Wednesday, January 11, 2006

251. Israel, part 2

Here's the beginning of a letter I'll (soon) send out to family and friends, some ideas which I've posted here before.

-------

There is generally nothing more boring, especially for those who weren't on the trip, as a letter about one's vacation. But I know my powers of speech will fail if anyone asks how it was, and I'll be able to offer little else but a tongue-tied "amazing." So, instead, here are some brief (I promise) impressions of the Hanukkah week I just spent in Israel with [my congregation], my first visit ever.

I expected this trip to be about the place and people, and my community--and it was all those things--but mostly it was about me. All my ideas about Israel have been challenged, and most of them changed.

As some of you know, I got on the plane with mixed feelings. Israel wasn't part of the conversation when I was growing up, even though I attended an Orthodox Hebrew school (a really bad one) and my father prayed three times a day. We were concerned with the here and now, and Israel seemed to represent a place, like the Eastern Europe of my grandparents, from which we needed to move on. We sponsored trees and gave tzedaka, but out of a sense of duty rather than passion.

After many years during which I rarely set foot in a synagogue, I joined [...] and discovered I really did like being Jewish. But I still didn't understand the Israel part, and the more involved I became in Jewish life, the more this gap felt like a chasm between myself and the rest of my community. Israel was a color on a map, an angry paragraph in the newspaper. I had no sense of its people or soul. I felt like I was missing a point that everyone around me seemed to get it in a very profound way, and began to wonder if I was even capable of understanding. What right did I have to stand at the bima and chant Torah if I was unable to comprehend the central message of the whole story?

Until the we reached the end of the runway, I wasn't fully convinced I'd get there, or even sure I was supposed to be there at all. I started to change my mind after we landed and I saw Hebrew signs and mezzuzot in the airport. You'll be amazed, my friends had said; everyone in this country speaks in the language of prayerbooks! But I wasn't surprised at all. It seemed completely natural, familiar. I know very little Modern Hebrew, but recognized "Exit/Yetziah" --as in "yetziat Mitzrayim," the exodus from Egypt--in red above all the doorways. This was the language--a whole country full of it--of Shabbat, of secrets and thoughts I admit only to myself and to God.

4 comments:

Ayekah said...

I noticed you used those [....] I use them so often, it's the gap....the space between the letters if you will.....I'm glad your gap has been filled in.
I don't find other peoples accounts of their trip boring, on the contrary.

Regina Clare Jane said...

Israel is one of the those countries on our short list of places to experience. I can't even imagine what it would be like to touch down onto such holy, troubled, historical ground... but I am so eager to hear every detail you have to offer!

Barefoot Jewess said...

How beautiful!

I had no historical baggage travelling to Israel but I, too, adored seeing Hebrew, I felt so at home in the Land, immediately.

I guess you have to be open to it, let it seep into your pores, until you realise that the truth is, that a part of you was missing till you touched the light-filled ground. At least, that's how it was for me.

I am so happy for you!!!

alto artist said...

Thank you so much!!
--aa.