Being in Israel is like being in no other place on Earth. There is a feeling of “rightness” to my life here, a sense of disbelief that I actually have the great fortune of calling this amazing life mine. It was this feeling that, during my first month in the country, caused me to stop dead in my tracks several times a day, throw my hands up to the sky and proclaim to no one in particular, “I can’t believe I actually live here!”
Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, have always been somewhat mythical places to me. As I have alluded to several times in this blog, as a practicing Diaspora Jew, I was always physically oriented to Jerusalem every time I wanted to access my Judaism or my Jewish identity. Judaism in the Diaspora is a constant state of looking for Jerusalem on the horizon. To finally arrive here with no knowledge of when this magical gift would be taken away—to dream that perhaps this magic could last forever—was enough to bring me to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk.
Eventually, of course, I stopped stopping as I walked around. I had meetings to get to, friends to see, groceries to buy. In my first post of the year, “On Joy, Yom Kippur and a New Beginning”, I anticipated this and wrote a prayer for myself, “May every day be new before my eyes, and may every day be filled with joy and love of life”. Incredibly, though I did stop spontaneously proclaiming my joy at the quotidian miracle that is living in Jerusalem, surprise and amazement were never far away. I have become accustomed to taking my camera with me everywhere so I can always catch the burning gold of a sunset on my way home from the gym, the baby hedgehog on the sidewalk as I walk to yoga, the Hassid with dreadlocks in his beard across the aisle from me on the bus to Tel Aviv and myriad other daily wonders. Maybe if I was able to photograph all these moments where I was surprised by joy (Yes, CS Lewis reference), I would be able to hold on to them forever.
Obviously the magic of Israel, the innate feeling that literally stopped me in my tracks, is not just due to the visual delights of the country. It is certainly true that this is a beautiful place full of beautiful people, beings, plants and sights. But how much do I see more beauty in Israel because I am more attuned to it? Does expecting daily wonder make me more likely to find it?
While these little moments of unexpected joy were just a part of my life in Israel, I didn’t need an answer. But everything is about to change. My time of drifting freely and without even the thought of “an end” is over. I have already begun training and preparation to staff a summer trip to Israel for high school students—the same trip on which I was a participant in 2006. It was this trip that instilled in me a love of Israel and the desire to return that brought me for a week in 2011 and for the year this year. Along with keeping track of all my campers (40+ rising high school seniors is no laughing matter!), it will be my task to show them my Israel and hopefully teach them a little about what I think makes this place so special. They say teaching is the best way to learn; I’m hoping that thinking about how to impart “Israel” to my campers will solidify for me some of my own feelings.
It feels even more crucial that I figure out what makes life in Israel and the daily discovery of miracles here feel so natural to me, because I now know that I will be leaving in a few months (at least, for the time being…) After almost an entire year of opening myself to the possibility of staying in Israel to continue the personal and religious journey I started here, the winds of change are blowing me east, to Nepal! One of the areas where I really pushed myself to grow this year was to be more open to accepting change, running without a clear destination and keeping my eyes open to recognizing opportunity as it passes. While I had privately qualified to myself that this meant “opportunity to continue my journey in Israel”, obviously being selectively open is not the same as being truly open. When I was offered the opportunity to spend four months in Nepal volunteering with a group of Israelis and continuing to learn about Judaism and social justice in a radically different context, I obviously had to accept.
And so here I am, grappling with how I can demonstrate the joy of living in Israel to my campers and how I can take this feeling of peace and internal equilibrium with me wherever I go, Nepal and beyond. I want to end this post by introducing an idea that I plan to use as a sort of educational theme or “riff” this summer. The goal is that, through Divrei Torah, activities and “teachable moments”, we can return to the riff to help explain some idea or question. My hope and hypothesis is that it explains some of the magic that I feel in Israel:
Finding a connection between something inside yourself and something bigger than yourself, and discovering how to nurture and return to the connection.
I liken this feeling to the feeling Harry Potter had when finding his perfect wand in Ollivander’s (Anyone surprised it took me this long to make a Harry Potter reference in my blog?!). After trying on dozens of wands that brought calamity to the shop, Harry grips the perfect wand and feels warmth spread from the wand through his hand and arm, just as the wand emits a glow of golden sparks. The synergy between the magic of the wand and the magic Harry had inside were perfect. The harmony between an internal state and my surroundings is something that I find especially easily in Israel and that brings me particular peace. I guess now I need to go looking for it everywhere I go.
May we all continue to see magic everywhere we go. Amen Amen Selah.