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Welcome to Israel

There was no easing into the experience that we were all looking for … we all arrived safe and sound at Ben Gurion airport, but Israel greeted us with her fullness and complexity. Fifteen of us walked off the plane and through customs without any much of a second look from Israeli security, while four of us – those with Muslim names and/or non-Caucasian features garnered a little more attention from Israeli security. Almost two hours after we arrived at the airport, the group saw second and first hand the reality on the ground in Israel. The group – particularly the four who drew all of the attention – was angry, frustrated, tired and wishing for a smoother arrival into the Holy Land. It is the reality of being here and of those who live here … everyone must deal with the long standing wariness of those who may or may not have connections to others with a nefarious agenda. It was one of those educational moments that cannot be found within the walls of a classroom, and yet one of those moments for which one does not wish.

We boarded a bus at the airport waiting to take us on the two and half hour trip to the Desert Shade Eco Lodge at Mitzpei Ramon. Not only was the bus waiting, but about ten Arab students who will part of our group these first few days. Hello, Arab students … I would like you to meet this group of bleary-eyed, unkempt and a bit smelly Americans. Hello, American students … I would like you to meet this group of energetic, mostly female, dancing, singing and eager Arab students. Fortunately, the international teen language of goofiness prevailed … as all it took was one of us to enthusiastically shotgun a can of the Israeli version of Red Bull to break the ice and send us off to the Negev desert.

Arriving on Friday night in Israel … on any other trip I have been a part … would have included some measure of Shabbat. After all, Israel is one of the two places (with camp being the other) where I experiences the fullness and completeness of Shabbat. This trip is another animal, however. I sat in the bus and watched the landscape and soaked all of it in … muttering to myself, I am back, I am here and trying to feel whatever it was I was feeling. As the sun set – and what a spectacular sun set it was – I palpably felt the call of Shabbat in this place. As our new bus mates serenaded us with Arabic pop songs (as least that is what they sounded like to me) … I was reminded, once again, that I am about to encounter an Israel that I have not experienced before. And so while I lamented the missed opportunity for a Shabbat in Israel – at least of the ones that I have come to know – I worked to open my mind and heart to seeing this place, that even after sixteen years still touches me, in a different light. So, I gazed at the sunset … setting over a large Bedouin town that the bus was passing, and nudged one of those four who got to spend some extra time answering some questions from Israeli security. He looked out the window and thought it was the most beautiful sunset he had seen in his entire life. Perhaps the light of that sunset, will part of the new light with which I get to look at this magical, frustrating and complex place.

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