I don’t know exactly how it happened, but as far back as I can remember I dreamed of living in Israel. It was probably a combination of learning about the Promised Land in school, the light in my grandparent’s eyes at the very mention of the holy land and the genetic memory imprinted on my soul. My perception at a young age was of dry desert land, camels, grave sites and ruins. I didn’t really care what it looked like or what difficulty it might entail living there. I knew it was worth whatever sacrifice because it is a transcendent place that’s in a league of it’s own. A place I needed to be.
My love only intensified as I got a bit older and spent summer vacations in Israel. I met many relatives with unending hospitality. Their small apartments somehow fit many more people than seemed possible. I found the sun brighter, the air sweeter and I felt somehow larger than the body that contained me while there. Every time I returned to America I felt like I was being ripped away from my larger self and confined to a smaller, darker place. I was envious of Israelis and I wanted to be one.
I only dated those who wanted to make Aliyah as well. Finally, I met my husband and it took us ten years to get our act together to make Aliyah. My dream was to live in either Tzfat or Jerusalem. I knew Jerusalem was the holiest place, but at that time my heart and soul were inclined towards Tzfat. I fell in love with her mystical feel and kabbalistic vibe. I felt it was most conducive to my spiritual growth. My husband, being “scientific, practical Joe Americano”, wouldn’t hear of it as he leaned on the excuse that it’s too far from Jerusalem, where he would be working at that time. Jerusalem homes were not affordable for us so we moved to nearby Maaleh Adumim.
I felt torn about Jerusalem. I simply didn’t feel as holy there as I did in Tzfat. I’ll admit that I was bothered that our holy city housed churches and mosques when I was focused inward, and wanted it to be only ours. I was bothered by all the mundane activity there. Granted Jerusalem has the Kotel, Har Habayit etc, but it also contains businesses, restaurants, bars, tattoo parlors, noise and pollution. I felt annoyed and wished that it could simply maintain the spiritual richness that I expected from it without the stench of all our basest activities.
Until one day I was listening to the famous story of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and his son, Rabbi Elazar. They fled the Romans and hid in a cave for 13 years. Upon their exit, as a result of being immersed in holiness during their solitude, they could not understand and tolerate any mundane activity. An echo from above sent them back to their cave, where they stayed for another year before they could emerge with a tolerance and understanding of how everyday activity can be channeled and used to fill a higher purpose.
That’s when it all clicked for me. To be holy and spiritual would be much simpler if I were to hide in a cave or on a quiet desert mountain learning Torah. It would be just me and G-d and I wouldn’t be distracted. It would be an easy ascent, but an incomplete one. Life alone, or with clones of myself, is not full growth. I might sharpen one aspect of my life, but I would be cheating myself and others of the potential interaction, lessons and possibilities of serving G-d through materialism and relationships. We each have what to teach and learn from others and although it may be difficult and sometimes painful, it is a richness and expansion of being that can’t be attained alone or when sheltered in an insular lifestyle.
Jerusalem is an amalgamation which screams out this lesson. It is the center of the world. The source where all life flows forth into our world and therefore must contain all aspects of it. It isn’t about me and my growth; it is about you and him and her and them and hopefully us. We must make it work. Jerusalem is meant for all peoples. It is not just my home, but the home of everyone who hears her call. It is home to everyone who yearns to go back to the source, to where it all began and to where we should all feel at home.