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Looking Back on Looking Ahead

During my Sabbatical in January 2012, I traveled to Israel for ten days.  In the coming weeks, as we approach Israel 64th birthday, I will share some reflections and insights about my experiences from my trip.  I look forward to your reactions, thoughts and comments.  Here is my first installment:

I think that I have been to Israel enough times that I was not expecting the wave of emotions that may have accompanied my arrival on other trips.  I knew that I would not experience the emotions that I might attribute to arriving/returning-to-the-Jewish-ancestral-homeland or touching the reality of the modern-day-miracle-of-the-State-of-Israel.  Even if I was sure about what I would not feel upon my arrival in Israel, the question of what I would feel remained unanswered.

I arrived at Ben Gurion airport near dusk on a Wednesday afternoon in early January … and I found that I was correct in my assumption.  It was a greyish, unremarkable Wednesday afternoon in a busy airport where I retrieved my bag, walked seamlessly through customs and hailed a shuttle to take me to Jerusalem.  This arrival in Ben Gurion was now the fifth in my lifetime.  It is a number that pales in comparison to some of my friends, family and colleagues; but one that is still significant to me and I know to others who have yet to notch arrival number one at this auspicious airport.  It had been three and a half years since my most recent trip.  On that trip I co-chaperoned a group of interfaith teens in the summer of 2008.  In an epic and dramatic fashion that trip impacted my relationship to and understanding of this magical, complex, intense and crazy place.   And so, between my relative familiarity with Israel and the profundity of my most recent experience, I arrived and made my way to Jerusalem with the confident nonchalance that one feels returning home from college with a bag of laundry tossed over one’s shoulder.

And yet, as cool as I felt – or at least tried to look – I still did not know what to expect. My experiences on this trip to Israel would be unlike any previous experience.  One of the effects of my previous trip is that I cannot visit this place, enjoy and even cultivate my sense of connection to it without also paying attention to it with a critical eye, ear and heart and trying to begin to grasp the ponderous complexity of its reality.  In addition to and ironically juxtaposed with that perspective is the fact this is my first trip to Israel during which I am visiting family.  Israel has always been a destination to discover and encounter the layers of Jewish history and my Jewish identity; it has never mixed that element with the opportunity to do the same with family history and my personal identity … and to do it all in the West Bank!  I have also never traveled here without a previously arranged program with its hidden and not-so-hidden agendas as participant or facilitator.  I am here with an idea of what I want to do, to explore, to feel – but I am here, on my own … open to trusting the cosmic, hidden machinations of the place to take me (physically, existentially, emotionally, etc.) where I need to go.

It strikes me as I reflect back on my trip and look ahead to sharing about it that so many of the best things we know in life are layered and nuanced.  I think of Israel in this way – as that initial layer of encounter now becomes an entry way to things I could have never possibly imagined, yet less expressed.  Any great relationship in which we are blessed to be a part, possesses this component, too.  And, of course, we know the experience of any great and true story works in this fashion, as well. It was Ben Bag who said that everything was in the Jewish people’s greatest and truest story, Torah.  All we gotta do is keep turning it over, shake it up a bit … to first glimpse and then immerse ourselves in the rich and fertile layers beyond.

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