How often do you get to see your home through someone else’s eyes?
The answer is probably not often, but it can be amazing. Yesterday, I took a quick drive around Maale Adumim with friends from the States. Two of their daughters will be learning in Israel next year with open questions about whether this will be aliyah.
I didn’t ask their impression of my city, though I heard them say it was beautiful several times. For me, it was a strange trip around roads I travel daily. It seemed so clean and organized (yes, it was during the day when there were less cars parked and less traveling around so it seemed). We have a small lake – yes, a lake in a desert because…because every city in the desert should have a lake as a way of saying we are here, we make a difference.
For the first time, I saw that it was almost embarrassingly small – more of a pond than a lake and yet I fell in love with it once again. It is beautifully shaped with a fountain in it…fish swimming around, a small island in the middle that is accessible by a bridge that spans the ridiculously short distance from shore to island.
We have a music conservatory, a museum, a library…all part of a statement that though we are more focused on who we will be, than who others think we are. Everything seemed so much better to me yesterday – the palm trees swaying gently in the afternoon breeze remind me that unlike where my friends came from, it isn’t freezing cold here.
Two months ago, I took a guest from India to the Dead Sea, Masada, and to the Old City in the short time I was allocated to show him something of Israel. I chose not to take him to Yad Vashem, but rather to show him living memorials to who we are as a nation. Masada – for the simple statement that we are here permanently. The Dead Sea, because we are a wonder and though others may consider us otherwise, we live on. And the Old City to show how long we have been here and how we still, day by day, hour by hour, remember our past, our present and our future.
Last year, I took two other guests, one from India and one from Canada and while in the Old City with one of them, had a most unusual and yet usual thing happen. My guest from New Dehli was amazed that a stranger approached me, handed me a cup of soup, and asked me to give it to some unknown woman named Shoshana who sits at the bottom of the steps approaching the Western Wall.I took the soup in one hand and continued narrating the history of the Jewish Quarter as we headed down the lane.
A short while after delivering the soup, another woman approached me and asked me to help her refasten a cherished bracelet around her wrist. What manner of people are so open with strangers, was the unspoken message in the questioning look I got from my visiting friend. Israel, I answered back, only Israel.
And more…several years ago, with a guest from the United States, I attended my son’s army ceremony celebrating his becoming a commander. A soldier in the line dropped his gun and my friend, who was once in the US Navy, felt so bad for him. Okay, the sound was loud and embarrassing, but it wasn’t tragic. My friend told me I didn’t understand and explained in the US, the army would strap the dropped weapon to the soldier’s hand as a lesson. “But it wasn’t his fault,” I answered back.
“Doesn’t matter,” my friend responded.
I waited until later and in front of my friend to ask my son what would happen to the soldier who had dropped his gun (although, to be honest, I was pretty sure I already knew). My son was confused by the question. Nothing would happen to the soldier, my son assured us.
And then I pressed my point further. “What did you call your commanding officer?” I asked my friend.
He looked a bit confused, “Sir!” he answered.
“And you?” I asked my son who promptly responded with the first names of his commanding officers – Ohr, Yedidya, and so on. Through the eyes of these guests, from India, from Canada, from the US, I could see how special is the land, people, and army we have built here.
Sometimes, the best way to remember how much you love where you are is to see it through the eyes of another. Yes, our lakes are sometimes tiny, our seas dwindling, but we are a people of infinite compassion, we are grounded in the past and the present with an eye always to the future, and we are forever bonded to each other, so much so that a stranger can ask you to give another stranger a cup of warm soup on a cold winter day, help someone fasten a bracelet, call a commanding officer by his first name.
After my short trip around Maale Adumim, I returned home to hear that Israel had targeted a Palestinian terrorist yesterday – the one responsible for firing five rockets at Ashkelon in the middle of the night one day last week. This too is a facet of who we are and what we must do. In a few weeks, my youngest son will go to Poland to face the horrible realities of the Holocaust. He’ll confront the truth – that there was no Israel to save our people then…but there is one now.
Never forget – Israel is one amazing country and I am so honored that I get to share it every once in a while with others…and perhaps equally as important, one that I sometimes get an opportunity to see through another’s eyes.