Thursday, April 2, 2009

Israel: A Homecoming

When our plane touched down, we were beat. We felt dirty and weary from the 15-hour journey we had endured. But when we met the next morning for breakfast with a seaside view of the Kinneret, we were rejuvenated with optimism and excitement. We were in Israel!

Some of us had been here before, others had never stepped foot in the country. Yet, throughout the week, the guides and the people we met made it feel like a homecoming for all of us.

It’s hard not to feel some attachment to Israel. It’s here where three religions of the world intersect, which makes Israel one of the most revered and fractured places in the world. Yet, whatever your political or religious leaning, it’s easy to fall in love with this land.

In the north, mountains rise up majestically, the highest of which are capped in snow. Centrally, there’s the Mediterranean Sea and the urban playground of Tel Aviv. Further south, you can find solitude in the Negev desert. All this is within reach by car – or bus, as it was.

During our twelve day stay, we sampled a bit from every region. We hiked Israel’s hillsides, rappelled its stony crags and swam in its seas. But it wasn’t just nature that spoke to us, it was also the history of Israel.

At every turn another story whispered to us. On the stairs in the City of David, we remembered the Jews who hid underneath, but were ultimately discovered by the Romans. Overlooking Tel Azeka, we remembered David’s courage as we re-enacted his infamous fight against Goliath. On the high steppe of Masada, we debated among ourselves the choice the Zealots faced – death or slavery.

While it’s the ancient stories that are well told, we also walked in the shadows of modern men who helped build today’s Israel with their determination, hard-work, and for some, sacrifice. We visited the home of Ben Gurion, the man who ushered in the State of Israel, but chose to live his twilight years modestly on a kibbutz. We lit candles at the graves of soldiers, men and women who gave their lives to defend Israel. And we visited the grave of Theodore Herltz who rests in Israel because he lived in restless pursuit of a nation for the Jews.

Together, we did more than we ever thought possible. We met strangers who are now friends. We worked the land, harvesting vegetables and planting trees. We left friendships, memories and physical evidence that we were there behind, ensuring that when we return to Israel, we will feel welcomed, at home.

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