If you have ever been to Israel, you know what it feels like to land back in America. You are exhausted. You are fulfilled. You are both energized and dragging.
That is how I feel as I write this. This week I came back to the synagogue after an extraordinary trip to the Promised Land. There were twenty-four of us in our group, representing a diverse range of ages. We came together as a family as we took in the power, beauty, history and complexity that is Israel in the summer of 2023. We stood on the shores of the Mediterranean. We took in the busy-ness of Tel Aviv. We rode jeeps through the stunning Golan Heights and walked the narrow alleyways of Tzfat, the kabbalistic center and birthplace of Lecha Dodi. We looked out at the inimitable skyline of Jerusalem and put our hand on the centuries’ old Western Wall. We visited the bustling shouk and spent time in the Christian Quarter. We marked Havdalah with the Old City as our background.
We talked. We prayed. We shopped. We ate (a lot). We laughed (a lot). We tried desperately to process it all.
In the final days of the trip we learned about Masada, the desert fortress where our people made the ultimate sacrifice, as Roman soldiers outnumbered them and surrounded them. We soaked in the Dead Sea and felt the hot sun beat down. On our last day, we visited the national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, and spent time in the children’s memorial, designed to honor the million and a half children who perished during that most horrific time in our history. We said Kaddish for those who died at the hands of hate. We considered what might have been had Israel existed in their time. We then walked to Mount Herzl, burial place of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism, who had the chutzpah to imagine a Jewish land that would offer safe-haven to the world’s Jews. A century later his dream is reality.
Israel is such a complex and stunning place. It is a mix of cultures, religions, sights and sounds. It is a place constantly under construction and reconstruction. It is not a perfect place, as no place is, but it is a special place, a profoundly special place.
I pray that the best of Jewish values will always be lived there and that the current administration will find its way to inclusivity and true democracy. More than anything, I pray for a peace that is lasting.
When you leave Israel, you do not say ‘goodbye,’ you say ‘lihitraot,’ until next time.