A dozen government officials from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia will leave Sunday on a 10-day tour of Israel where they will study Jewish culture and that country's role in the Middle East.
The trip, which is being sponsored and paid for in part by the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, will take the Americans from religious shrines in Jerusalem to settlements in the strife-torn West Bank, and will introduce them to some of their peers in Israeli politics.
Sidney Schwarz, executive director of the community council, said the trip should enlighten the officials not only about Israel, but also about their Jewish constituents.
"We want to try to educate our community leaders about Israel, but more than that, we want to educate them about the Jewish experience," Schwarz said. "All too often we think of $1 billion going from the U.S. government to Israel to build a jet. We forget the people-to-people contact."
Some of those who will be making the trip said their interest is largely personal, but others said it has a political side.
"I hope someday to perhaps play a small role in foreign policy and I'm delighted to be able to see this part of the world," said Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. "Obviously I'm going to be getting one perspective. But right now that perspective shapes American foreign policy."
Alex Williams, Prince George's County state's attorney and a trustee at Walker Memorial Baptist Church, said he is looking forward to visiting holy places. "I'm very religious, and I'm going to walk in places mentioned in the Bible," Williams said. "I'm also looking forward to getting a firsthand look at Hebrew life."
Along with Moran and Williams, officials making the trip are Montgomery County Council members Bruce Adams and Isiah Leggett, Maryland Dels. Gene R. Counihan and Carol S. Petzold, Maryland state Sens. Frank Komenda and Al Wynn, Virginia Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax County Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III, and D.C. Council members David A. Clarke and Betty Anne Kane. An aide to Clarke, Mike Davis, said Clarke would go only if his vote is not critical at a council meeting next week.
Schwarz declined to discuss the total cost of the trip, but said that the Community Council is paying about two-thirds of the cost and the individuals will pay one-third.
The Jewish Community Council is public policy group and is supported by synagogues and other organizations in the Washington area. In the past the council has protested the harsh treatment of Soviet Jews and federal aid to religious schools. The council sponsors trips to Israel for public officials every summer. Among those who have attended is D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.