We’re marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel with a year-long celebration! Keep an eye out for “Memphis Celebrates Israel at 70” branding at your synagogue, at events around town, and online. In this My Israel Story series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell?
I’ve been to Israel twice now- once with the then Bornblum Solomon Shechter School in 2009 and once again in the summer of 2015.
The first time around, I can distinctly remember the plane touching down, after a long flight of not sleeping a wink, and thinking “we’re finally here, the place that they’ve been telling us about our whole lives.”
I remember walking through the corridor with huge windows and white struts that leads one away from a freshly landed and disembarked El-Al flight and wondering if this land could truly contain all of the opportunity and cultural connection that I, as a Jewish child in America, could not possibly recreate.
I spent the next ten days traveling around the country with my eighth grade class and learning not only about the people I was traveling with and about the relationships that would shape the next few years of my life, but also gained a perspective on why a relationship with the land of Israel is important for the religious identities of Jews all over the world. However, I blame age as a mitigating factor that prevented me from being aware, at the time, of the depth of the potential connection of every individual Jew’s sense of belonging in the land and within the context of its culture.
When I returned though, the spirit as I walked that very same corridor away from the plane on a Birthright trip in the summer of 2015 was anything but a wonder if this experience would be as billed. Far from it: I took the time to silently acquire my bearings as I readied myself to be back in a level of intense connection with the culture that I could call my own, and was charged (despite not sleeping again on the way there) with excited energy.
Again, roughly two weeks I spent traveling around the country, getting in touch with the spirit of the land and enjoying the company of the 40 strangers on my bus. However, we spent a lot of time, in between and at beautiful sights in nature parks/Kibbutzim in the Negev and Jerusalem, talking about the position that Jewish people occupy within the halls of history, and how specifically Israel is the cultural and political summit of the continued existence of the Jewish people, regardless of your level of personal connection at the outset of your trip.
Most poignant was our trip to the city of Jerusalem that lasted several days. No other place in this world or even in the land of Israel is more perfect for connecting with Jewish culture, but also orienting a modern Jew in the homeland. It has so much culture, ongoing socio-political disputes that rage throughout the living city, and vibrant bustling commerce that supplies the the people that live their everyday lives in this breathing landmark with their mundane items for life.
Being in Israel is being in touch with a living thing that has been alive for generations and has provided a home for our people for so long. Despite being so exotically different than the life I had grown up knowing, I felt both times stepping off of that plane that this was a place where I belonged, long before I knew it.