Nishant Chandgotia
A former resident and a lover forever of Israel

A Love Letter to Israel

Few ibexes enjoy the view of the rising sun reflecting over the dead sea, the marvels of Herod’s palace and the millenniums of history
Few ibexes enjoy the view of the rising sun reflecting over the dead sea, the marvels of Herod’s palace and the millenniums of history. (Courtesy)

Dear Israel,

Alas! Alas! It has come to be that I must write a letter to thee. I ask myself as I pen my first words, why did I have to go away? Why did I have to leave? I know! You too loved me as I did you but the bonds of blood are stronger than those of love. While you may disagree, please do forgive and accept my apologies.

As I sit at my new abode in urban Bangalore on a Friday evening, the quietness around unsettles me. I wish instead that I was standing on one of the Jerusalem hills as the sun sets. The sun would have come to rest in the valley far away, cool wind would have swept my face and I would have been mesmerised by the azaan up on the Mount of Olives calling for prayers from the east, the church bells tolling all over the old city or Shalom Aleichem being sung near Mount Herzl on the west blessing us with eternal peace and love.

Sun sets of over Kiryat Hayovel near Mount Herzl in Jerusalem as Shalom Aleichem resonates over the valley (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)

I know that there is no joy which is meant to stay forever and I must seek other pleasures now. But such an imprint of you remains on me dear Israel, how will I ever be able to replace it? If the evenings took me to Jerusalem, mornings would take up on the ruins of the Herod’s palace perched on Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. One can never be too lonely there. Even at the break of dawn when the crowd is thin one may find a host of ibexes enjoying the ruins and the beautiful sunrise.

Few ibexes enjoy the view of the rising sun reflecting over the dead sea, the marvels of Herod’s palace and the millenniums of history (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)

Indeed, indeed! Before I was charmed by your beauty, I was charmed by your brains. A small country you may be, but what is extraordinary is the intense density of brilliant scientists at Tel Aviv university, the Hebrew university of Jerusalem, Weizmann institute, Bar Ilan university, Ben Gurion university and the Technion making it a fertile ground for a young mind like mine to grow. To give some perspective, travelling from the Technion to the Ben Gurion university (which are at the ends of Israel in some sense) would probably take me a shorter time as compared to travelling from one institute to another in the city I have come to, Bengaluru. This is particularly conducive for collaborations (which I did extensively) helping me learn from some of the finest people of my research area (ergodic theory). This was not just a privilege bestowed to me. You have graced many of my friends from diverse fields, ranging from nano medicine to astrophysics, bringing them to the forefront of research. I had already extended my stay here by a couple of years longer than I had initially intended. Your love made me want to stay here longer.

From 2018 to 2020 I was a postdoctoral fellow at the magnificent Einstein Institute of Mathematics in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Though one may be charmed by ones beauty and intelligence it cannot make one fall in love. One falls in love with a warm and friendly heart. It is this warmth of your heart that I felt when beside a homeless beggar, I saw someone sitting for hours to talk and help. It is this warmth of your heart that I felt when I saw that language poses no barrier for a conversation. It is this warmth of your heart that I felt when during a walk on a hot day a stranger offered food and water. It is this warmth of your heart that I felt when the Israeli defence force soldiers, Palestinian emergency workers and orthodox Jews came together to help a hiker with a broken leg on a Shabbat afternoon (meant to be a day of rest). It is this warmth of your heart that I felt when an Indian was welcomed into a synagogue with open arms to join festivities. It is this warmth of your heart that I felt when neighbours, friends, colleagues, universities poured in help during troubled times, times when the entire world has gone crazy. Isn’t it this warm heart which keeps us all alive?

Dancing the night away during Purim in a synagogue in Jerusalem (Video: Jonathan Freundlich)

But is it not just your beauty, brains and a warm heart which made me love you. An outsider may mistake you for a singular nation but through your life you have accepted people from all the ends of the world making you a very cosmopolitan nation. Your diversity is not limited to the diversity of your people though. As one travels from the far north to the far south (which wouldn’t take more than a few hours) one would move from lush green mountains with occasional snow to dry arid desert.

A plethora of flowers brighten up Wadi Mezar in Southern Golan (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)
A common kingfisher waiting for a catch by the Sea of Galilee. The north is also great for bird watching. (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)

I am sorry that I called the desert arid. It only seems so to an untrained eye. The changing colours of the sand with the passage of the day, the ancient sea bed which decorates your floor, mountain tops where you can view four countries in a single glance and instances where you can jump millions of geological years in a single step are only few of the things which have drawn me towards you. It was this desert which attracted me the most when I went out for walks.

Ammonite wall in Makhtesh (Crater) Ramon. What you can see here are fossils of Ammonites which lived millions of years ago when the sea covered the land. I wonder what may have led to their instantaneous petrification. (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)
Israel is a land of miracles. Men walk on water, a day worth of oil lasts for seven nights and heavens open up frequently so one may converse with god. These are the Eilat mountains abutting the Egyptian border and the man in the picture is Ariel Lasman (Finjan hikes) who has shown me much of the country over the years. On this trip we crossed a pass when underneath our feet igneous rocks turned into sedimentary in a single step – a million years or more in a single step. (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)
Here I saw Egypt (hidden on the right), Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in a single frame. Israel is already at peace with the first three and has extensive cooperation with the fourth. Who knows? Maybe peace is just around the corner. (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)

But for diversity one need not travel from the north to the south. A keen eye can discern millenniums of history in a single glance.

There is so much in this picture that to even just mention what you are seeing right now would take a long time. Very coarsely, one can find in this picture the western wall, a remanent of the Second Jewish temple (going back over 2000 years), the plaza in front of it which was built by Israel after taking over the area (in the 1970s) – this is where you see that people have gathered (for Shavuot prayers), the Dome of the Rock (going back 1500 years) shining with the gold gifted by the Jordanian king recently. (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)

It is true though that we can be funny at times. You were gentle when I accidentally tried to infiltrate a military base on the way back from a beautiful crusader castle

This is a remanent of a crusader castle in Apollonia national park. It is a short cycle ride from Tel Aviv. While there is an even shorter route through a military base, I do not recommend it. (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)

and I tried my best not to guffaw when Santa Claus turned up on a camel at your beckoning.

Santa Claus comes to visit the old city on a camel over the Mount of Olives (Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)

There has been sadness and merriment, silliness and depth, music and noise, light and darkness, gentle love and a tight embrace. All of this, I sorely miss as I write this letter to you. But I am not very sad because what one may feel is the pain of partition is also the joy of coming back. I wish I have the scientific abilities to keep coming back to you and in part repay the love and education that you have imparted towards me.

As I close my letter to you a final thought crosses my mind. While you made me feel very secure and safe throughout my five years of stay, I know that it is a result of many hard fought battles, stellar defence technology and constant vigilance. I wish that someday, you may not have to work so hard to maintain the security of your people. I wish peace and prosperity to you dear Israel, essentially, the only democracy of the middle east.

(Photo: Nishant Chandgotia)

Until next time,
Forever your lover,
Nishant.

About the Author
Nishant is a mathematician who was a postdoctoral fellow at the Tel Aviv University (2015-2018) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2018-2020). He is about to join the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bengaluru as a professor.
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