Monday, March 23, 2015

Israel Anew

Over the last 20+ years, since moving to Israel, I have rarely left and I can honestly say, never simply for a holiday abroad. Not that I mean to imply that taking a vacation outside of Israel is wrong (or right), simply that I've left Israel twice for family obligations, twice for business and once for a trip to Poland, and that's it. Five times in 20 years and each time, as the plane leaves Israel, I have this silent conversation...I'll be back...I promise.

The first time I said those words, I was 16 years old and my heart was broken. I had found a place where I felt free, I felt me...and I was forced to return "home" to a place that by the right of birth should have been home. This time as I whispered my goodbyes to Israel, I was leaving children and grandchildren behind.

The trip to Poland was an agony of 8 days - and as I told the other participants, I would only "switch" from agony to hope when I felt the wheels of the plane leave Polish soil. And that is what happened. As we left Poland headed towards home, I knew that all the ugliness, all the death I had felt, was slipping back to the ground below, as I soared into the sky heading back to Israel.

The family trips were mixtures of sadness and joy. We went for a final visit, knowing that my ailing in-laws would probably not live much longer and that my grandmother, despite being relatively healthy, was getting older as well. It was, as we feared, the last time we saw any of them. By contrast, we went to a wedding to celebrate, but still felt the absence of those we'd hoped to see again.

The first business trip was taken alone and I found myself preoccupied with being an Israeli, pretty much on my own. Even when visiting among the local Jewish community, I found a measure of distance. T

This second business trip introduced the element of culture shock - isolated as an Israeli and a Jew. India is an amazing experience; so culturally different as to be almost a shock to the system. I don't think the poorest person in Israel lives anywhere close to how many of the people we saw were living.

Coming back to Israel after 12 days in India revitalizes the senses. The first feeling in Ben Gurion airport was of home, familiarity. The truth is that it started on the plane even before we left London. We had flown six times in 12 days and without exception, each time there was the common sight of someone struggling to push hand luggage into the upper compartments.

Only on the flight home did it occur to me to comment to the person trying to manipulate the bags, "מה שלא הולך עם המוח, הולך בכוח"

It doesn't translate well, but basically it means, where the brain doesn't work, go with force, and the response is always, "what doesn't go with force, goes with more force." And that's exactly what the Israeli responded with when I offered the first was my first acknowledgment that we were finally headed home.

On Shabbat, the sun seemed brighter, the colors of the trees and the buildings so beautiful. The difference between a developing country and Israel were readily apparent in my short walk to the synagogue. To be fair, the problems of Bangalore, a city with 8 million people in it, are vast compared to those of my small city of only 45,000 people.

But it wasn't just Maale Adumim. Driving into Jerusalem I found myself smiling simply for the joy of being home. I parked where I always park, took the train from station to station and relished each moment. Each word of Hebrew was a gift; each sign a promise.

The newspaper was so different compared to that of Bangalore. The sounds, the smells, the sunshine...home. The people are fundamentally the same, there are so many cultural differences, societal norms the are unique to each country. Like Israelis, the Indians were incredibly hospitable, friendly, and helpful. Without hesitation, we were able to ask and given instructions. One man riding a bicycle asked where we were from and when we said, "Israel," he smiled and instructed us to go to the newest mall because the old one wasn't healthy.

After being driven in India for 12 days, it was a pleasure to drive myself but more, it almost felt as if Israeli drivers had suddenly become calmer, were driving more slowly and leaving greater distances between cars than ever before. Of course, that wasn't the case, but after Indian traffic, the Israeli roads are a pleasure.

I'd gotten used to endless horns honking. The horn in India is an announcement that you are close, that you plan to move a lane, that you don't plan to move a lane but you want the other person to move. It says you are going too slowly, or too fast; you are too close, or I'm going to be making a right turn from the left lane. The horn is used for so many things. By contrast, I'm not sure I even heard a horn honk this morning here in Israel.

The greatest thing I can say about leaving Israel is the joy you get in coming home, of hearing and seeing and smelling a place that is uniquely yours. The prayers on Shabbat morning seemed to have been written for me; the sun seemed to be shining today just for me. Jerusalem seemed more golden, cleaner, and quieter than ever before.

It is very hard for me to Israel. I am not someone who supports the idea of taking regular family vacations abroad when there are so many wonderful places to visit in Israel. I am blessed that my parents moved here and so I don't have the obligation of traveling to see them in some distant land.

But without doubt, there is a blessing in leaving Israel...and that is coming home again to see again the wonder of what God has given to us, what we have built, what we continue to sustain. I can only hope that the trick is not in having to leave in order to come back to see Israel anew, but rather learning to recognize this glorious land simply by being here, rising each morning to take the time to look and appreciate the absolute wonder that is Israel.

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