In two days from this writing my wife and I will fly to Israel via Zurich.
The trip to Israel we have made many times, thank God, and as always there’s a certain amount of preflight anxiety. I speak not of the anxiety of packing and being certain to remember contact lens solution, ear plugs in case my Airbnb has noisy neighbors, and loading a book onto my tablet that I can read on the plane. These mundane matters create anxiety no matter where I’m going. Nor am I concerned about the safety of my flight.
Rather I am anxious about Israel and Switzerland, although for different reasons.
I love visiting Israel. Along with our deep historical and religious connection, I always feel a sense of pride at any moment where Jews are comfortable about being Jews, no matter what they’re doing. Whether it’s driving a taxi, selling spices in the shuq, or flying a fighter jet, it is an endless source of pride for me when a Jew feels comfortable and secure about being openly Jewish. I look forward to the energy and diversity of the Israeli youth who transform the Mahane Yehuda market into a festival after the close of business each Thursday and Saturday, to being immersed in the Hebrew language (by day three my vocabulary is fully restored), and to an inexhaustible supply of kosher eateries. I look forward to saying Shabbat shalom on Friday morning to the spice merchant who delights in enhancing my Shabbat, of saying Shabbat shalom to my taxi driver on Friday afternoon as he drives me to the Kotel, and of saying Shabbat shalom to every soldier I see protecting my people.
At the same time, I am always fearful of those moments of intolerance and irresponsibility that seem to find me (of course, because that’s what matters to me most — being tolerant and responsible). I fear the moment when in someone else’s mind I am not holy enough for my Shabbat shalom to be answered (even though I have never encountered an Arab who would not reply to my greeting of sabach al cher, good morning). I fear those moments when the monopoly of religious authority devalues the rights and contributions of Jews who do not believe correctly enough. And while my faith in God and our IDF is strong, as I look to the west of Jerusalem or the north of the Galil or east from Tzefat I am unsettled by the proximity of madmen and their weapons.
Still and all, my time in Israel is always a joyous one. I revel in the modern miracle that is the revival of the Jewish nation, its strength and its diversity, and its democratic institutions.
I also have a second fear, perhaps remote but still real. On our return flight we have the opportunity to spend a few hours in Zürich. I’m sure the city is beautiful and the chocolate is delicious, yet it will be an instant reminder that the comfort and pride I felt in being overtly Jewish just a few hours earlier now must go undercover (literally, as I trade kippah for hat). No Jew can travel in Europe without giving thought to the problem of renewed anti-Semitism. It’s almost like taking a trip through history in reverse, going from the safety and security of Israel to the lingering insecurity of Jewish life in Europe.
How our forbearers yearned to be able to leave behind the tragedies of Jewish history and the diaspora and — at great expense and risk — undertake the arduous journey to Israel. My wife and I will relax in our safe and comfortable seats, eat our over-salted kosher meal, and watch a movie or two before touching down in the Holy Land. We will brace ourselves against the fear and disillusionment and focus on how in our times we are incredibly blessed by God to be able to make the journey to Jerusalem door to door in less than a day. I’ll don my baseball-style cap in Zurich as we enjoy a new place. And we will pray that neither we nor the Jewish people will forget that for all of our blessings and advances we still have so far to go to fulfill the dream, a dream whose birthplace was Israel, whose residence is Israel, and whose future — as promised by God — is Israel.
What’s to worry about?