Strangers in a Familiar Land – A Real-Time Recollection

As the plane prepared to land, my sleep-starved mind was whirling.

Could it really be true?

After all the work, the endless questioning. Questioning doctors, questioning spiritual advisors, questioning each other. Questioning ourselves.

After all the plans made and cancelled so many times. Could it really be true? Could we really be moving to Israel – the holy land of the Jews?

As the plane touched down, my mind focused on one question alone. Would I feel it? Would I feel the difference?

I remembered the letdown I’d once felt upon returning to America from a trip here. I’d thought to myself, ‘This place is missing colors. It’s so washed out, so gray.’

Would the reverse be true? Would I perceive the anticipated uplift of returning to “Eretz ha-Kodesh”, the holy land?

The airport routine revealed no spiritual splendor. The hopeful search for baggage, which in our case came down mercifully soon.  Customs; filling out citizenship papers; schlepping. It was pretty peaceful at 5:55 in the morning, but it was still just an airport.

Then waiting for a van to bring me, my young wife, and our family of moving cartons to our pre-rented studio apartment in Jerusalem. Its arrival and its logic-defying ability to contain all our belongings in its small hull. The mysterious pull over to the side of the road a few minutes later and the surreal mid-highway transfer of ourselves and our belongings into a yet smaller, although more nicely appointed van.

My first impressions of this land? Madcap, surely; endearing, maybe, but holy?

Then it hit me. Squeezed into the back of our hired coach, the only other passenger, a friendly looking fellow I recognized from the flight. As the van driver wound us along the back roads from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it all clicked in.

I felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the land. The wise old olive trees, the dignified boulders. The simply content goats, happily roaming the hills like every day of their lives.

This was it. Now I remembered why I came. The beauty here wasn’t just the surface beauty of the eye, nor was it the sappy emotional beauty of the heart. Though I admit being susceptible to either of those, this was something different. A deep, spiritual beauty. An overwhelming feeling of reality with a capital ‘R’.

Often in America, I would get the sense that everything around me was a movie. That I was detached from it all. I could even choose to take part in the movie, to interact with the characters, etc. But it was all just acting and everyone knew it though none would admit it.

I couldn’t stand that feeling, but felt helpless to overcome it. But here, in this tiny bus coughing its way up winding hills…was Reality.

My new friend, sitting next to me expounded sweet words in the name of a great and saintly mystic of centuries past, how the Jew and the Land of Israel are made to be together, and now, how almost like molecular particles, we have been forced apart by external forces called exile. And while we can exist in this state of separation – us and the land – this is an unnatural existence at best, and we can never in that state feel at home…feel real.

As we reached Jerusalem, our suddenly graceful van became part of a well-choreographed traffic ballet, as the newly risen sun washed Jerusalem stone buildings bowed to welcome the new arrivals home.

 

 

 

About the Author
Nesanel Yoel Safran, US born and a graduate of Brandeis, now living with his wife and family in the Judean Hills, is a writer, chef, and a teacher/student of Jewish spirituality. He blends these assorted vocations on his blog, Soul Foodie, where you can join him on mystical cooking adventures and glean practical wisdom for the kitchen — and for living.
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