Tonight is the last night of my weeklong stay. As has been the case for the past several years, my trip was conveniently scheduled in order to visit a child learning here; and this time with the added company of my Bubby to celebrate her 90th birthday, we traveled a little earlier than usual to catch the warm weather.
You did not disappoint. The sun was warm on our faces every morning and even the afternoon rain could not dampen our time shared with you. And while my two previous trips coincided with both the shiva period for Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and the day Rabbi Twersky, Rabbi Levine, Rabbi Kopinsky, Rabbi Goldberg and now Rabbi Rothman were murdered, this trip allowed us to take advantage of the slow pace the current “matzav” has induced; we tried to experience and appreciate as much as we could.
I took precious time to see old friends, in expected and unexpected places. My Bubby got to marvel at the lives my childhood friends have made here. A woman of 90 saw Israel with eyes her 45-year-old self would never have believed. Even though our To-Do list was cut short it was not too short. With no time or interest in dilly-dallying we took cabs to exactly the restaurants we wanted to eat at, events we wanted to participate in and returned directly to our hotel upon finishing. One afternoon we left our hotel intending for a quick “get in-get out” excursion to the Kotel. Instead of immediately turning back to return to the hotel we made an on-the-spot decision to enjoy a deliciously sweet café hafuch at Between the Arches. This excursion was only made sweeter by the look of gratitude on the café owner’s face; for he knew that not only had we traveled halfway across the world, we had braved the 25 foot walk from the Israeli security of the Kotel plaza to the café entrance that neighbors the Arab shuk. Now what made it the sweetest, however, were the handshake, warm grip and smile from an Israeli officer that caused me to melt me as well as everyone around me when I attempted to pay for the 10 cappuccinos and pastry for 10 of his policemen. This was simply because I was so grateful for the safety and security to walk those 25 feet to patronize that cafe in the first place. You see, by the time I had finished praying at the Kotel, I naturally felt more relaxed and wanted to consider for a moment several activities to continue our stay in the Old City. Did I mention my Bubby is 90? She walks slowly and therefore should not be rushed, and frankly, these days, one must walk briskly and stay alert. So as I thought of each activity and promptly crossed them off my list, I felt myself growing angrier and angrier. I remembered Between the Arches and imagined its empty seats, and un-drunk beverages, and uneaten delicacies. I did not feel sad, or scared or even anxious. I was simply mad at what has been stolen from us, from you my dear Israel; whether perceived or real, the ease to walk your streets and the freedom to visit what I want wherever I want, whenever I want.
Don’t feel bad for me yet, because those policemen allowed me to visit my daughter daily. In the Gush, to drive Route 60, to reach her in Migdal Oz. (Don’t tell Eldan) And even the night my 25 minute drive took 3 hours to reach my precious daughter and return to Jerusalem safely-my visit was not dampened. Not to say I didn’t cry. My tears rivaled the rain that fell mightily as my JPost alerted me that a couple had been killed in a terrible traffic accident on Route 60 just moments before peace hating, self loathing thugs attempted to kill another precious soldier at Tzomet Hagush. I whimpered until I bawled when my daughter told me her learning was disrupted by the sound of the gunshots that killed the attackers. Knowing there is this price to be paid for my ability to drive route 60 and drink coffee in our lovely cafés; these attempts to kill our soldiers in Gush Etzion and Hebron and Beer Sheva…the loss of life our nation’s families have suffered in the past month, I somehow still know in my heart that we need to keep visiting our cafes and driving Route 60. We must work together, my beloved IDF and police force, Olim, Sabras, and even me, the aliyah-pending-Tourist.
But I leave tomorrow, almost sulking, sneaking out, leaving this note on your pillow, dear Israel. I can’t stand the pain of leaving or the shame of what feels like I am once again abandoning you and them and everyone. So I did something we all should do before we ever dare to leave this place of dreams, sweat, sacrifice, holiness and happiness. I booked my next trip. I will be back in only a few months from now and even though the reality is that the fares are cheap, I would have booked it anyway. I can’t leave here without knowing when I will be back. I owe that to you, my dear Israel … whatever the fare is, it’s but a small price to pay to drive Route 60.