Fear and Faith

Yesterday I received a very upsetting voicemail.

Here’s the background. A man and his wife are scheduled to go on a trip to Israel mid-June with their local Jewish Federation. The Federation is my client; my company is the tour provider. The guy has never been to Israel before for many reasons and signing up for this trip was a big step out of his comfort zone. Now, with this week’s events in Israel — the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the reports of violence and death on the border with Gaza, and the military actions up north with Syria — the man is totally freaked out about traveling to Israel next month.

Hence, the voicemail I received:

“This is ____. This is in regard to your trip to Israel in June that we very likely will not be taking. I am cross-eyed. I am livid. I am angry. I got a patent BS corporate response from your CEO in a letter format that completely ignores my concerns with the security in Israel right now. When we booked this trip with you, it was not with the current situation. This situation is elevated. It is changed. And to think I am just going to cast my concerns to the wind…the idea that I will roll the dice with your CEO is patently absurd. I’m frankly disgusted by all of this and I find a corporate response to be completely insensitive. I am not having a good day about this thing. It’s causing incredible stress for my family right now. If you care to discuss this, my number is_______. I’m very very angry about this.”

I only wish I could share with you the tone of this message….the way his voice sounded in his recorded (and transcribed thanks to Apple) rant at me. No one likes being yelled at.

Now, to be fair, I must say I understand fear. I understand anxiety. I know the feelings are very real and subsequently drive thoughts, words and actions. Therefore, in a situation like the one I encountered above, the only thing I can do is hear him out. Then, maybe I can attempt is to calmly explain the ways in which my company addresses safety and security issues with our groups that tour in Israel. Maybe he’ll better understand the reality is different from what the media portrays. Israel is not at war, but we still plan routes carefully and adjust as necessary. Flights have not been canceled, so we continue to meet, great, and escort as we normally do. Hotels, guides, museums, stores, and other venues are still in business, so we continue to work together to offer great experiences. But I cannot force him or make him want to go. Nor should I.

At the end of the day, my caller wants guarantees about his safety and security that no human can offer. He’s afraid. He doesn’t want to put his life in someone else’s hands. He doesn’t want to go to Israel. He wants a full refund so he can travel elsewhere this summer. Somehow, we will work it out.

***

Tomorrow evening begins the holiday of Shavuot. I love the fact that, every year, the Book of Ruth manages to present perspectives that are relevant in the lives we live today. This year is no exception.

The situation I described earlier is ironic. A Jewish middle-aged man does not want to travel to Israel. And yet on this holiday we meet Ruth — a widowed Moabite princess — who follows her Jewish mother-in-law from the land of Moab back to Israel. Ruth bravely offers the words, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (1:16). Given the famines, dangers, and other uncertainties of those times, this young woman’s determination and desire to make a new life for herself are extraordinary.

I think about Ruth and her words often. I wonder why she did what she did. What was the pull she felt inside that enabled her to pick up and leave the place of her birth with no promises or guarantees? Why did she want to live among strangers and become part of the Jewish people? What strength did it take to leave a comfort zone for an unknown and foreign one?

We are surrounded by those who have thoughts and opinions that differ from our own. We all know people who won’t leave their homes and others who are hard-core thrill seekers. We all have the right to live as we choose…with our individual perspectives. And, with the choices we make, we accept the associated risks or rewards or consequences.

Ruth’s selfless and faithful actions changed the course of a people. She took a chance and reaped immeasurable rewards. I’ll put my money on her any day.

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