Tomorrow, as millions of people will celebrate Valentine’s Day with their loved ones, a group of American Jews will gather in Newark Airport to celebrate a different kind of love.
Instead of walking into fancy restaurants and candle-lit rooms, this group will board a plane. Instead of sipping wine and savoring chocolates, these men and women will fill out paperwork, consult with Nefesh B’Nefesh representatives, and eat plain airline meals. Instead of gifting each other cards and roses, these Jews will walk off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport, and become newly-made citizens of the Jewish state.
While couples worldwide will exchange loving kisses, some of these olim might kiss Israel’s ground.
That little kiss, peppered as it is through countless personal stories, never fails to move me. Some people speak of their love for Israel in big, major-key words. They say things like “destiny” and “redemption” and “mission,” and color our future in bright, shiny hues. Don’t get me wrong: their words do resonate with me, and I sometimes even use them myself. But somehow, they’re just too grand to hit the mark. They miss the intimacy of loving. They can’t grasp the nuances of care.
That fleeting moment when lips touch dirt may be humble in comparison, and as a native-born Israeli I never actually experienced it myself. Yet it captures my actual feelings for Israel more fully than grandiose statements, and more accurately than heavy-handed words.
That eloquent kiss tells me that loving The Promised Land is loving a promise before we love a land. People don’t kiss dirt for dirt’s sake: Their elation stems from the vision that brought them to this moment, the promised Israel they carried in their hearts. We were the People of the Book before we were the People of the Land, wrote Ruth Bachi-Kolodni, a renowned Israeli writer and biographer. And it was the book that brought us to the land. Her words referred to our national story, but they capture our individual quests as well: For each and every Jew who chose to come here, Israel was an idea before it was grit and soil and dirt to kiss.
(“Will you still love Israel when promise meets land,” asks that kiss. “Will you still feel elation when this tangible clump of dirt you’re kissing, so different from the pristine ideas in your mind, will become the vessel for your dreams?”)
That kiss tells me that loving Israel is intimate and sometimes even lonely, but at the same time — it ties us into larger trends and groups. Every person kisses the land with his own lips and for her own reasons. The religious olah from France followed a different vision than the young Russian socialist who came here in 1914 to create The New Jew. But the fact that they both followed their dreams here, the fact that they both kissed the ground, binds them together across divides and generations, like a secret handshake in a timeless club.
(“Will you still love Israel when your dreams will clash with other people’s visions,” asks that kiss. “Because they will: the dreams that make you fellow dreamers also mean you must compete. Israel’s resources are finite and limited, like the tangible dirt under those lips. Land, laws, funds – they can only be used that many ways, and every dreamer will try to shape them into her version of the Promised Land. Will you still love Israel when you’ll have to compromise and settle? will you still love the real Tel Aviv, named after Herzl’s Utopia in Altneuland, once you’ll realize that it can’t be everyone’s Utopia at once?”)
That kiss tells me that loving Israel presents me with a choice. When dreams crash like waves against the shores of reality, they crack. And when they clash with other dreams, they break. These cracks are bound to change us; But we can choose the tenor of this change.
(“Will you grow bitter and resentful,” that kiss asks me, “when reality won’t replicate your dreams? Will you cling to the memory of your ethereal Promised Land, and regret the choice to wed it to this soil? Will you stew in pain like disappointed lovers, and view your fellow dreamers with rivalry and hate?”)
That one little kiss, the one I never actually experienced, tells me that loving Israel is challenging. And it warns me of potential bitterness ahead. But it also invites me to choose a different path, and celebrate what happens when our dreams and lips meet dirt.
It invites me to be active: Dirt alone won’t make my dream come true.
It invites me to appreciate my own achievements: Partial success in shaping Israel is far more real than perfect dreams contained within the mind.
And it invites me to embrace real-life diversity, and acknowledge that the cracks in our dreams are what lets other people’s dreams shine through.
Israel evolves as many dreams kiss one concrete and tangible reality, allowing its potential to unfold. Here, we can choose to roll our sleeves and go to work and shape the actual, real future… and let it shape us for the better as we work.