A Journey in Israel

The Bencher—November/December 2017

By Judge Ramy I. Djerassi

The trip started with memory, but we ended up celebrating hope in a complicated country. This past spring, 24 members and friends of the Temple American Inn of Court travelled to Israel on a ten-day journey.

Five former Inn presidents joined me to lead the Temple American Inn of Court’s fourth international mission since 2010. Our presidents try to organize a trip every two years and, to date, Inn members have travelled to Rome, Havana, and London. The trips are about learning how political and cultural contexts influence law. They are also about continuing legal education. Colleagues from other countries tell us how they approach professional problems we see all the time. We receive CLE credit for approved classes. The fascination is meeting interesting people who are willing to share their perspectives. The fun is travelling with Inn members and friends to new places, eating wonderful food, and getting to know each other. 

This year’s Israel visit was originally billed as a law trip, but it became much more. Yes, we studied Israel’s unwritten constitution at Tel Aviv University Law School and met with Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. We toured Israel’s Supreme Court and sat inside its round deliberation room, talking shop with Supreme Court Justice Daphne Erez-Barak.

But it was the itinerary set by our Israeli tour company, Giant Leaps that framed the issues. We listened to an Auschwitz memory from a 90-year-old survivor, BatSheva Dagan. We stood during a two-minute siren on April 24, Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). We were inside a law school classroom with Dean Shannon Hannes when the siren wailed.

The idea was to understand the context of Israeli law. So, we ate lamb shawarma in Tel Aviv and Arab falafel in Jaffa. We swam in the Dead Sea and prayed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Some of us danced on Friday night at the Western Wall, while others climbed the Mount of Olives.

We saw Gaza three miles away, enclosed beyond a silent grassland border. We had lunch in Sderot, the Israeli town five miles away that is a favorite rocket target for Hamas militants.

From Jerusalem, we traveled to Bethlehem, fifteen minutes away by bus. We were there on a day Palestinian leadership called a general strike to support hunger strikers in Israeli prisons. The next day at Ofer Army Base on the West Bank, we met with two Israeli Jews, a military court judge and a criminal defense lawyer. They gave contradicting views on how Israel balances security and due process in the occupation.

From a hilltop called Nebe Samuel, we saw a 360-degree view of the City of Jerusalem during a tour with Col. Danny Tirza (ret.), an Israeli negotiator during the 2000 Camp David peace effort. Looking east and then from south to north, he showed us the urban seam line from Palestine’s Abu Dis to Ramallah, with parts of Israeli Jerusalem in between. These were facts on the ground.

More hopefully, we heard about Israel’s start-up economy from three of Israel’s leading high-tech lawyers and businessmen. They explained commercial law governing Israel’s venture capital industry. All three were very happy to tell success stories about mega-sales like Waves to Google and Mobileye to Intel.

The trip concluded with two days of Zionist memory and hope. At 11:00 a.m. on Monday, May 1, I stood at attention with my wife and several others on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard for another two-minute siren. This time, it was in memory of Israel’s 23,000 military war dead. But, as the sun went down at 7:00 p.m., a military band on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem played Israel’s national anthem for live TV. It was “Hatikvah” (hope) and the party was on. There was dancing in the streets, family barbecues, and flags everywhere. The country had come full circle from Auschwitz and forgot, if only for a day, its facts on the ground.

Judge Ramy I. Djerassi is a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is immediate past president of the Temple American Inn of Court.

© 2017 JUDGE RAMY I. DJERASSI. This article was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.