We were sitting in the ultra modern business lounge of the Mamilla hotel in East Jerusalem. The reporter had been tailing me as I toured some yet-to-be-made-public excavations in the City of David, just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
My seven days in Israel went by in such a flash it was genuinely difficult to focus on doing an interview with the nation's leading newspaper. My mind raced as the people I had been with were much on my mind, and the sights I had seen--especially those that were relevant to my faith--stirred something deeper in me than I had realized. Nonetheless my visit was almost over and here I sat with a reporter who wished to ask my opinion of the things I had experienced.
Finally, in somewhat broken English came the query, "What do you think President Obama will do when he visit's Israel next week?"
Having been warned by my hosts to be leery of reporters from Israel's largest newspaper, I wished to choose my words carefully.
"What I hope President Obama will do on his visit here... is to listen twice as much as he speaks," I replied.
You could visibly see that she was taken by surprise by this answer. I had not mentioned Iran, Palestinians, Netanyahu, or even Syria.
She was curious and wished to understand my response further.
I had just concluded six days of listening to Israel personally.
I had listened to incoming Knesset members--like former Deputy Speaker Danny Danon--explain to me their worries about Iran. I had listened intently to the son of Israel's beloved Prime Minister Itzak Shamir--Yair--a newly seated Knesset member himself--beam with pride over Israel's explosion in start-up technology businesses.
I had just listen to Dani Dayan, president of the YESHA council who has responsibility for the protection and safety of 450,000 Jewish residents in communities (the Israeli and American press call them "settlements") inside of Judeah and Samaria (the Left call these "The West Bank" even though we were 30 miles from the Jordan river's edge.) Mr. Dayan spoke passionately about the safety of the region, the commitment of keeping the Palestinian and Jewish communities safe, and the beauty of the agricultural industry in the region that employs both Arabs and Jews in helping them provide for their families. This agricultural excellence has been proven by the numerous awards the Israeli wineries are now dominating the competition in.
I had also listened to the CEOs and founders of some of Israel's most successful medical technology firms. One from Jerusalem that is heavily traded on the Nasdaq, and one in Tel Aviv that soon will be because the technology they offer is so profound in correcting the musculoskeletal effects of osteoarthritis.
As a Christian, I also listened to the heart of the people, as I was invited to Friday night prayer at the wailing wall, and following that a Shabbas dinner at the home of Aba and Pamela Claman.
The Clamans have restored one of the most beautiful homes in the Old City. Every Shabbat they have anywhere from 30-60 Israeli Defense Forces troops in--many--whose families are far from them. The night I was there IDF members stemmed from London, Belarus, South Africa, and some 20 other places.
These IDF were mostly women, and not unlike the U.S. the dominant left in Israel's media often besmirch the motives, intention, and service of their military forces. It was an honor to hear each of them tell why they serve (most had gone well beyond the government mandated two years.)
I even listened as an Israeli Arab spoke passionately in the beach town of Joffa about a community center he has been running for the past few years. In a booming but gentrifying community Arab, Jewish, and Christian children learn instruments, sing in choirs, learn acrylic and oil paints, play sports, together as children of the same community. According to that Arab--Ibrahim Shindi--no such center exists in any Palestinian area, nor any Arab or Muslim country surrounding Israel.
I also listened to the heart of an Israeli feminist explain her critique of modern American feminists and her passionate desire to develop an ongoing conversation about women's roles in Israel. She keeps that conversation lively through her online blog and Facebook pages.
And on my final night, backstage at the Tel Aviv equivalent of Manhattan's Lincoln Center, I sat in a reserved theater for thirty minutes listening and learning about Israeli popular art and entertainment with Aki Avni, who--as many Israeli girls described to me in advance of the interview--is the Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp of Israel.
Since the press are reporting that President Obama's trip which kicks off this Wednesday will be largely to tour sites he wishes to see, my advice stands.
Listen twice as much as you speak Mr. President! Your mind, heart, and soul just be surprised by something you had not expected.
Israel is our most important ally in the region, but their heart and ours beat almost as one. And in us listening to them we might learn more than we believed we could!