Try to Understand this Love of the Land

View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa

View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa

Today is our last day in Israel…until the next time.

That’s the thing about Israel, at least for the Jews. Once you come, you keep coming back. You realize that as wonderful as life is wherever you live, it’s a short time since we have been safe and prosperous and without persecution as the main preoccupation.

I know that sounds fatalistic and reeks of a persecution complex. I had buried it for a while, but I could never quite eliminate it. Because the truth lives deep, deep within.

imageToday, we toured the Diaspora Museum, also known as the Museum of the Jewish People, on Tel Aviv University’s campus. It begins with an exhibit of antiquities and tradition, showing Jews from biblical times until today observing ritual and tradition.


Bar mitzvah.

Torah learning.

imageOnly after we establish the foundation – the written word, the rituals, the connection between all Jewish communities and eras – can we dig into the culture.

Some people insist they are only “culturally Jewish.” I understand it. Tradition is a yoke, burdensome, oppressive at times. I’ve taken it on and thrown it off.

But without the foundation, the meaning, the ancient tradition shared by Jews who have stepped foot on every continent around this planet, there is no culture.


This quote on the wall of the Museum of the Jewish People refers to the blessings in daily prayers that call for goodness in the land of Israel. Jews pray three times a day for this place.

In the taxi on the way to the museum, I sneezed. The driver, who was speaking rapid-fire Hebrew on his cell phone to a friend and laughing it up, broke the conversation to say, “labriut,” bless you, in Hebrew. It literally translates as wishing someone good health.

In the taxi ride back from the museum to our hotel, the driver had a Hebrew book on his dashboard: Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. We could not get him to stop talking about how brilliant Scientology is and how rebellious he is to his Jewish family, that if they don’t accept his new religion, he will simply disappear. (He can’t wait to leave, to live in America, because he feels no connection, no relevance, to the tradition. Sad.)

The generations revolve and go in and out of acceptance. One generation clings to tradition, the next one throws it off with a yank. The next generation to come returns to tradition, and on and on and on.

imageRegardless of what we believe, observe, or say, we are infinitely linked – by generation, by experience, and by birth into this tradition. We can kick it to the curb but as history shows, it follows us wherever we go.

This week, I’ve been reading Herman Wouk’s The Hope, which chronicles in historical fiction the creation of the state of Israel, the salvation for the Jewish people, and the strengthening of Jews from all over the globe on this tiny sliver of land.

We have endured throughout the millennia, despite terrific attempts to wipe us out. And now, we have a little sliver of homeland, a place where all Jews can come and be accepted into the embrace, no matter their history, no matter their belief.

Here, we are welcome.

Here, we are invited to stay.

In most places, we have to ask how to pay and when. The welcome and hospitality are infinite.

In most places, we have to ask how to pay and when. The welcome and hospitality are infinite.

Here, a taxi driver, a college student, a hummos vendor, a businessman resemble someone we know from way back. Family.

We will be back. We will return. Israel beckons her tantalizing finger, her come-hither look, and we respond. It is inevitable. I cannot stay away.

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The Only People at the Hotel

imageSunday morning, Tsfat, Villa Galilee Hotel.

We are the only guests left. Sunday is a weekday, a workday, for Israelis, and they left in droves yesterday.

imageSo our table is the only one in the dining room, set with my favorite, Israeli breakfast, and the coffees available are the ones I drink at home.

This land of Israel, so fresh, so intense, so poetic. Yesterday, we traveled from one mountaintop to another, overlooking Lebanon. It’s quiet now. The last time I was here, in the north, 19 years ago, people went back and forth across the border through the Good Fence, though you could hear guns and bombs in the distance.

The view into Lebanon from Israel's north.

The view into Lebanon from Israel’s north.

Now it is quiet. And there is no movement between the two countries. Hezbollah controls the south of Lebanon, backed by Iran, and white U.N. trucks traverse the roads. Israel keeps a watchful eye on its borders. Don’t come too close or we’ll show you what it means to mess with Israel.

From Mt. Bental, looking into Syria.

From Mt. Bental, looking into Syria.


The Banias waterfall

Then we drove east to the Syrian border, also quiet, though Al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Syrian Army battle daily, tossing bombs you can see from the top of Mt. Bental.

In between, we hiked along the Banias waterfall and river, just south of Mt. Hermon, Israel’s highest peak. We saw flocks of birds and beautiful cranes in the Hula Valley. We had another incredible day in this incredible place.

At 2:30 a.m., the kids called. Three days of radio silence as they celebrated holiday and Shabbat with their father. Then, quick, fill in all the details, all the blanks, and our voices connect in a virtual hug. Three days until I can hold them again.

Hula Valley

Hula Valley

For now, the fresh mountain air comes in from windows and doors and piano music plays overhead. A man reads a newspaper in Hebrew. Dan is 47 today. He reads the headlines on his phone.

Breakfast was incredible. Little squares of light and fluffy quiche, smooth cheeses, vegetables and Israeli salad drizzled with olive oil pressed not far from here and fresh squeezed lemon. Halvah so good, and a custard dessert and fresh plum jam drizzled over cake. Fresh, fresh, fresh.

imageYesterday, lunch was on a kibbutz called Dag el Dan, fish from the Dan River, and the young woman who worked there said, “I was not born in the north but I came here for school and now this is home. I love it.”

In Israel, you hear testimony of love of the land, love of the people, love of the place. Intense passion for identity and connection. Who you are and where you are from intimately intertwined.

At the nature preserve yesterday, there was a poem about taking flight, mounted on the wall of the observation platform where you can get the best views of the beautiful cranes:

I am the wings of the kingfisher
A flash of turquoise
Just as an opal reflects the sun

Listen closely
to the whisper and rustle of the purple grasses
they are my voice

I am carried
by the fingers of the wind that caress your cheek

Here, wherever your gaze alights
I abide
all that is beauty
I am become

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How Can I Explain my Love for Israel?

Even for a writer, there are sometimes no words for the incredibleness of this place.

Right now, I sit on a mountaintop with absolute perfect Shabbat silence outside my open window, the occasional bird squeaking and a distant dog barking. Last night, the sun set behind the mountain range here in the north of Israel, quite close to Lebanon, as teenage boys sang the prayers to usher in the Sabbath.

They stood in the street for there were no cars anywhere around, and welcomed the Sabbath bride. Women stood on the perimeter, which was for me the only damper on the beauty of the moment. I love this tradition of my ancestors, and hate how the most fervent and most poetic of the observers have evolved it into a women on the sidelines kind of religion.

Where can I find such holiness in a day? Even if you observe outside of Israel, it isn’t the same. There is a holiness to the land that contains it in the dirt and rocks and in the sunshine and in the air.

The air here…magical. Fresh. Clean. Brilliant. Sweet.

Even in the extreme heat of an Israeli summer, I cannot imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

But I digress. Now is fall and the perfect time to be here. Not too hot, not too cold, the crisp night a single perfect kiss on every lip.

We met a man, an artist, David Friedman, originally from Denver, here in Tsfat for the past 35 years, making art about the Kabbalah. And in his explanations I saw the chakras. The unity in the meaning. The universality.

Here, the buildings are made of stone and the tables are laden with the freshest fruits and vegetables and cheese and wine pressed from a vineyard just a few miles to the east. We are close to Lebanon and to Syria but here, we are infinitely safe.

When we left, everyone wished us a good trip and urged us to “be safe.” I say it every time someone questions the wisdom of traveling to this Land: I have never felt safer anywhere else, including my home of the United States.

I love this place. I love it deep within my soul. I can’t believe it took me seven years to come back. It won’t be that long before I return, mark my words.

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Walking through the Old City

The air is perfectly sweet and cool. Quiet. Clear.

The stone streets polished to a sheen, smooth under our feet. We sat on the rooftop and looked out over the varying heights of this holy city. Dome of the Rock. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Other churches, higher and higher, ego against ego, what happened to humility?

Men in floor-length black robes. Women in floor-length gray robes. Women in floor-length skirts. Men in black satin jackets, white knee socks, fur hats. Shoulders shown, shoulders covered. Shorts and jeans, sneakers and flats.

Wigs. Short-shorn hair. Headscarves. Hats. Wild curls long and free.

Knitted yarmulkes. Black velvet yarmulkes. Bare heads.

In the Armenian quarter, a woman sits on a doorstep, texting. The Armenians were the first to accept Christianity. The Protestants believe Jesus went right on his 14 stations of the cross, while the Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe he went left.

Religious Jews dance with Torahs at the point where the Christians diverge, in the heart of the Muslim Quarter. Also the point where Jesus met his mother on his tragic walk.

Did the dancing Jews realize the significance of the spot where they danced and sang? Women watched as the circle of men went round and round. Should they be there anyway?

In some ways, Jerusalem is a city of contradictions. In some ways, a place of peace and harmony.

Many respect each other to the point that our guide, Ynon, took us to a jeweler in the Muslim Quarter. Beautiful gold and Roman glass and Eilat stone. Beautiful friendship.

At least money brings us all together, Ynon says, pointing to the displays in all the quarters of ritual items for Jews, Christians, Muslims. Money unites. Or does it?

A day of walking up and down and around winding streets. Inclines and descents, into the depths of the ruins, visiting yesterday and long ago, excavated so we can better understand.

A perfect day in this wonderful city.

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My Favorite Place on Earth

imageThere was steep security just entering the gate for our flight in Newark. Passports and bags checked, boarding passes verified, once, then again after we waited in line to board the plane.

Full flight, and every minute was filled with excited anticipation of finally returning to where my heart lives, the land of Israel. I slept maybe three hours, forcing myself to close my eyes and quiet my mind for even a little while so I could hit the ground walking once we landed.

And then we arrived. Touched down 10 hours after we left, surviving slightly bumpy dark skies, loving the map on the little screen that showed where in the world there was light at any moment and where there was complete darkness.

In seven years, the airport added walkways directly from the plane into the airport. The last time I was here, we walked down a staircase in the open sun and wanted to kiss the tarmac beneath our feet.

Our bags collected and a bright, sunny welcome from the passport control officer, we climbed into a white Mercedes taxi, impeccably clean and air-conditioned cool.

imageThere is a literal going up into the holy city of Jerusalem as much as the metaphorical one. It is a true ascent – coming to this country, to this city. Everyone back home wished us a good trip and “be safe.” Nonsense. Hooey. Stop listening to the news. Israel is the safest place on Earth.

And the smartest. And the most miraculous.

I love being an American, but I love Israel in a more passionate sense. The air is clean and clear. The technology vibrant and leading. The harmonious juxtaposition of Jew and Arab, religious and secular.

imageI’m telling the truth. We walked from our hotel to the Old City and wove our way along the satin-smooth stone streets through the Armenian Quarter into the Jewish Quarter, cups of fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice in our hands.

We stepped inside the quiet enclave of a store called Rina to buy the first of what will be many gifts for our children, and became fast friends with Hanan, the owner, a new father (10-day-old son named Zion) and a native Jerusalemite who said, “Judaism is a buffet. There is no Orthodox. There is just Jewish.”

imageKippah on his head, his parents lifelong residents of the religious Old City. Tonight, he will gather with his wife and newborn son and his parents and other family and dance with Torah scrolls in circles on the old stones and for 24 hours, everyone will be friends.

What is wonderful about this holiday, he told us, is that all the synagogues in the Old City come together. He invited us along.

We kissed the stones of the Western Wall, ducked inside an impressive sukkah built at the edge of the Kotel plaza. We ate passionfruit and mango gelato as we strolled through the Cardo shops, then the Arab shuk.

And we’ve only been here six hours.

Dan is awestruck, and I am riding high on being home to my soul. I don’t want to live here permanently, but I sure do want to be here more. More often, for longer periods of time, with my children and without.

I can’t quite explain why this place calls me. Seven years I have stayed away, but always yearned to return. I wasn’t born here, and I am no longer religious, but the spiritual soaring of my soul takes me home to this tiny nation that the whole world turns against time and time again.

I tried to explain it to Dan as we walked back to our hotel, laden with gifts and purchases.

I look at and listen to Israelis, and I see strong, confident, smart people who are proud of being Jewish and proud of their nation. Vigilantly proud. And in their faces, I see resemblances of the ancestors who came before them from Europe to this land to claim it, to work it, to make it green and blossom, to turn it into a place of peace.

image(It is. Don’t believe what you read in the media. Read instead Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem for a true picture of this place.)

The ancestors who came here looked and acted differently, though. They were paler, hidden away from the world, fearful, complacent. Our history shows us running from Cossacks and Nazis and so many others who just wanted to annihilate us.

And the ones who came here, they claimed the land and said, “Enough.” They refused to be bullied. And they made something great out of nothing.

I have never felt safer, or more at home, any other place in the world. I do love to travel, and I love to experience new places and cultures. I cried when I left India earlier this year.

imageI can love a place but not need it in my bones. I need Israel. I am not whole when I stay away too long.

And so, stay tuned for the poetic words of my inspiring days ahead. This place transforms you. It takes you in whatever form you bring and lifts you up higher, quieter, stronger than you ever imagined possible.

The place dreams are made of.

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Bittersweet Goodbye

My dreams were horrifying last night. They made no sense and were about saying goodbye to people I love. Forever.

It doesn’t take a Freudian expert to interpret that I am having a little anxiety about leaving my loved ones for a week. And they feel the same way. Last night, the three kiddos piled into my bed, ostensibly to sleep alongside me on our last night together for a week.

That didn’t last, of course. This one didn’t want to sleep beside that one, and before we knew it, the clock struck 10 o’clock and everyone would turn into pumpkins if we didn’t get them to sleep fast.

I heard a repetitive chorus of I’m going to miss you, Mommy, and my heart bled to hear it. I feel the same way. Every moment I am away from my precious babies hurts just a little.

And yet, I love the thrill of travel. The exhilaration of going to new places, having adventures, stepping outside of my life for a time to experience the world.

I am so excited to go on this trip.

And so sad to not be with my kids.

This article in the Atlantic struck me as so precious because the experiences of our lives are what sustain us, thrill us, and build us. Not the stuff we buy or cling to or toss or forget about.

Over the past decade, an abundance of psychology research has shown that experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions…maximal good to society and personal happiness comes from pursuing not happiness but meaning.”

So last night, in the darkness of my bedroom, the tender sweet bodies of my children beside me, that experience sustains me. Eliana’s silky hair, Shaya’s lean legs intertwined with mine, Asher’s full, gripping hug, as if we couldn’t let each other go. Those are the life-sustaining experiences of my life.

And today. Today, my husband and I are so excited with anticipation for the two plane rides ahead, one to New York, to wait around the airport for a few hours, until we board the bigger, fuller plane to Tel Aviv. I haven’t been in seven years, he has never been to Israel, and we have never traveled this far or for this many days just the two of us.

So many experiences. So many moments to treasure. So many memories in the making. Words said and not said. Fleeting texts stateside to stay connected to my babies, while we drink in the super sunshine and clear air of the Holy Land.

I just can’t wait. And I’m incredibly happy to do so.

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First Choice of the Day

c9599cdb19df32d212dd664cdb607247Immediately when I woke Shaya this morning, the tantrums began.

Whining, complaining, not wanting to go to school, I neeeeeeeeeed you, Mommy. 

My sweet boy. My lovely little man. I hate to see him hurting. I picked out clothes and placed them on his bed. I stroked his silk-soft hair and kissed his velvet cheek. I whispered in his ear that cottage cheese pancakes and turkey bacon were cooking in the kitchen.

I woke Asher and Eliana, and they turned out of bed with smiles, ready to face the day. Shaya buried his face in the pillow. The muffled whines still were not hidden.

I appreciate his sadness. I don’t take his emotion lightly. Still. I am trying to teach myself as well as my children that our moods are choices. Perhaps he is getting sick. Perhaps he simply didn’t want to go to school. Whatever the case, there is always a choice.

At some point, Dan went up, scooped his hands underneath the boy, and lifted him from the bed. Time to get going, he sang out in his cheerful way. Shaya’s mouth stayed down-turned in a pout as he pulled on clothes. My sweet boy. My precious little man.

He was the first in the kitchen and I tried to smother him with love and soft words, but he clung to his bad mood. I don’t want to go to school.

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 8.24.05 AMBy the end of breakfast, it was full-on stomping and slamming doors. I insisted he brush his teeth, as well as I could with tenderness and love.

By the time we got to school, Asher and Eliana were sunnier than the cloud-filled sky, offering kisses at send-off. Shaya stayed in the backseat, a cocoon protecting him from emerging into the day.

I pushed my head into the car. I spoke soft words of the immense love I have for this child, this gift from above, as I told him he could take a deep breath and face the day and find beautiful things waiting just outside the car.

The fresh scent of rain on fallen leaves. The deep richness of fall colors on the trees, a progression of reds and greens and oranges and browns. The shiny faces of children just starting their day, strolling along the sidewalk to the school’s front door.

mediumI knelt close and pulled him to me. He still smells sweet, hasn’t ascended to the precipice between childhood and teen. You can change the day right now, I said. You can choose to notice the beautiful things and have a good day.

Beautiful things like this child himself, even in unhappiness, one of my greatest gifts, one of the best reasons I get out of bed each morning.

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The Cycle of Life Keeps Spinning: My Niece’s Bat Mitzvah

I didn’t tear up this much when I was younger.

bat-mitzvah-girl-1As my niece ascended the bimah last night for her bat mitzvah, the tears threatened to come. When she spoke about my sister’s triumphant fight against cancer six years ago, the tears welled up. When my father said the motzi over the challah like his father/my grandfather did 30 years ago this year at my bat mitzvah, the tears threatened again.

At one point, I had to leave the incredibly gorgeous party that my sister worked so hard to create to gather myself and let the tears spill a little, as I thought about how dear everyone in my family is to me, and how time flies way too quickly. People age. Some are gone. And the clock just keeps spinning on.

This weekend was my niece’s beautiful coming-of-age ceremony in the Jewish tradition, a bat mitzvah. She read from the Torah, the book of our faith, in flawless Hebrew chanting, and stood with poise behind the lectern. She spoke with confidence as she gave her speech, tying together the timeless chapter of Bereishit, the beginning of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition, with her life today, and what it means to become an adult in the Jewish world.

db33e-jewish-art-bat-mitzvah-LThat’s a pretty mature thing to do, find meaning in ancient text that applies to today.

And then we partied. We danced and sang and laughed and loved. We ate and talked and hugged and carried tired children to our cars in the black night and fell into our beds, not yet ready to sleep.

It’s a funny thing, the moments we choose to make a big deal out of and celebrate. It’s important that we don’t forget what the meaning is behind the madness, but really I’m not sure it needs to be front and center, as long as we focus on being with the people we so rarely get to see and spend time with, and remember why we love each other.

Family is a mixed bag of course. We don’t get to choose the people we are related to, but we are brought together cosmically and genetically, I believe, for a reason. We are mirrors for each other, and gifts.

My cousins especially have been by my side through so many life stages. They live their lives in different cities and with different priorities, but at the end of the day, I know I could turn to them, and they know I would do anything in return.

Love is a deep well not often understood entirely but waded into without a thought. This weekend has been a headlong truck race of intensity, and at the end of it all, I agreed to gather one more time for dinner, just to be together.

C2311For better and for worse, we build a variety of communities in this life. Our conversations steer us toward futures we could not have anticipated.

I think of life as a quilt of relationships – some for a quick immersion, some lifelong, some just in passing that you almost miss them entirely.

The family ones, we share connections and blood, beloved long-gone relatives whose stories live in us, memories and meanderings.

I was so proud seeing my niece up there in synagogue, reciting as we all recited, celebrating as we did so many years ago. Thirty years between mine, the first of my generation of cousins, and Hannah’s, the first of this new generation, our children, our future. The meaning is even deeper than any of us realize.

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A Simple Sweet Saturday Morning

2448004ctt18720l9I am still in my pajamas. For those of you who know me, this is quite late for lounging around. Usually, I am up and dressed by 6 a.m., 6:30 at the latest, and ready to face the day.

But there is something about a Saturday that demands I stop in my tracks and just be in the day. Maybe it’s remnants from my days of observing Shabbat or maybe it’s an internal clock thing that needs to stop and refresh at least one day a week, but when Saturday comes, I rise as early as I usually do, and settle into the couch to watch a movie, snuggle with my kids, linger over my cup of coffee, and just take the day slowly.

I had the best of intentions to get dressed and go to synagogue, but I don’t see that happening at this point. Same goes for working out – there will be no run in the sunshine on my quiet neighborhood streets, no swimming laps, no yoga class.

8587332540_6ea4035a80_cJust peace. Just stillness. Just family altogether in one place, quiet and relaxed, loving each other, loving our home.

A true day of rest when none of us has a soccer game and there are no deadlines to meet. All work will get done in its own time. The earth will not shatter nor will any dreams die if we take today slowly and savor the stillness.

It’s my daughter’s 11th birthday, and I keep wanting to burst into song, but she is still asleep in her bed. The other kids remain in flannel. One is sipping tea. There have been lots of hugs already. A Phineas and Ferb episode. The first episode of The Roosevelts.

relaxing-on-couchAt one point, the sunrise was so vibrant, the entire doorframe between our family room and the living room was illuminated in shining angelic light so bright as to silence us all. My little guy climbs onto the arm of my desk chair to wrap his arms around me as I type.

The day begs for forgiveness, for solitude, for love. And I just can’t resist. I surrender. The definition of love is in my lap. And life is infinitely good.

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Going to Israel

landingWhen you land, the whole plane erupts in applause. Some people kiss the tarmac, tears dotting their cheeks.

The first time I stepped off a plane onto the land of Israel, I felt oddly as if I had come home – though I had never been there before. And thus began a lifelong journey of yearning to go back, to visit, to be in the land and on the land and among the strongest Jewish people I have ever known.

We will spend Simchat Torah in Jerusalem, dancing with Torahs at the Western Wall. I simply cannot wait.

We will spend Simchat Torah in Jerusalem, dancing with Torahs at the Western Wall. I simply cannot wait.

Next week, Dan and I are going – our first big overseas trip as a married couple, his first visit to Israel ever, my first since I stopped being Orthodox. The last time I visited Israel, I was in a crumbling marriage, with three children, ages 10 months, 3 1/2 and 5.

We went for Passover with my in-law relatives and stayed at a religious hotel in Haifa. Our rooms were across the parking lot and across a street in the hotel’s annex, which made staying up late for the Seders difficult, when my children only wanted sleep. We Americans observed two days of holiday, while the Israeli religious only kept one, so we wouldn’t ride elevators or drive cars while they zoomed and smoked and spoke on their cell phones.

I haven't been to Tel Aviv in so long. I can't wait to return.

I haven’t been to Tel Aviv in so long. I can’t wait to return.

It’s easy to visit Israel as a religious Jew; everything there is respectful of a religious Jewish lifestyle. You can find kosher food, places to worship, others like you, wearing long sleeves in the hot Mideast sun.

Ever since I stopped being religious, I’ve wanted to return, to see Israel through new eyes. My very first visits in the 1990s were as a secular Jew, but that was so long ago, and I’ve visited many times in the interim. Until the last seven years: radio silence.

We will pray at the Western Wall of the ancient Temple and then tour Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites of Jerusalem.

We will pray at the Western Wall of the ancient Temple and then tour Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites of Jerusalem.

So we are going. Up, up and away. And we get there on the eve of a festive fall holiday, so I can’t wait to watch the dancing in Jerusalem streets.

It’s a weird thing, to be proudly American, native-born, and yet to feel at home in another land. I have never wanted to move to Israeli permanently, but I am grateful for its existence. I know that if any of history’s bad events began to repeat themselves, I would have a safe place to go where I would be accepted and protected because of who I am – the opposite of treatment of Jews the world over.

We will hike in the Golan Heights to the Banias, pictured here, and we will visit the Hula Valley, the stopping point for birds migrating between 3 continents.

We will hike in the Golan Heights to the Banias, pictured here, and we will visit the Hula Valley, the stopping point for birds migrating between 3 continents.

It’s a funny thing, our persecution complex. Except it’s real. People do hate us, for no good reason, for no reason at all, and it comes up again and again throughout history, blame the Jews, blame the Jews.

When the state of Israel was formed in 1948, in the wake of the horrible Holocaust, it was in desperate need of settling. Now, it’s a green miracle, an incredibly vibrant and economically cutting-edge place filled with the brethren of the same pasty people who like ghosts drifted through the European Diaspora aimless and strengthless.

We will visit the spiritual and artistic community of Tsfat, in the north, near the Lebanon border.

We will visit the spiritual and artistic community of Tsfat, in the north, near the Lebanon border.

Israelis are strong. Tough. Attractive. Confident. They are my people as much as the people who cling to the shadows in other cities, doing their ritual observances and trying to to blend into the mainstream. Except I claim Israel more. Let’s make something of ourselves, let’s stop being pushed around.

Last night, the kids and I started to watch a movie in which the new kid in town is bullied by two thugs who take his sneakers and steal his Halloween candy. “I hate bullying,” I said, as the four of us snuggled in tight on my bed.

615_Israel_Flags_Reuters“It’s just a movie, Mommy,” one of them remarked. Yes, but. It happens in real life all the time. It happens among adults. Bullies are real and they just won’t go away. Just look at our global political landscape today and weep.

We are facing a new election in a few weeks, and all the campaigning reminds me of how we vote based on fear – fear of the unknown, fear of the worse candidate winning the seat, fear of what-if. We cannot live in fear, and in Israel that is never an option. You live in fear there, and you die.

iscollageThe key to survival, to thriving, to loving the life you live on the land you’ve claimed and reclaimed, is to stand your ground, with pride, hands fisted on hips, a shadowy smile on  your face, your hair shorn short, your gaze far into the distance. This is my land, brave and free.

We’ll be there next week, and I simply cannot wait. To be a different, better, stronger version of me, in the place of the strong, in the place of our collective history, in the glowing sunlight of the desert mountains, of the running rivers, of the rich tradition that takes me back nearly 6,000 years. It’s mine as much as yours. Just try and take it from me.

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