Crying My Way through Israel

Rabbi Ellen Greenspan, February 21, 2019

I have been to Israel more times than I can count, including twice for an entire year. I have an emotional attachment to this land not which cannot be shaken by politics or by negative reports in the media. For a variety of reasons, I have never wanted to move here, (to make Aliyah), but I could live here. Israel is complicated; life here is challenging, but at the same time, in some ways, life is simpler than in North America. On this trip with Honeymoon Israel, as I tour this amazing, beautiful, complicated land, I find myself tearing up at least once a day, if not more. Here are just a few of those moments:

  1. On the very first morning, we went straight from the airport to Jerusalem. As our bus is climbing up the highway to this magical city, our guide, Keren, points out some of the sites, and then plays the song Yerushalayim shel Zahav, (Jerusalem of Gold), over the PA system on the bus. My eyes fill with tears. I am home.
  2. After two full days exploring the city, enjoying the food, and absorbing the history, we arrive at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial. Over the years, I have developed a thick skin, a stoicism that enables me to get through a museum like this without crying. Not this time. Keren, our guide, begins by explaining that even if we did not lose family members in the Holocaust, this is our story. We are obligated to remember – not only the enormity and the horrors, but also the faces and names of those who lost their lives. As we make our way through the very crowded museum, Keren emphasizes the stories of individuals, every single one a hero in his/her own way. I have tears in my eyes for much of our walk through the museum. We conclude our visit at the Children’s Memorial. A darkened hall, points of light, and an ethereal voice reciting the names of the million and a half children who lost their lives. Keren asks us to pick out a name, to remember a single child whose name we can share when we left the memorial. We all choose different names for different reasons. Who knows why a particular name speaks to us. Renata Moses, z”l, age 16, Germany. May her memory be for a blessing. Keren tells us the story of a family with 3 children who she guided through Yad Vashem. One of the children researched the name that stood out for him in the Children’s Memorial and discovered that the child had a sister who survived the War and who now lives on a kibbutz in Israel. The family asked Keren to contact her, to let her know that this American boy would remember her brother when he became bar mitzvah. The tears overflow as Keren describes her phone conversation with this woman. Her brother’s memory lives on.
  1. We are lucky to be spending almost 2 days in Beersheva and the surrounding region of B’nei Shimon, Montreal’s partner community. We drive to Beersheva from the Dead Sea, stopping outside Beersheva at an Employment Park on the outskirts of the Bedouin city of Rahat to visit the Sodastream factory. I don’t even like soda water, but the inspirational mission of this company made me want to go out and buy one! Sodastream employs Jews, Palestinians, Bedouin and Druze, people from all over the world. They work together and become a family. We had a chance meeting with CEO Daniel Birnbaum. He tells us, “We make peace every day and along the way we make some bubbles.” I cry tears of hope.
  1. The final instance I will share also takes place in the Negev. We visit the new Gateway to the Negev Museum which presents the development of the Negev from Ben Gurion’s decision to move to a kibbutz in the Negev, (“If people want to talk to me, they will come to the Negev,” he was famous for saying), to the development of Beersheva as Israel’s high tech capital. I am a sap… the film describing the experience of the early chalutzim, (pioneers), moves me to tears. There was absolutely nothing here, just sand and sun, when the development began in the 1950’s. They literally made the desert bloom, and the children and grandchildren of those original settlers inherited their dreams, and many continue in the footsteps of those early pioneers. My tears are tears of love and gratitude for this amazing, resilient, beautiful land.

I am grateful for the opportunity to rediscover Israel, this land that I love, along with a group of young couples from Montreal. I am the Jewish educator on this trip – but I am learning, too, from the places we visit, the questions people ask and from our wonderful guide.

Shabbat Shalom! See you next week, when  I am home in Montreal.