The Art of Living Simply

On the plane home from Israel, we sat beside a young man originally from Cincinnati, who as a bright college grad decided to move to Israel permanently. He now works for a tech company and travels the world hawking his software.

His happiness just radiated from his face while he spoke.

What courage, what determination, what sense of self to have at 22 to pick up and move around the globe to another country!

If you’ve read my blogs for the past week, you’ve seen how enamored I am with the land of Israel. I am proud to be American, but I am even prouder to be a Jew, and when I walk along the stone streets and breathe the sweet air of that land, I feel stronger, happier, more intense than anywhere else.

Except I live here. And as I listened to the young man speak, I realized how caught up we all get in the trappings of a western life.

We don’t mean to. It’s easy to follow the masses toward bigger houses, bigger cars, newer this, and newer that. In a place like Israel, the standard of living just doesn’t allow for most people to keep focusing on up, up, up – they believe UP was the move to Israel, period.

Up in spirit, if not in material surroundings.

What a concept! It was the same in India, though different of course. People aren’t constantly grabbing for more, more, more – it’s not the culture. They are preoccupied with different pursuits – peace of mind, peace on the streets, peace between people.

And so I return to my American life imbued with the passion of Israel, hoping I can maintain it like I hoped when I returned from India, with my priorities leading the way.

Here’s what I want:

* Meaningful work, with meaningful clients, that allows me to comfortably pay my bills and save for the future.

* A quiet, beautiful, enriching home life, where I can pull my children close and appreciate our surroundings and our family.

* Good and easy health, motivated by the right tasty fresh foods and the right constant exercise and activity, where we are not chasing a goal on a treadmill that goes nowhere, but engaging in Life, capital L intended, and it just falls into place.

* A rich spiritual life. We agreed at the end of our journey that we need to make Shabbat, a true day of rest. While we won’t be toe-the-line religious, we want to shift to making Saturday a day of quiet and of connection, having our rituals and Sabbath meals together, saying goodbye to the day with Havdalah, and not shopping, running, making plans. Going to synagogue as a family. Going to synagogue when the kids aren’t with us. Living our spirituality.

* Slowing down, spending less. This is the kicker. We all fall into the trap of wanting more *things*, pursuing the next glamorous something. No more. I want to truly strive to be happy with what I have, imbued with a sense of purpose and place, and build the relationships that build a life.

What a takeaway from one week-long trip! But if you’ve ever been to Israel, you’ll understand it.

It’s funny how we go away to come home to ourselves. Happiness and peace don’t reside in a physical landscape; they emanate from within to the community outward.

On the way home, our plane was filled with Chassidic Jews – women in long skirts and thick tights, high collars and long sleeves; men in black suits and white shirts, side curls known as peyoss dangling along their cheeks and tall black hats stowed in the overhead compartments.

That was never my world, even when I was religious, but there is something about it that I admire. The sense of purpose, the sense of community, the clear path cut out for you from the day you’re born. No way of life is perfect, I know, and believe me I have my issues with rigid religious communities.

But when you know your mission, you can’t help but find peace. That’s the point of it all. The people I know who move to Israel, their mission is to live in the Jewish land and dedicate their life to it. How can you not be happy when you’re guided by purpose and place?

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