I actually wrote something completely different for Yom Ha’atzmaut. But then it occurred to me that I should mark Israel’s 66 years of independence by sharing something that happens to me far more often than you’d think.
I don’t know how I got to work yesterday.
As always, I drove my car and parked at the train station. However I could not tell you what I had on the radio, which route I took to get there, how much traffic I encountered, or much else about the ride. I only know that one moment I was getting into my car and 15 minutes later I was parking it.
In fact, the entire time that I was driving to the station, my mind was back in Israel, on Highway 1 towards Tel Aviv and turning onto Derekh Kibbutz Galuyot. As I settled into my seat on the train and began to open The New York Times my mind suddenly took me back to Yafo. I was walking south on Rehov Yefet and I could actually smell the pitot at the bakery, the falafel frying across from the old house that always seems overrun with birds and I was trying to decide which hummus place to go to when the conductor tapped me on my shoulder, rousing me from my reverie, and asked to see my ticket. As I put my wallet away, I looked out the window at the distant skyline and all I could think was, “how disappointing,” as the train continued towards Manhattan.
A few minutes later, I was reading Israel news headlines on my smartphone when I was sure I heard an announcement for “Hof HaCarmel” and that the next stop was “Bat Gal’lim,” but then I glanced up at the display in my train car and it clearly read “NY PENN STATION.” Minutes later I was on the streets of New York City and walking to my office. I passed one of the ubiquitous Halal food trucks beginning to prepare lunch and the aromas took my mind to the Damascus Gate. Now I was there, walking down the steps and to the right, past the falafel stand and the coffee roaster to buy some kanafeh at Ja’far. But when I entered the lobby of my office building, I stepped back into reality and began to focus on the projects awaiting me upstairs.
Reb Nachman of Bratzlav (Breslov) said, “Wherever I go, I am always only going to the land of Israel. I am only here in Breslov temporarily.” I’ve known this quote most of my life but in the last 20 years, as my mind keeps insisting on pulling me back to Israel, I understand it much more profoundly. I hasten to assure my friends that although I am quoting Rabbi Nachman I am still secular – hiluni. After all, he also said that the only motive for going to the Land of Israel should be spiritual. Although the Kotel has occasionally found its way to my daydreams (especially remembering a Rosh Hodesh when I was privileged to be an onlooker/supporter of the Women of the Wall, or recalling a moment 43 years ago when a friend who was “carrying” suddenly panicked and shoved his stash in a crevice between the stones), more often my mind takes me to places like the tayelet in Tel Aviv, the alleyways of the Old City, Yafo and Akko, kibbutz fields and winery tastings.
My fondest times and favorite daydreams are when I am with my wonderful friends, talking, drinking superb Israeli wine, searching every corner of the country for the best hummus, or, best of all, sitting in a backyard in Rehovot, surrounded by generations of an incredible family and friends on a Shabbat evening, soaking up their infectious affection for one another and maybe enjoying a fine cigar and something a little stronger after the meal.
That is why, tonight, when I raise my Kiddush cup, I will drink to Eretz Yisrael, Medinat Yisrael and the people who dwell therein and Am Yisrael.
Shabbat Shalom, and in advance, Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach!