By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion. (Psalm 137:1)
Despite what I’ve written on this blog so far, my experiences in Israel were not limited to terrorism. There is so much more to Israel than its worst times, though naturally we must contend with those as well.
What I found in Israel was an unparalleled love for humanity: not only within myself, but within my fellow Israelis. Having lived in the United States for the majority of my life, I can’t say in good conscience that I have found such a love for other people as I’ve found in Israel.
It wasn’t all honey and sweetness. Israelis, I am told, are like cactus – in particular, the sabra: prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside. A truer statement has never been made about Israelis. I have been yelled at by Israelis more times than I can count. I have been called “chutzpah” a few of those times. I have also been called “mami,” a term of endearment, and I have been invited to Shabbat dinner time and time again by strangers. I have had Israeli bus drivers go out of their way – literally – to take me exactly where I needed to go. Vendors at Machane Yehuda, the Jerusalem shuk (market), have thrown some extra fruits and vegetables into my bag simply because they wanted to.
Song of the moment: Idan Raichel’s Ahava Ka’zo (A Love Like This)
Like all countries, like all people, Israelis have their problems. I can’t speak for all Israelis there, I can only speak for those with whom I’ve had personal encounters. And I’ve found this uncommon love in all types of Israelis: Jewish, Muslim, Druze, Christian…
When I think back to my times in Israel, I don’t think about the terrorism. I think of the incredible, beautiful experiences I had there: the funny incidents, the heartwarming parts, the spiritually gratifying moments. I constantly walk down memory lane to relive the sweeter moments in Israel.
“A love like this, you never see…a love like this, you never find…”
I remember going to the roof of a house in the Old City of Jerusalem on the first night of Sukkot, gazing across the rooftops, listening to the clatter of forks and knives, singing voices drifting through the air. I remember walking on the beach of Tel Aviv with the man who would become my husband, feeling the sea breeze running through my hair. I remember walking out of the Old City, having just come from the Kotel, and seeing a man washing his horse with a hose, like one might wash a vehicle. I remember walking up the highway somewhere in the north of Israel, trying to hitch a ride from cars which seldom passed. I remember placing my hands on the ancient stones of the Western Wall, and feeling more at home than I ever have in my life.
I can’t tell you how many times my eyes welled up simply at the realization that I was finally home. Every moment I breathed, I thanked God I was in Israel, my home. Every step I took was with purpose and meaning. Even in my most desperate moments, even when I was in dark places, the land itself seemed to breathe strength into me. It was only by being there that I could genuinely, and on an intimate level, understand the eternal yearning of the Jewish soul for its homeland.
The Holy Land sings to our souls in a note only some of us can hear. And here, even here, I can hear it singing to me, calling me home.