I miss Israel.
How things have drastically changed in the past six months. I left the US for Israel on March 1, with the Coronavirus mostly contained to China, slowly spreading throughout Europe and Israel. I had no qualms about traveling to Israel and had no idea how the spreading of the virus would impact so much all over the world. I did take on extra precautions, making sure to wash my hands frequently, wiping down surfaces, using hand sanitizer, and refraining from greeting people with a hand shake, a hug or a kiss. Then, with every day, came new information and an increase in Coronavirus cases around the world.
A global pandemic was declared by the WHO on March 11. That same day, Israel issued social distancing and other rules to limit the spread of infection. Many hotels began closing and laying off their staff. I left Israel the night of March 12; the hotel that I was staying at had a handful of tourists remaining. Things were starting to shut down.
I arrived back in Miami mid-day on Friday, March 13. That was the last day that people were physically working in my office. Everyone was told that they would be working from home for a bit and that it would probably only be for a couple of weeks. 24 weeks later and we are still working remotely.
I miss Israel. A lot.
My first visit to Israel was when I was 19, after completing my first year of college. One of my high school friends, Ronit, spent the year studying at Bar-Ilan University. That summer, my friend Cheryl and I decided to go to Israel to spend time with Ronit and tour the country. A first visit to Israel for both of us.
It’s odd that it took me so long to go to Israel considering my dad was born there (pre-state Palestine at that time) and I attended a Jewish day school and a Jewish high school (yeshivas) in NY. Both were very Zionistic. In fact, quite a few of my classmates from elementary and high school have made Aliyah. But, I never had the opportunity to visit Israel. Until that summer.
That first trip to Israel opened up something inside of me and created a deep love of the country. Of course, it was a fun adventure traveling all over the country from Eilat in the South (Ronit had cousins that lived there – how convenient!) to Rosh Hanikra in the North. And so many places in between. We took buses, walked, rented a car, spent days on the beaches in Eilat, Tel Aviv and Netanya, flirted with the sexy and acerbic soldiers, ate falafel stuffed with a multitude of colorful salads and French fries, had watermelon at most every meal, and practiced speaking the biblical Hebrew Iearned in school (people were amused) with a heavy American accent. I was able to meet my Israeli relatives for the first time. I paid respects to my grandfather and his parents who are buried at Har Hamenuchot.
That trip to Israel whet my appetite. Two years later, I spent another summer in Israel, part of it with friends on the Volunteers for Israel program. What an experience volunteering on an army base outside of Tiberias and touring the country (again, those soldiers!).
For me, Israel is home. So much so, that I made it my home on two different occasions. Some of my deepest connections and closest friendships are those that I made while living in Israel. While it has been 17 years since I have lived in Israel, the experiences were hugely impactful on shaping who I am today. Working for the Jewish community, connecting people to Israel, sharing my passion and love for the country, and traveling to Israel with regularity, give me great joy and meaning. I feel very fortunate.
The sights, people, land, and history are special. Strolling down many of the streets in the Old City thinking about all the history that that took place on those very streets. Walking through Machane Yehuda on a crowded Friday morning while people are buying what they need for their Shabbat meals, the vendors yelling out that they have the best watermelon, at the best price. Meeting with dedicated people working on increasing opportunity for marginalized women throughout Israel. Walking the streets of most any city and seeing the soldiers with their rifles slung over their shoulder. Feeling the collective holiness praying at the Kotel as one brings in Shabbat. Seeing the Kinneret full with water. Getting a ride from a stranger who happened to be going to the neighborhood I was headed. Waking up super early to catch the sunrise over Mitzpeh Ramon in the Negev. Hanging out on the Tayelet in Tel Aviv, watching people play matkot, the sound of the ball hitting the paddles. Hiking Mt. Meron in the Galilee in the sweltering heat. Sharing a meal with the warm and hospitable people of Yerucham. All these memories make me smile.
Sure, the people can be arrogant, assertive, straight forward. They tell it like it is. And I love that! They are also the friendliest people. Where else would someone on line with you at the post office strike up a conversation and then invite you to their home for a Shabbat meal? I find that people in Israel are genuine and connect on a deeper level.
I was in Israel just as things were shutting down because of the coronavirus. That was six months ago. While I have no idea when I will be going back to Israel, my heart is full of memories of so many special places and extraordinary people.
I miss Israel.