Trip to the Holy Land
At the end of September, I returned from a nine-day trip to Israel, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
I was honored to be one of the few people twice invited on such a trip, having first traveled there in 1997.
Also on the trip were state Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, Delegate Brian Moran, and other Northern Virginia legislators.
This trip served to enhance my love for the people and land of Israel, and I found positive changes in the 11 years since my last visit.
As a Christian, it is also a very moving spiritual experience to visit the Holy Land and witness the co-existence between modern and Biblical times.
We toured Tel Aviv and the Upper Galilee, traveled to Masada and the Dead Sea, and visited several of the smaller towns.
Of course, we ascended to Jerusalem to visit the many Biblical and historical sites and get a feel for every day life there.
We heard from professors, trade officials, scholars, local elected officials, a Knesset (parliament) member, and a Palestinian representative.
Strong and Vibrant
Compared to 11 years ago, the country is younger, more diverse, and more prosperous.
It has a stable economy and a strong currency.
Business growth has been strong and new buildings are going up everywhere you look, especially in Tel Aviv.
The people of Israel are quite entrepreneurial and high technology companies have sprung up everywhere, particularly along the Mediterranean coast.
I found a country on the move. There are more people and more traffic, and the Israeli government has seen fit to fund road improvements.
As an agriculture major in college, I am always interested in what is being grown in the areas I visit. In Israel, everything grows.
They developed drip irrigation technology, allowing them to direct the most precious commodity they have – water – straight to plant roots.
You find figs, olives, and dates, as you would expect, but also bananas, wine grapes, lemons, apples, and grain crops.
Visits to several Israeli companies and tours of their production facilities were also included in the trip.
It was a great educational, professional, and spiritual experience for me and I will share more of that in future columns.
While in Israel, we followed the banking upheavals that had begun here. It has only gotten worse since we got back.
The national economy is in bad shape and so is the Virginia economy. Tax revenues are down and budget cutting is in order.
We already made cuts to last year’s budget and reduced the revenues expected for the next two fiscal years.
It now looks like we will have to find budget reductions of about $3 billion more. That will be especially painful at the local level.
Fairfax County and other local governments are getting hit with a double whammy of revenue losses.
First, real estate assessments have dropped because of declines in home sale prices and the lack of taxes coming from foreclosed properties.
Local governments would ordinarily hope for help from the state. But, with the Commonwealth’s revenues falling, I do not see that happening.
That puts tremendous pressure on the funding for public education and social services at both the local and state levels.
Yet, as the best managed state in the nation, I expect that we can handle it. But, it will not be without a great deal of distress.
Governor Tim Kaine has already frozen state expenditures and he will present his final budget changes in December. We will be all ears!
And Last in the American League
I read with sadness last week’s obituary about the passing of Eddie Brinkman, the great shortstop for the Washington Senators.
For an expansion team that usually lost more games than it won, Brinkman was one of the few treats we Senators fans had.
Signed as a 19-year old in 1961, he was a great fielder and had a strong arm, which he developed as a high school pitcher.
He was in his prime towards the end of that decade when the Senators acquired Aurelio Rodriquez, a promising young third baseman.
He and Brinkman formed an almost impenetrable left side of the infield. But, like most things associated with the team, it did not last.
Bob Short, the woeful owner of the Senators, traded them and several other players to the Detroit Tigers before the 1970 season.
We received in return a pitcher named Denny McLean, who won 31 games in 1968, apparently throwing a little bit of his arm away with each pitch.
It was an awful trade for the Senators. But, with Detroit, Brinkman went a record 72 games without an error in 1972.
For that, he won a Gold Glove award and was named to the All-Star team in 1973, a year in which he played in every game for Detroit.
After nine years with the Senators and four with the Tigers, he retired as a player in 1975.
Joining the Chicago White Sox as a coach and scout in 1983, he retired in 2000. It was reported that he had heart problems and was only 66 years old when he died.
He was a miserable hitter with a lifetime batting average of only .224, but he was as big as Frank Howard in the hearts of Senators fans.