October 23rd, 2015

Dear JCOH Families,

Last week I was blessed with the opportunity to return to the land of Israel with my whole family. On the day we arrived, my cousin got married in the ancient port city of Jaffa, the southern and oldest part of Tel Aviv. Coupled with soft sounds of the Mediterranean falling onto the shore, the sounds of joy echoed off of every building in the city. It was a special moment. Yet at the same time I knew and felt an unrest hovering over the whole country. This month of October has seen too much blood shed in Israel. A day did not go by without someone being stabbed and someone being shot. The air was tense even in Tel Aviv. But this did not stop the paddle boarders and the cafe goers. Life carried on in Tel Aviv.

Each time I turned to the news I felt a sadness as I would report to my father what was happening only an hour away. What could I do? What could we do to help bring a greater awareness to what at times seems like an endless battle? When will the need for peace outweigh all of this suffering? I am forever optimistic that humanity will awaken to the truly preciousness of this one life. Whatever the path to that is I pray that together we will journey there.

On the last day of our stay, my family went to Tel Aviv University where my father held an event for the non-profit organization APBD Research Foundation. Adult Polyglucosan Body Disease is a Jewish Genetic Disease that is often misdiagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis. 1 in 68 Ashkenazi Jews carry a mutation for this disease. It affects the nervous system, legs, bladder, brain and spinal cord. I have seen it claim the lives of men in my own family. We sat around the table while scientists showed their findings and research plans. Many people who have APBD were there in various stages of the disease. It was heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. APBD is one of 7000 orphan diseases. I am proud of the work my father has done to help eradicate this disease. I looked around the table at the eyes of all of those who were suffering and yearned to help.

Heartbreak and hope – this is what I felt on my journey to Israel. May we all have an opportunity to return to Israel soon together. May peace outweigh suffering, may hope outweigh heartbreak, and may hands be lifted only to embrace one another in love and acceptance.

Rabbi Hanniel

Rabbi Hanniel Levenson