There we sat in the school’s auditorium. An immediate security brief had been called to address the ever-increasing concern about the instability in Israel. With an imminent trip planned to Israel, for over 135 Australian students, an air of urgency and doubt clouded the room of understandably concerned parents in search of answers and assurance.
Unlike most communal gatherings, silence swiftly descended upon the crowd as the program organisers approached the podium to begin their address. What could they possibly say? What assurance could they give to these parents about what might happen in three weeks’ time, half way across the world? Addressing the situation is responsible and obviously necessary, but as I sat amongst the crowd, as a member of staff leading the Israel trip, I couldn’t help but wonder what we were truly going to achieve? What magic words could the organisers say that would alleviate the uncertainty of an entirely uncertain situation? Surely the only certain measure we could take to guarantee security would be to call off the trip all together?
“Perhaps we should get a sense of how people are feeling at present with regards sending their children to Israel,” one of the program organisers suggested. “Let’s make three categories to identify attitudes in the crowd,” he explained. “Category ‘a’ will be those concerned but confident to send their children on the program, ‘b’ will be those undecided or with reservations and finally ‘c’ will be those who are not comfortable to send their children to Israel at all.” As I listened attentively I felt a lump swell in my throat, the mere mention of category ‘c’, seemed to dramatically dull the prospects of our departure. For this group of students, the likelihood of seeing, what promises to be the most uplifting and impactful celebration of our homeland, people and heritage come to fruition, seemed slim.
Throughout the brief, details were discussed and precautionary measures clarified. Unfortunately, as the organisers expounded, this heightened state of concern is not a novelty in Israel. Systems are in place to notify tour groups like ours of any impending danger, with tried and tested contingency plans in place at every turn. Perhaps instead of free-time being spent frolicking in the vibrant markets and streets, we’d find ourselves indoors at our hotel. Upon arrival if things were tentative, an immediate bus ride up north could buy us some time before visiting Jerusalem, if safe to visit at all. And of course if met with a state of escalation and continued attacks, a dire enough set of circumstances would have the group on the first flight back to peaceful Australia.
My doubt continued to surge. It was not because parents were being neurotic, or because the program organisers were being unwarrantedly pessimistic, all apprehension was justified, but how can one possibly entertain the thought of visiting Israel without breathing in the sweet Jerusalem air? How does one feel content merely seeing the inside of a hotel room, when in a country that abounds with vibrancy, character and potential? And most of all, I found myself asking in disarray, what promise lies in the future when vile terrorism and perverse intimidation forces one to mention leaving Israel early or even having to entirely cancel an opportunity to return to our cherished homeland?
Lost in my thoughts my consciousness returned to the meeting at hand.
“Perhaps it’s time to see where people stand and how parents are feeling. All those in class ‘a’, concerned but confident and wanting to send your children to Israel, please raise your hands.” The moment of truth had arrived. We were about to uncover, if despite the crowd’s warranted reservations, their resolve to support Israel would trump these fears. I turned my head to face the people in the room and my eyes quickly filled with tears. The auditorium had erupted in a defiant sea of raised arms. Almost every hand was presented proudly in the air, in an expression of unwavering solidarity with Israel and commitment to the journey. The corners of mouth began to turn as a smile crept onto my face, for this was the very story of our people.
Despite difficulty, obstruction, hardship and concern, the plight to unite as a people and return to Eretz Yisrael, regardless of circumstance was, is and always will be unwavering. It is such faith and determination that defines our national story as one of perseverance and belief. It is our inability to let fear trump our hopefulness to return to the Land of Israel that is tantamount to our people’s survival. So the suitcases have been pulled out, and the passports are ready to go because the show must and will forever go on. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said,
“.לכל מקום שאני הולך אני הולך לארץ ישראל”
“Everywhere I go, I am going to Israel.”