My wife and I recently went to Israel for the first time to visit our daughter, Sarah, who was studying at Hebrew University. She is now at Kibbutz Sa'ad. Here are our first impressions:
Almost every meal in Israel begins with a tray of little dishes full of humus and tehina and half a dozen other condiments, some of which you may never have seen before, all served with a basket of pita bread. You don't know what to choose first. And you have to be careful or you won't have any room for the main course. A ten day whirlwind tour of Israel is a little like that first course. So many appetizers to dip into and so little time.
Of course, the most wonderful and exciting part of the trip was being able to spend time with Sarah, who is now tall and beautiful and brilliant and sweet. But where is the news in that? We are grateful that she has enabled us to fulfill a long held dream. Our first trip to Israel!
So many impressions.
From the moment we got past the interminable immigration check-in I was struck by two things:
First - How normal it felt. It was like being home. Perhaps, part of this is because there is English everywhere and because we now have so many foreign cars on our streets. But I suspect there is more to it than that.
Second - How improbable it all seems - how precarious, how like a dream that could disappear and you would wake up in bed shaking and wondering where it went.
I won't try here to recount all we did or what we saw. In a sense it is still a jumble in my mind as I catch up on my sleep. But there are some strong impressions:
Our excellent guide, Amir Orly. warning us of zealotry as he took us through Massada . . .and repeating his warning at Tel Aviv City Hall a week later (the site where Yitzhak Rabin was killed); The Sea of Galilee in the rain; The sounds of Israel from Ben Yehuda Street to the Kotel on Shabbat - - the ringing of the ubiquitous cell phone; Pock marks on a building in Safed; Haredim trying to sell me a brocha at the Kotel; The Chabad and their Menorah Mobiles, playing Hanuka music and lighting huge menorahs all over Jerusalem; Meeting old friends on Ben Yehuda Street; The smells of Machaneh Yehuda and of the old city; Ancient ruins at Beit Sha'an; and walking on the beach in Tel Aviv on New Years Eve (and falling asleep before midnight).
Israel is a country of spectacular and of intimate views, ranging from the view of Jerusalem at sundown from the Haas Promenade, to glimpses through arched walkways in the old city, to crooked streets in Safed or Jaffa or Yamin Moshe. (A special bonus was discovering that Montifiore, who built the windmill in Jerusalem so the poor would have cheap flour, lived not far from Sally's home town in England. On the way home, we went there and saw the ruins of his estate, but that is another story.)
But there are two special views that I remember - one spectacular, one intimate. The first is the view of Jerusalem at twilight from the balcony of our hotel on Mt. Scopus as two of Sarah's girlfriends led us in Shabbat services on our last Friday night. The second took place in our hotel room one night. I was exhausted and went to bed before dinner. Sarah came in and softly lit the Hanuka candles. I fell asleep by their gentle glow. A great miracle did happen there.
Perhaps Israel is more like a Chinese meal than an appetizer. After ten days I was stuffed. But I am hungry again. "L'shonah habo b'Yerushalaim" (Next Year in Jerusalem).
Copyright 1998 Leonard Grossman
See also my Open Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu (September, 1997)
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