What I learned, and remembered, on my trip to Israel

Just 2 weeks ago when people asked me when it was that I last visited Israel, my answer was a remarkable, 28 years ago. People told me I would not recognize the place. They told me that what it had become was more than I ever could have imagined. And they told me that I would not feel as though 10 days there was nearly enough. They were correct on all but one of these statements, the exception being very possibly the most important one. I did indeed recognize it. It just didn’t happen right away.

I imagine that someone who experiences amnesia and is in front of someone they love, looks at them with a knowledge that they knew them, but unless they have the good fortune that their memory returns, something important and powerful is missing. If and when they do get that important memory and recollection back, the feeling is so intense, so powerful, that it is almost impossible to describe or eclipse in emotional importance. While I didn’t suffer from amnesia, I now have at least a sense of what that is like, because it happened to me in Israel.

While I am not one to preach religiously, I must reference the Torah portion we just read in which spies enter Israel and all but 2 come back with positive reports. The 2 that did have been lauded for eternity and have contributed positively to the Jewish people, Israel, and the world. While I did not go to Israel as a spy, and I do not visualize my statement as being impactful on a Biblical level, I did like the symmetry of being in somewhat of a position to report what I saw immediately after reading the story of the spies. I am happy to say that I too have nothing but positive things to share.

I do not need to tell you that Israel is not perfect. It certainly has its problems and concerns regarding the future. But this amazing place has developed into the kind of place many of us thought was nothing more than a dream. It is modern, it is developed, it is constantly growing, and it is not just a safe haven for the Jews, it is a place where Jews have the opportunity to thrive religiously, spiritually and practically. When you have been someone whose life has revolved in many ways around the remembrance and study of the Holocaust, Israel is something even more powerful than anything else I just mentioned. It is Hitler’s worst nightmare. If there is a hell, God is making sure Hitler is aware every moment of his despicable existence of what Israel has become, and no punishment anyone on earth could ever have given him is a greater punishment than having to see a thriving, developing, powerful Jewish country.

The first morning when I awoke in Israel, in the city of Bet Shemesh, 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem, the first thing I heard was the singing of birds. I did not just hear a few birds chirping, I heard a chorus of different birds welcoming in the Israeli morning, and at the very least in my mind, welcoming me home. https://davidstravels312745452.wordpress.com/2022/06/09/singing-in-agreement/. Nevertheless, as much as I felt as though I was where I needed to be, I still did not recall those old feelings. The next day when I went to Tiberius near the Sea of Galilee (known in Hebrew as the Kinneret), I saw majestic beauty over the water and into the mountains with a haze of spirituality unlike anything I had seen in recent memory. I experienced comfort and pleasure while feeling a holy presence, and it was nothing short of wonderful. https://davidstravels312745452.wordpress.com/2022/06/14/tiberius-beauty-by-the-lake/ Nevertheless, I still was in my mini state of amnesia.

The following day I was on a boat on the Kinneret, followed by a visit to beautiful Haifa and ending up in Tel-Aviv’s neighboring town of Jaffa. Jaffa, a city with an ancient feel, is also best described as a very cool place. It was fun, it was comfortable, and like everywhere else I had been till now, it was welcoming. The next day after seeing a little more of Jaffa, and growing to like it even more, I spent a few hours in Tel Aviv, where I wet my whistle so to speak and knew that I needed to spend more time in this amazing city, which I would do a few days later. https://davidstravels312745452.wordpress.com/2022/06/20/tel-aviv-my-biggest-surprise/

However, as I am sure you realize by now, I was yet to truly feel awakened in my return to the Holy land. So at around 3:30 in the afternoon I left Tel Aviv and drove to Jerusalem, the city that was my home for 3 1/2 years of my life between the years 1980 to 1985. Arriving in Jerusalem was immediately powerful for me. As I drove closer and closer to the City Center, which I also like to describe as my old stomping ground, I felt my emotions building up. This had been home for me in a way nowhere else had ever been, and the street names and the places that had some familiarity to what they once were, started to impact me. I reached the center, parked my car and started to walk. When I reached Kikar Tziyon, Zion Square, I sat down. Then all of a sudden it happened. My amnesia, so to speak, began to lift. I felt as though my soul had been put on hold for 28 years, and as I sat here in Jerusalem, God was releasing the hold button. As I was overcome with emotion and shamelessly began to cry, I remembered everything. I remembered a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being at home, a feeling of safety I have never felt anywhere else. Maybe even most importantly, I felt a feeling of love for being where I was and feeling as though this was given to me in a way it had been given to so many others. I woke up. I felt it. https://davidstravels312745452.wordpress.com/2022/06/18/a-2-day-journey-to-the-center-of-the-world/

I used to think that people close to me who were telling me to go to Israel were doing so almost in a judgmental way. It was as though I needed to be there and not being there was me doing the wrong thing. I realize now that it was more about them wanting to share the joy, or the deep meaning they felt by living there, and that anyone they cared about would gain from it as well.

While I am wide open as to the different theories as to how it could take place, I am someone who believes in a Messiah or Messianic age of sorts. As someone who feels this way, and knowing how many other people do as well, I would say to them the following. If you do not think we are on the precipice of that utopia we have learned about and discussed throughout the ages, then you need to open your eyes. And to those who do not believe in anything Messianic or anything religious at all, if you do not recognize the accomplishments and significance of this great land, you too need to open your eyes. Everyone’s beliefs are between them and God, but that does not mean it should cloud their vision and stop them from seeing what is directly in front of them, a country growing and developing in every area and in all walks of life.

With this same focus on growth and development I offer my most important words of caution. Words that will undoubtedly be seen as controversial to some. But let’s be honest. If everyone agrees with everything you are saying, you are very likely saying something wrong, or even worse, disingenuous. So I offer these words of caution. If you want to have a Utopian society, you must allow every decent human being to find their own paradise. Israel’s most pressing problems involve groups disagreeing or disapproving with other groups wishes and desires. Each issue is its own separate, long and very complicated discussion. That being said, if all parties, be they Jewish or Arab, Haredi or Secular are willing to start from the foundation that any individual that is willing to live in peace and cooperation can have some of the glory that is Israel, the rest will work itself out. On this trip I saw enough from all sides to believe this to be very possible, albeit it difficult.

My final, and maybe most important takeaway from my time in Israel is this. As someone who is happy and proud to be a Jew, the joy I feel in merely being in the Jewish State of Israel is a joy unlike any other. Having written the story of my parents’ experiences in the Holocaust, and subsequently been given the opportunity to tell the story of my Uncle and his violin, while I’ve always felt it was important to be Jewish, that importance has taken on an even greater significance. Whether it is recalling the murder of 6 millions Jews, or the story of a boy being put to death 3 weeks shy of his 19th birthday merely because he was born Jewish, it is a natural tendency to ask ourselves, why did this happen? We can never really know the answer and can choose to come to our own resolution, and nothing anyone can ever say will make it ok, but one thing does resonate very powerfully when you are in Israel. It was not for nothing.

I can’t help but think of the words of my paternal grandfather, Leendert Groen of blessed memory, who when presented with the opportunity to accept Baptismal papers so that he could hide from the Nazis, refused to accept them. His words were, “I was born a Jew, I will die a Jew”. While we are not required to make the ultimate sacrifice to acknowledge that, placing your feet on Israeli soil reminded me of how important my grandfather’s words were, and how truly important the State of Israel is to each and every Jew on the planet.

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