain-clothed “secret” police officers blending in with congregants in the service. We experienced several dusty, chaotic days in the city, navigating the narrow passages of the famous Khan Al-Khalili bazaar, American tourists ushered in and out of shops and hustled at night through darkened alleys of the market, founded in 1382, to trade American dollars on the black market.

At that time, one could take a small plane to Sharm El Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, land recently returned to Egypt as part of the Accords and a global hotspot for snorkeling. There was one flight in and one flight out each day. The airport was a mostly cinderblock building and, when we arrived, we observed a battalion of paratroopers — tall, muscular soldiers who we quickly learned were Americans training with peacekeeping forces.

The trip from Cairo to Tel Aviv was filled with excitement. At that time, it was possible to take a bus across the desert into Israel. We flew Nefertiti Airlines, a charter flight with an international crew. We also discovered what an “unmarked” plane meant. No flags, no numbers. No announced flight plan. Nothing. Just buckle up and enjoy the flight. And so, we did. Well, sort of.

Soon after liftoff, we felt a sharp left banking during the plane’s rapid ascent. Instead of just flying across the desert, over the shortest distance, we were finding legitimate airspace in Tel Aviv over the Mediterranean.

Cruising into Ben Gurion International Airport was such an incredible sight. When we walked down the stairs of this “sit-back-and-relax-though-we-don’t-know-where-the-hell-we’re-going” flight, I very soon found myself stepping onto the tarmac, falling to my knees and kissing the sizzling surface. Thank G-d we were here.

That’s my first memory of Israel. Of course, the drive to Jerusalem was very different from that drive today. The highways were different. The blown-out trucks and tanks on the side of the then-narrow highway from the 1948 war for independence were more visible. The hills then were mostly undeveloped. As barren as the landscape was in 1980, it was more developed than the Israel of 1959, when my parents, Stanley and Sondra Kaufman, made their first visit as part of B’nai B’rith International’s first convention in the Jewish homeland. Their grainy videos showed vintage street scenes, the Allenby Bridge, distant views of the Old City — the Dome of the Rock was not yet painted gold — and many other early images of a fledgling country.

These are just a few of my many, many memories of Israel. What are yours? As we approach Israel’s Diamond Jubilee in 2023, you are invited to tell us in an email (to how and when you first connected with Eretz Yisrael.


After Egypt and Israel signed their historic peace treaty in March 1979, security police on patrol outside New Cairo’s Sha-ar Hashamayim Synagogue were vigilant, keeping guard with a watchful eye.


Time stands still in the quiet streets of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The miracle of a peaceful accord between Egypt and Israel, negotiated between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978, continued with Jordan’s recognition of the State of Israel and has now led to yet another miracle: normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

While threats from Iran and its proxies have loomed for more than 40 years, Israel has made enormous economic strides, with technological innovations in agriculture, health and medicine, water management and desalination, defense and cyber technology, and software development.


A 1980 photograph of the Sinai Desert, where the Jewish people wandered for 40 years.
Israel has established relations — even partnerships — with more than 160 countries. While love for Israel hardly shows in the United Nations General Assembly, where bias against Israel is the primary language, the world body’s Global Innovation Index ranks Israel in its Top 10. And U.S. News & World Report ranks Israel No. 8 in its “Power Ratings,” which are calculated from metrics reflecting its strong military, international alliances, economic and political influence and its overall positioning as a world leader.

Clearly, Israel is turning heads on every continent on the economic front while, at the same time, it turns stomachs among countries that continue to seek its destruction. B’nai B’rith welcomes continued innovations, global partnerships, “normalization” announcements by countries in its neighborhood, peace in the region and more wonderful memories from Eretz Yisrael.