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When in Israel...

JOINT BASE ANDREWS Md. -- I had an amazing experience recently on my two week trip to Israel; my first visit in thirteen years and my first visit as a rabbi.

I spent the first week just breathing in the air, visiting holy sites, attending services and, classes, and taking my time in the bustling, ancient city of Jerusalem. I shopped in the sprawling outdoor market and in my broken Hebrew, chatted with Israelis. An Ethiopian Israeli and I talked about our love of Ethiopian food.

The second week I was part of a tour group made up of thirteen US rabbis. We visited people and tour sites at break neck speed and learned the ins and outs of leading a community trip to Israel, which all of us plan to do in the near future.

Everywhere I went people asked if I was visiting family. The fact is, though my family there is no longer alive, my great-grand uncle was a founding member of the modern State of Israel. I always took his role for granted and this particular fact never dawned on me until this trip.

Daniel Auster (1893-1963), who was one of many siblings of my great-grandmother Mini, was born in the town of Knihinin, Stanislowow - Galicia. In 1914, Daniel received his law degree from the University in Vienna, Austria. He then served at the Austrian expeditionary force headquarters in Damascus, Syria where he coordinated financial aid to starving residents of Jerusalem. Daniel immigrated to Ottoman-controlled Palestine and served the community in many capacities culminating in 1935 when he became the first Jewish Mayor of Jerusalem in two-thousand years; the last time was prior to the Roman expulsion in 70 AD.

For that alone I am in awe of my great-grand uncle, but on top of that, he was a signatory of Israel's Declaration of Independence and his signature can be found second on the list under that of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister.

I am honored and proud to be serving as a military chaplain in the United States Air Force and I am proud of my international heritage.

This season, set some time aside to get rejuvenated and learn a little about one's heritage a few generations back. Though the view in some areas may be clearer for us today than in years past, it is only because we sit on the shoulders of giants.