The story after the story.
In 2005, my daughters (then 9 and 13) and myself and about 50 congregants and the rabbi and his family joined a ten day Palm Beach Synagogue trip to Israel. We brought along a torah to be dedicated at an IDF base in Haifa. The trip was magical from beginning to end. Everything went perfectly. The weather was magnificent, the guide informed and charming, the food and accommodations exceeded expectations. I wrote about it in a memoir, DAY TEN published on jewishmag.com.
Except for one thing.
Nearly everywhere we went that summer, we observed protestors, arguing for and against the Gaza disengagement.
Each side seemed fixed in their positions.
Some Israelis, perhaps tired of being labeled with the title “Oppressor” wanted to leave Gaza.
Others, predicted that Gaza would become a launching pad for rockets fired into Israel.
The former tended to be the “Liberal” or “Left” Jews, the latter, more conservative and observant.
It was a great national struggle.
In writing my memoir, among other things, I contrasted two families I observed on the long El Al return flight to New York from Tel Aviv.
One was a modern Israeli family.
Their son, about 4, ran up and down the aisles for hours oblivious to the other passengers. He had the wild hair of an Einstein or celebrated maestro. His family made no effort to restrain him.
Behind me was a very young couple. He wore, what seemed like a striped caftan. She had a fragile, otherworldly calm and beauty. She held a newborn for the entire flight. It never made a sound. Between them sat a 2 or 3 year old boy. He had the swollen face of a critically ill child. I wondered if they were going to the United States for advanced treatment or were returning after visits to religious leaders. They softly spoke a classical Yiddish that I barely recognized. Once, I turned around and saw the mother leaning forward in her seat, so that the sick child could sleep undisturbed. “How long has she been doing that?” I wondered.
The flight was long and for many of us, probably filled with memories and emotions at leaving Israel, not only its cherished sites but also having witnessed its political turmoil.
After we landed, I turned around and smiled at the family, overwhelmed by their grace, compassion and attentiveness to their children. I said something in Yiddish, stumbling over the words.
When I wrote DAY TEN, I included observations about the contrast between two families, one unrestrained and undisciplined, the other, sustained by practice, community and faith, but prior to publication I deleted them. I could not bring myself to write negatively about fellow Jews. Over the years, I regretted it but it was the right decision for me at the time.
The other day, when viewing the video of the Israeli professor berating a Jew for wearing phylacteries at Ben Gurion airport, I was reminded of what remains after a Jew forgets the wealth and life affirming comfort of his laws and traditions.