Shuly Babitz
Connection from Afar: Israeli Culture from the US

Not your typical baseball hat

Heading home from my trip to Israel in December, I wore a navy blue baseball hat. It’s no coincidence that I brought this particular hat, which bears the logo of a podcast I follow. The hat is like a security blanket for me – keeping me physically comfortable and reminding me of the inspiration and connection I feel when I tune in to this weekly podcast, hosted by a trio of rabbis from Boca Raton. These days, Israel reminds all of us that connection, along with sacrifice and perseverance, are more important than ever.

Reminders of these values popped up throughout my trip. I went to help launch our two oldest daughters as they each started a new stage of life. Both made Aliyah and one was starting Bar Ilan University while the other was drafting into the army. No small feats for girls who grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

Unlike in years past, they didn’t need lunchboxes and backpacks from Target. Now, we looked for socks, thermals, and boot polish at an army supply warehouse in Herzliya. We bought furniture (and ate a kosher lunch) at Ikea in Rishon Le’tziyon. We lugged boxes and books from apartment to apartment. Multiple times, we drove the hour from Tel Aviv to Ein Tzurim, the religious kibbutz and farm where my daughter lives along with a tight-knit group of lone soldiers in a program called Garin Tzabar.

As we drove from Ein Tzurim to get coffee at a nearby café, we heard a distant, high-pitched wail and then both my girls’ cell phones pinged with unfamiliar sounds. Keep calm, Mom, they said – this is a siren. We got out of the car and my almost-soldier showed us what to do – lay down on your stomach in the dirt and cover your head with your hands. Not exactly a spa day at the Orient Hotel.

When we returned to Tel Aviv later that evening, we witnessed a social media moment come to life. My 21-year-old paratrooper cousin came home to his parents and sisters after weeks of no contact, no showers, and little sleep. Other cousins were on leave from reserve duty at the same time. It looked like a party – aunts, uncles, cousins, tons of comfort food, hugs and smiles – but it didn’t exactly feel that way. Relief, tension, relief, concern, relief, worry for what will come when these breaks end in two days – emotions that are distinctly different from unbridled joy.

Finally, after we left my daughter off to begin basic training, I headed back to the airport. And that’s where the coincidences began. As I carried my sandwich and coffee from Aroma, I noticed a familiar face – one of the rabbis from the podcast on my hat. “Rabbi,” I called out. He immediately turned back to me, introduced himself as Josh, along with his travel partner, also named Josh. They seemed just as excited to meet a fan with official podcast swag as I was to meet them. We took pictures and I recorded a video for the other podcast hosts thanking them for inspiring me with their life lessons.

Then I happened to ask them if they knew a high school English teacher of mine who lived in Boca. I had lost touch with this teacher, but she was a pivotal influence on my intellectual and emotional development. Know her, they said – her husband is our other travel partner!

We raced over to find this third travel partner. He not only recognized my name as a student his wife had talked about fondly but called her on the spot and put us on the phone together.  I got to share with her how much of an impact she had on my life. Just as my daughters were beginning their own pivotal journeys, I got the chance to reconnect with someone who inspired my own.

When I came down off the high of these coincidences, I realized that it wasn’t my baseball hat that brought us all together. It was our shared values. All of us – no matter what our backgrounds are, whether we live in South Florida, Washington, D.C., or Tel Aviv – want to feel connected and find inspiration to give our lives meaning. But to find these things, you have to look. Sometimes you have to look for years. So make sure to keep your eyes open and your favorite baseball hat on.

About the Author
Shuly Babitz is a writer and public affairs strategist. She lives with her husband and 4 children just outside Washington, D.C., though her two oldest daughters recently made Aliyah.