Underwritten by the National Jewish Democratic Council, the first-time visit took Casey – which polls give a double-digit advantage to in a head-to-head matchup against U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) in 2006 – to the Western Wall, the Golan Heights and an absorption center for Ethiopian immigrants, as well as a handful of meals and meetings with various Israeli politicians.
Casey, who was unwilling to delve into a discussion on his hopes for next November, said the trip was "eye-opening."
"Like many Americans, I've always believed the United States must support Israel's strategy and tactics against those who want to do harm to its people," he said. "But I understand more now that need."
According to Casey, as the commonwealth's treasurer, he oversees Pennsylvania's $39.5 million investment in Israel Bonds; after his overseas tour, he is confident that investment will remain secure.
"With an economy that strong, with such a commitment to democracy and security, those bonds will never be in any trouble," he affirmed. "If anything, the trip strengthened my resolve to do anything I can to protect Israel. From its democracy to fighting terrorism to protecting the vulnerable, there are so many areas of common ground and common interest."
A Searing Image
Casey added that among the most powerful experiences he had in Israel was at a playground in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which for years has been the target of countless Palestinian barrages.
"At the corner, there was a fenced-in playground, where 15 to 18 feet away were a series of some 20 concrete barriers about 8-feet high," he described. "Those were the barriers to keep the bullets out of the playground. Our driver told us that literally there were times when children were playing and you could hear the ricocheting of the bullets on the other side of the concrete wall."
Casey offered one other example of how he was "touched" by the trip: "It's funny what stays with you," he began. "There was a young rabbi who was talking about his daughter. He had to go into her room to wake her up one morning when she was returning to her [military] post. He walked into her room at about 5 in the morning and saw her Curious George stuffed animal on the nightstand. Right next to it was her M-16 rifle.
"It was a searing image for me," he continued.
"I have four daughters, and you get very emotional thinking about them growing up. Here was this man whose daughter, only 19 or 20, could reach back into her childhood for her stuffed animal and also have to carry a gun," he relayed.
"It's an image at once painful and inspiring."