Tours, Tears and Tel Aviv at the GA

While several hundred participants in the United Jewish Communities General Assembly appeared to thoroughly enjoy last night's party to celebrate Tel Aviv's upcoming 100th birthday, Ilana Frankel had not yet gotten over the first part of her day.

Frankel had participated in one of the GA's "seminars on wheels" - which took the participants on about 65 different themed trips all over the country, from an ecological farm near Modi'in to youth villages in the Galilee and Bedouin villages in the Negev - before culminating at "Cafe Tel Aviv."

"It was a very moving and controversial day; it really hurt," the 21-year-old Frankel said of her trip, which was called "Breaking the Barriers through coexistence and cooperation" and took a busload of participants to the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.

"I cried today," Frankel said, "because I heard both our tour guides defending the Arabs, saying that Israel is the evil occupier and that Arabs are second-class citizens." Frankel added that the tour was led by one Jewish and one Arab Israeli, and that both condemned Israel.

"The [Jewish] Israeli guide was telling us how Israel is just horrible to everybody else and that the only way to get peace is by giving back the Golan Heights, and giving back this and that," she said. "It just really hurt. I want there to be a country for me and my kids when I make aliyah, God-willing in two years."

At some point during the tour, Frankel, of Teaneck, New Jersey, felt she had to speak up. "I was with big donors [on the trip], and the goal was to get them to shift their emphasis to put money into Arab institutions," she said. "I was forced to stand up, and said: Guys, not everything that they are saying is true."

Frankel, who goes to the University of Maryland but is currently studying for one semester at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, added: "I go to a secular campus, and I am around all kinds of people all the time, but I've never been so forced to defend what I believe in. I study politics and Jewish studies and I focus on this region. My goal is to go into politics in the future - I'm going to be the prime minister one day - but to be confronted by a Jew who has turned so supportive of the other side is very hard."

However, most other GA participants, who had come from their different field trips straight to the newly opened Sarona Gardens on Tel Aviv's Kaplan Street, where the large-scale event took place, had only good things to say.

Enjoying the food and the music, they focused more on the location of the party. Most of the GA action takes place in Jerusalem, and many participants said they found it important to attend at least one event in Israel's other major city.

At the party, delegates were served pasta salad, couscous, meat balls and Recanati wine while, listened to a local band and observed a photo exhibition documenting the city's development.

Billed as the first event to celebrate Tel Aviv's centennial next year, Israel's Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog was supposed to "offer greetings," according to the itinerary. Herzog did not do much more than just that.

"I don't want to bore you with too many historical details," he said before uttering two or three quick sentences about the fact that Tel Aviv is "the heart of Israel's economy, business, arts and culture," and left the stage after less than one minute.

Sponsored by the Tel Aviv municipality, the party inaugurated Sarona Gardens, which used to be a German Templar colony and an army base until the area was renovated.