How is any of this possible?

As I type on a smartphone hooked up to the Tel Aviv/Jerusalem bus Wi-Fi, I reflect on my first almost-24-hours in Israel on this, my 30th pilgrimage home.

From that first trip for my post-high school gap year on Nativ Israel, to this one coleading the AIPAC Progressive Rabbis Mission to Israel for the fourth time, my eyes and soul keep being overwhelmed by…. well, everything.

Perhaps what typifies this trip was a strange, brief encounter that happened on the street just an hour ago. I stood with with my sister and baby niece on the sidewalk next to the site where Yitzhak Rabin z”l was assassinated.

The site has become holier to me than the Kotel for many, many reasons.

Just over 2 years ago, I brought my children to this place on a Shabbat morning, and watched as they gleefully played with the pigeons, my precious Jewish children laughing with enduring Israeli doves. For me, that made this place holier than anything else.

I often head out for the monument, looking for a quiet moment of reflection. And then I arrive. Oh. The noise of this incredible city pervades the space. Barely a person pauses to notice, let alone acknowledge, this sad place where the world changed.

No time to stop to say hello, goodbye, we’re late we’re late…

But I do. I remember where I was when Rabin was shot. I was with Jewish campus leaders, part of the KOACH college movement led by Rabbi Elyse Winick and Richard S.Moline. We were in the midst of Shabbat, when Rabbi Moshe Edelman ran in to tell us the news. We prayed and prayed through the night until we heard that Rabin had died. At the hands of a fellow Jew. And then I heard the name of the assassin. I had attended classes with him at Bar Ilan University. I remember.

And so I stood with my sister and niece today, on the hot, bright Tel Aviv sidewalk. That my niece is the first baby in my family to be born in Israel is never far from my consciousness. (Though, to be honest, her beautiful smile pushes it all out of my mind in an instant.)

I looked at my sister. I smiled. I looked at her beautiful baby. I smiled. I looked that the monument. I paused.

And then.

A man walked up to me as I was taking a photo of the monument. Without even breaking his stride, he asked me “Nu, are you taking a souvenir?

Yes, he was rude, hurling a question and not waiting for a response. Yes, he doesn’t know me. Yes, I was annoyed.

But somehow his question frames well my relationship with Israel, sometimes defined by Kikar Rabin, a place of children and doves, of traffic and smartphones, of family and strangers, smog and loss, violence and fierce-paced living. Is all of this a photo montage, or is it the world our ancestors dreamt of?

Is this deafening hum of real life, sacrifice and all, violence and all, politics and all, today’s manifestation of the Zionist dream, the ongoing project of the Jewish People? Was that ordinary passersby actually the nosy prophet I need, poking at my mindful reframing with a call to pause less and pick up the pace?

All I can say is this: the bus is making its ascent to Jerusalem right now, and it’s time for me to put down my phone.