This year in Jerusalem…and Tel Aviv, and the Golan, and…
January 15, 2009 1 Comment
Just a few days after Israel responded militarily to Hamas’s rocket launching breaches of a cease fire, me and about 40 other early/mid-twenties folk–and soon-to-be unwitting beholders of one another’s charming morning dispositions–traveled around the country on coach bus. We were one of many bus fulls of young Jewish groups traveling from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to the Golan to the Negev as part of the free Birthright trips that have been available to any Jew between 18-26 since 1999, (and we might be some of the last, if this is true). And the Birthright buses are only a small part of the caravan: buses of old people and Christian pilgrimages are ubiquitous in Israel, as well.
To Birthright’s credit, none of the trips it sponsors have been canceled this winter, as far as I know, which allowed people like me to see for themselves that Israel is largely a peaceful, safe country, despite the hostility along one of its borders and despite its small size (somewhere between the land mass of Delaware and New Jersey). It was a little unsettling when we got word one day that Hamas militants had shot a rocket into Israel from Jordan, potentially creating a second front to Gaza, but at the same time, it is a fact of life for Israelis, and I was pretty grateful that people were going out of our way to protect us visitors when they deal with the risks of living in that country every day.
So, without further ado, here are some photos of normalcy in Israel, a beautiful, fascinating country–well, if what I do is any barometer for normalcy.
I have to say, I am a bit obsessed with Israel after this trip. I have traveled to not a lot of foreign countries compared to some of my globetrotting friends, but have traveled enough to know what it feels like to be foreign somewhere. In fact, it probably wouldn’t take more than me going to Mississippi or Georgia to feel foreign, and I have always felt very foreign in Europe–even in London–and when I was in South America this past summer. Nonetheless, in Israel, I didn’t feel this way so much. Part of this I’m sure owed to traveling with a group of Americans and being spoken to in English by our guides, but I lived in France and traveled in Germany and Italy under fairly similar circumstances. Part of it was that in those other countries, I was never sure whether to say I was Jewish if it came up and in fact a little bit afraid of the reactions it would engender. Of course, in Israel, there is no need to be self-conscious about being Jewish. Today if I were in France or Germany or Italy or Switzerland (etc.), I would proudly say I am Jewish, but I remember that being my concern at the time.
Because I had heard so much beforehand of how people feel a “connection” to Israel through this trip, I was both skeptical and nervous about the prospect of feeling something so deep from a ten-day guided trip. But for me, the connection arose as I started to feel what it is like to have a kinship to a place that is not America, like so many of my other friends have to their farflung ancestral homelands in China, India, Europe, etc. I realized that Jews like my ancestors were often been unwelcome or worse killed in the nations–Russia and Germany–that are my ancestral homelands. So we say, next year–this year!–in Israel.