After my initial time with my not religious family on the kibbutz, I spent the rest of my time on this trip with my religious family in the West Bank. Trying to avoid politics and religion with anyone in Israel is a challenge, and even moreso with my religious family! But we had a great time. Here are some highlights.
1. The Kotel
I always visit the Kotel (Western Wall) whenever I come to Israel. This time was very emotional. I thought it wouldn’t be, since my religious life and observance are in a constant state of emotional flux this past year or so and I didn’t know if I would feel “it,” whatever “it” is. Well, I felt it. It’s kind of indescribable, and it may come from so many people so devoted to one space and concept in space and time. The wall seems to throb with some sort of passion. It hums and it moans and it speaks to us. It’s the remnant of so much and the hope for so much. It’s a powerful place indeed.
2. The Shuk
My aunt is awesome. She’s a lot like my mom, as she’s her older sister, but she’s got that Israeli sass which comes from living here for 30 years. She helped me haggle for the souvenirs I got in the Arab Shuk (market) and the Jewish Quarter, too. Here’s me halfway through one of her skillful negotiations that looked like it was not going to end well. I even thought the little man was going to burst out crying as my aunt declared to the shop owner, “This is way too much, no thank you, we are leaving your stall.” But little man stayed firm, stoic as a statue, and the negotiation for replica daggers ended with all of us smiling.
It’s not easy driving in a foreign country. It’s not easy driving in a country where the primary signs are not in our native tongue. It’s not easy driving in the Middle East. But I am doing it! I rented a car once before in Israel three years ago, the last time I was here. This time is much like that time: I seem to have some internal sense of direction and calm in Israel. I can’t explain it. I have several times realized I made a wrong turn where there is little evidence supporting that and I know to turn around and I find myself again. I was made to drive in Israel I think! It’s very empowering. I love it. Just as I love driving a stick shift and I love being in control of a car, it feels special here to drive. I guess it really feels like my country when I drive here. Here’s me content after a morning of driving all around central Israel into Jerusalem and around the Old City.
4. The Old City
There have been a lot of changes in the Old City since my last visit. A few of my favorite tourist shops are closed, and in their place are hipster coffee shops that look like they belong in Manhattan. I don’t know that I like it, but I am trying to not be a fuddy duddy like I always am…I love falafel in the Old City. It’s unlike any other falafel, with the pickles on top and the chips (french fries) with tehina on top, and the softest most gas-inducing gluteny pita that ever was baked. It’s just delicious. Here’s my falafel pita lunch. Note the Coca Cola: I really made it a party!
Since I spoke so lovingly and glowingly about my kibbutz family, I will return the favor and speak equally of my West Bank family. Not that it’s a competition. This family of mine is a much closer echo to the family of my origin and that is both comforting and disturbing at the same time!
My activities here have included a trip to the mall in Ma’ale Adumim with one of my cousins, with extensive time spent in the hardware store buying things for the guys working on my house. I did a lot of dishes, took the trash out for my aunt and uncle, and generally felt like part of a family making its way towards a very observant Shabbat. The feeling of momentum towards Shabbat is so strong here, and it’s the first place I ever experienced that as a teenager. I do love the rhythms of this community and my family, and I love the emphasis and value placed on me being useful. And I am. To see my kids playing with their second cousins whose parents I shared sleepovers and dreams of our childhood is very powerful. I wish we all lived in a village together as people did for most of human history. I would love to be around people like me more than I am. For now I treasure these times for me and for my sons. And I actually am sitting down typing this as they play with a bunch of other kids who they are related to which is terribly sweet for them and relaxing for me.
I’ll be home soon. I miss home. I’m ready to be back. And when I’m home I’ll miss Israel. I’ll miss everything. It’s a good thing I don’t have to choose one forever.
Thank you to my imperfect family who doesn’t think I’m weird for sucking on peach pits or talking really fast or laughing until the sound stops coming out me and the tears start falling. And who understand the need to discuss our migraines–with aura. And who feel the need to clean a sink until it sparkles. Because they do all of that stuff too. They are my family.
And thank you, Israel, for taking them in and giving them a chance to build something for themselves. Even though I lost them, Israel gained a mighty force of lovers who are praised and blessed and renewed in this fertile land, as we all can be.
Thank you, Israel.