Last month, after two years away due to a busy schedule and timing, I found myself back on holy ground. The birth of a new niece brought me to Israel but it felt more like a trip down memory lane and, though years of visiting Israel had taught me what to anticipate, this time felt different.

I spent my first Sunday wandering around Jerusalem as I had done many times before, intuitively finding my way around. I expected to be met with nostalgia at every turn. As I walked through the Rova HaYehudi, the Jewish quarter, always bustling with international tourists, I waited for the usual feelings to rush in. There was the bench that I used to sit on with my close friends during our year of Sheirut Leumi, talking about boys and giggling incessantly. Those times would never be recreated. I stopped and took the moment in, but felt nothing significant. I continued on.

I walked down the steps to the Kotel, hoping for the usual hovering spirituality, only to find myself disappointed. I picked up a siddur and stood in the first row, ready to speak to God. I watched what the other women were doing to make this moment special, but all I could think about as I leaned my head on the wall was, “How many dirty hands have touched this piece of the Kotel?” Lame. I said some Tehillim and left soon after, having felt nothing. What was wrong with me?

Orange Tree in the Rova HaYehudi

Orange Tree in the Rova HaYehudi

As a last-ditch effort, I found a small side path where I remembered a certain beautiful and stately tree lived. In the past, it had baffled me to see this vibrant sign of life growing among the rocks. Sure enough, I found it, proudly spreading its green branches reaching for the sunlight, dotted by beautiful oranges. Even this sight did not inspire me as I hoped it would.

I spent the rest of my trip enjoying my interactions with the people I hadn’t seen in years. My cousins, my siblings, my adorable nieces. Every smile on that baby’s face brightened my day. I visited an old friend and her four kids who I had never had the chance to meet. I sat and enjoyed coffee and some needed sun with two old friends from high school. I didn’t need to travel everyday to a different destination, these meetups made the trip what it was.

Last week, two Israeli soldiers, Major Yochai Kalangel and Staff-Sgt. Dor Nini, were murdered by missiles fired by Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist organization. I was scanning the news sites when I came across an image of Tali Kalangel, Yochai’s wife, at his funeral. The photographer captured an intense moment where Tali fell back, wailing in agony towards the sky. This hit me hard; I could practically hear her screams through the picture. I stared at that photo for a long while with tears streaming down my face. Her pain quickly became my own and I embraced this emotion.

I came to a realization then that my feelings were no longer tied to the places of Israel that once comforted me, but for the country’s people. I still enjoy visiting the land and its great sites, but my mind now prefers to focus on the living, the hurt, the sad, the happy, the joyous, the adorable.

This is my new Israel experience.