Baruch Hashem, we found a place to stay in Israel for the month of september, through the Chagim. We have been looking for a while and we just found what seems to be a very nice place. I have already booked it through airbnb.com and am planning to buy the plane tickets tomorrow.
We were in disbelief that we could really find a place that was in our price range and that could accomodate our family, and thank G-d, just like that, we found it!
It has been a very exciting Father’s Day, starting with building a remote controlled moon walker with my two older children, and finishing with this amazing news. We already have started planning our itinerary and whatnot.
Strangely, after all of this excitement, I started to feel all sorts fears and even a sort-of “sadness”, in the midst of this intense excitement and joy.
I actually remember feeling like this before the last time I went to Israel, and I remember that these feelings were finally assuaged when I ran into a friend, shortly after arriving.
Here is what I think is going on: For the past several months, we have been dreaming about going to Israel as a family. I have been thinking about all of the amazing and special memories I have from my four months spent there 8 years ago and all of the things that I want to show to my children.
Now, we have found a place and were looking around the google street view. I was filled with many of these amazing feelings and memories at the sites of certain things. However, what is there actually on the streets? It’s a city. There are pot holes, beat up guard rails, posters along metal fences that are peeling off, some chunks of concrete leftover from building projects, etc.
I looked on wikipedia about the neighborhood that we are staying in. It described the history and the pain and hardship that was experienced just a few generations ago so that there could be a Jewish community there now.
We were looking around for a nearby park for our children to visit while we are there, and the nearby playgrounds look alright from the google street view, but I wouldn’t say “amazing” – just alright. (I certainly appreciate that there is a park there, but I am picturing from my children’s perspective: “You took me 9000 miles from the parks in West Hartford to go to another park?”)
The point I am saying is: If you take away the fact that this is Eretz Yisroel and the fact that even walking four cubits (10 feet?) in this land is a special zechut, and the incredible fact that we Jews have the opportunity to visit and live in this holy place in our current era, then it is actually hard to justify our excitement over this visit. And after reading the history of this particular neighborhood, and outside of this perspective of the holiness of the land, it’s even can be hard to justify all of their efforts to build it up to what it is. (They are absolutely justified – I am just making a point, but I will clarify shortly, I hope. I really am so appreciative of previous generation’s efforts to build up the land of Israel and I am merely expressing a feeling, which I realize looks awkward when written. I really am getting to a point though…).
I was discussing with my wife that our children might not understand the preciousness of certain things. I said that if we take them on the underground kotel tours, they might miss the open miracle of the gigantic stones that make up the wall of the support for Temple Mount and they might see them as “just some stones”. I was perhaps expressing my own fear of being so desensitized from spirituality that I don’t recognize something so amazing, or the fact that it is right outside the place of the Kodesh HaKedoshim. What if my children ask why it is special there and I do not know the right words to answer? These are some of the fears. Maybe I am so involved in certain routines that I am desensitized. I am not sure, but these are the current fears.
In our initial planning, I have felt conflicted between the desire to fill our trip with activities and the other extreme – to just be in Israel, even if we are just hanging out at the park – to just be a part of that sort of life in Israel, and to not go on tours and things. I almost feel like if we endeavor to do certain things (like go on a tour of Masada), we could be missing the purpose of just being in Israel. But, then what is that purpose? Can it be described in words? Is it just a feeling? What is it that is so exciting about this trip that we’ve been dreaming about and finally seems like it is going to really happen?
So far, what I am saying seems a bit scattered, but I am getting to a point, I think…
I mentioned above that the last time I struggled with these sorts of feelings, 8 years ago, I felt assuaged when I bumped into an old friend who I had not seen in years on my first day in Israel. The reason why it was a special meeting is because I had actually intended to look him up. I had the specific idea that he was somebody who I know who happens to be in Israel at the time I was going, so maybe I would find some comfort in that I would be able to look up an old friend. I was amazed at what appeared to be an outright open miracle of running into this friend on my first day there, without having to look him up. More amazing was the fact that he actually lived a few hours away and just happened to be in Jerusalem on that day, and I haven’t seen him since then (to this day, for that matter). It was instant comfort on my first day, with no effort on my part. I just needed to show up in Israel and Hashem set up a situation where I would feel comforted. (Thank you Hashem!)
My experience in Israel from 8 years ago was filled with all sorts of “chance meetings” of people, being in the “right place at the right time”, and even opening books to the exact page that I intended. These things happened way more than probability would suggest and through these sorts of things I knew that I was in a holy place of open miracles. (Of course, we do not all *need* such miracles to recognize the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel, but where I was holding then, I think that I did need that sort of experience and it was just right for me. Thank you Hashem!)
Obviously, Jerusalem is not fully built yet (and may it be, speedily in our days!) And that fact is clearly reflected in the google street view that I described above. And, when you zoom out on the map and see all of those hostile nations around (and even within) Israel, it is possible to feel a sense of hopelessness. Here we are, the majority of the Jewish nation living in Israel (according to population records), and yet still we are waiting for the Temple to be rebuilt and Jerusalem fully built and no more war or threats and everybody thriving. And yet, if that was the case, it would be too easy. Instead, it’s a challenge to get there and it’s a challenge to live there (I’ve heard). But, when you look around there is all sorts of comforting things, like miracles taking place around you in a way that seems so much more intense than how it is outside of Israel. And it’s comforting, and we are reminded that the times of Moshiach are close.
Possibly the biggest miracle is what I just described in the last paragraph. Because, when you look at the google street view, you see stores and signs with hebrew writing and all attesting to the miracle that is the Jewish State of Israel in our time. And when you zoom out and see the hostility all around, yet there is real Jewish life and courage to continue to exist in the middle of that, that is an open miracle that anyone can experience. In that way, just “hanging out at the park” is actually something amazing and can be equally meaningful as a tour of Masada or some other thing people do in Israel. It really depends on the perspective (and that gets into the whole thing with the meraglim I suppose, but probably for another post).
It really is the “just being there” that is so special and worth any effort. It is not describable. I do remember, 8 years ago, struggling to try to write about and capture what was going on around me and within me. It’s the whole experience of reconnecting with who we really are as Jews and experiencing the land of Israel that Hashem has given to us, and the special opportunity of being able to travel there with greater ease than any generation before us has experienced. And just being open to miracles, especially when they are all around.
I am not yet sure what my official goal of this particular trip to Israel is going to be. Last time (8 years ago) I was single and going to a yeshiva for the first time. My goal was to “learn how to learn”. This time around, I want to impart something on my children, and I want to experience Israel together with my wife for the first time, but as for my personal goal, I am not sure. Now that I realize that this is actually happening, B”H, I consider finding a goal to be an important thing to do over the next couple weeks.
I hope that we are not just going to Israel to take from the spirituality that surrounds, but to actually bring something. We discussed maybe finding an opportunity to physically help build something, or to plant a tree or something. Ultimately, I want to something positive and impactful.
As much as I want to relive my amazing experiences in Israel from 8 years ago, I realize that trying to relive some previous experience doesn’t usually work out as expected. So, it is best to be open minded. I don’t know, but I will probably update here when I figured it out.
Either way, I will end this post noting that I am extremely excited about the prospect of bringing my family to Israel and visiting with friends and family there, as well as experiencing the kedusha all around with my family for the first time. I am excited to be in Israel for the high holidays and through Sukkot! Bezrat Hashem, it should go well and lead to new nice memories and a strengthened emuna and bitachon for all subsequent visits until we are living there and the whole Jewish nation is living there together.