I came to you once again with an open mind and an open heart. Today, we have to part from one another, and there is always this struggle between the joy of going home and the feeling of loss. When I came to you this time, I was filled with anxiety. As a madricha, being responsible for 40 people can be worrisome, but you aided me with all you have to offer. You make all that come to you gleam like polished diamonds.
I have seen adults become childlike at your sunrise over the Kineret and giggle as they splash water in the Jordan River. At home, the words of the elderly can fall unfortunately on deaf ears, but in your arms, the elderly sing the best songs of your history. I have seen people stand on their tippy-toes to soak in every word a Holocaust survivor says and let it resonate within them, as if they are the only one to know the story. You shut down on Sabbath, but you filled people with life. Your Sabbath only encouraged embrace amongst people who looked like old friends, only to be together for ten days.
Israel, this time you have outdone yourself. You embraced the nonreligious, those who did not know the depths of their Jewish soul, and you cradled them like infants in Sfvat and made the Kotel tantalizing with spiritual gain. I have laughed with you, but at the Kotel, I cried like a baby as you held my face firmly with ancient stone. You make spirituality easy, as this time I have learned that my Hebrew name is more powerful than I could ever have imagined, that all are incredibly awesome. The beauty of my name, or any other, that you have taught me is that there is no “I” (ein ani). When in your arms, I become part of a much bigger picture.
A little secret, I blew bubbles on top of Masada, and I should thank you. It was quite possibly one of the most enchanting moments of my life. However, it is easily matched with the night I laid my head on a friend’s stomach and watched the stars in your Negev. I felt alone with you, Israel, but we were with others who also got to experience the beauty of having an individual experience with you amongst the masses.
After I said goodbye to my fellow Americans, I traveled alone with you. I have sat near your beaches and watched as the waves crashed into the rocks. I have walked, hiked, ridden and run in hopes of a new perspective on every path of yours I could take. I have seen kindness in your people, and I have seen the reality of society. I have walked the fence that brings both spite and peace, and I have held hands with those who guard your boarders. I have seen your neighbors fight among themselves while peace talks have been arranged. I wept at Hannah Senesh’s buried feet and honored Golda as she lay at rest. And sweeter than all the baklava in the North, I kissed on your shore.
Israel, you have embraced me, so I made it my challenge to capture every moment with all my senses. Do you remember the one night my uncle took me for a ride on his motorcycle? That was the night I learned his brother lay in a grave on the very kibbutz I stood on learning about peace. He had fallen in a war on your soil in the 1960s.
I learned more about my family as I learned about myself. Before we met, Israel, when I was a kid, I heard about your Golan from my mom. And now when I stand at the top of the Golan, the only thing I see are my mother’s words… “You’ll grow to love Israel, Rachel. Because Israel is always home, even if you never see its soil.” Well as my fifth trip comes to an end, I have to admit, my mother is right (as usual). I have grown to love you, Israel, in all of your complexities. Tomorrow is going to be hard as I hate goodbyes.
My Romance with Israel