Israel. How do I describe Israel? It’s a place that gets into your very bones. Israel is food. Israel is passion. Israel is God. Israel is intense. The first time I went to Israel I was a college student in a relationship. I went with a Russian Jewish Birthright group based in NY. My boyfriend, my friend and I were the only CA Jews in the group. At the time I was an observant Jew who did not drink, smoke or party. Unfortunately I had chosen the wrong Birthright group to experience Israel. They spent their evenings drinking, playing cards and smoking. I was looking for a holy, religious experience and I didn’t get it. I came back with a skewed perspective of Israel marred by drama with my former friend and a realization that my boyfriend and I were completely wrong for each other.
This time I wanted Israel to be a truly spiritual experience. Prior to our trip I visited the mikvah. After my three dunks I asked the rebbetzin to allow me some time to sit in the mikvah and pray. I asked God to grant us a safe trip revolving around Judaism. I didn’t want to see Israel from a secular perspective as I had last time, I wanted to feel like a Jew and be part of the Jewish heartbeat.
I am a Jew and proud of it. I keep kosher at home (eat vegetarian and kosher fish outside of the house), have a shomer shabbat house, drive on shabbat to shul or to see our family, and I keep the laws of family purity. However, it’s very difficult to feel connected as a Jew in San Diego.
When I came back to the states with Sadie in my arms and Logan walking beside me and I exited the plane and made eye contact with an airport employee who smiled in return to my smile I realized I wasn’t in Israel anymore. My eyes filled with tears and I cried knowing that I was far away from Jerusalem.
Israel is amazing. Jerusalem is mind blowing. There is an energetic flow in Jerusalem, a heartbeat of the Jewish people that fills you when you enter the city. Maybe it’s the energy of all people who come here to pray to God. I don’t know. But God pulsates in Israel. You don’t need to be at the Kotel (the western wall) to feel it. The air pulsates with God's energy.
On the second day of Rosh Hashana we walked the streets of the old city and heard the sound of shofars coming from every direction. It’s heart stopping. Near the kotel there was an Aish filled with men praying their hearts out, singing out to God. You could almost see the prayers flowing from the building and dancing around the old city.
By the time we made it to the Kotel on Rosh Hashana the vast majority of supplicants were tourists. There were obviously many non-Jewish people filling the square and taking in the experience. As Logan prayed on the men's side and Sadie ran around after the pigeons in the square I once again felt disconnected to the space. When I went to the Kotel with my Birthright group I did not have a spiritual experience. I remember feeling very sad that this central place to my religion had no meaning for me. And then, out of nowhere, a shofar's cry rang in the air. Its note piercing, cutting through the noise of foreign languages and people moving around me. I searched through the square and saw a man with a curly red beard and red hair blowing a beautiful shofar. It was long and curved, its voice reminding me why I was here. Around me people stopped and listened to the shofar cry out. It reminded me that Judaism isn't about a wall, it's about the people that find solace at the wall. The Kotel is a special place because it reminds us of what we once had and millions of people have come there to connect with God. The Kotel is a monument, but Judaism is about the people. Israel is special because of the people that love it so much. Their prayer elevates the land.
When we came back to our home I rejected everything I saw. I didn’t want to live this San Diego life anymore. I wanted my life in Jerusalem back. I wanted to be part of the Jewish culture in a real way. I wanted to live in a place where on Yom Kippur everything shuts down and the whole country prays for redemption. I wanted to find kosher restaurants anywhere I went. I wanted to see people praying while crossing the street. I wanted to be supported by my environment, I didn’t want to have to bring Judaism to my world – I wanted my world to be filled with it already.
Life stayed a haze for me for nearly a week. Now I am more adapted to being far away from the holy land and I continually hear what a friend said to me upon my arrival to San Diego.
“Welcome to Exile.”
Never before had I understood with such clarity and longing what that meant.
Meet the Blogger!
I'm a mom. A writer. A lover of good fantasy. A proponent of nursing when possible. A birth advocate. I am absolutely horrible at keeping my house clean or the dishes washed or the laundry done. I strongly believe in women having a positive birth. When we start to respect women's rights to birth the way they want, we can start to treat women as equal people in this world.
Sites I Value