Before going to the airport to fly from Southern Florida to Oregon, I removed my car fob from my key chain. I wanted to keep with me the key chain with the hamsa (a symbol thought to thwart the Evil Eye) that has on it the Jewish Traveler’s prayer in Hebrew. I never did that before, but it felt important to have it with me.
A few hours into waiting at the airport for my connecting flight, it was cancelled due to the weather and icy conditions at the destination airport. Rather than wait a couple of days until flights resumed and I could get a seat, I decided to take the bus—which was leaving in 40 minutes. As I was trying to find the bus stop (which, not surprisingly, is hard to find in an airport), my daughter’s anxiety (I wonder where she gets that from) about the road conditions was tempered by her boyfriend’s confidence that I-5 would be clear.
Since it was still only early afternoon and I didn’t want to sit around waiting in a hotel room for days, I got on the bus. The ride was supposed to take seven hours instead of an hour’s flight.
The ride from Seattle to Portland was relaxing, since there was no evidence of snow or ice most of the way. I enjoyed being a passenger looking out the window watching the world go by instead of focusing on the road and the aggressive drivers down in Florida. I could see the view that we miss when we fly: the dusky shapes of hulking mountains and the dark green of a northern forest were a nice change from the flatness of the land and the bright greens of Florida’s greenery where palm trees are the only natural thing with height. Not that I’m complaining about living in the tropics, I just felt myself transition to appreciating the experience of being a detached passenger on a dimly lit bus and not a stressed, stranded traveler in the charged energy of an airport when delays abound.
It was dark when we departed cold, snowy Portland, where we had to wait outside in the cold for our connecting bus. No one sat next to me, so I remained in my little mental bubble. As we pulled out and onto the snowy streets, I remembered my key chain and took it out. I tried to read the traveler’s prayer, but the lettering was too small and I wasn’t familiar with the Hebrew. I used my phone to read an English version of the prayer (see below). I read it over a few times, wanting to get a sense of what it said, the dangers that a traveler might expect, and what a traveler could ask of G-d as they embarked on a journey. I tried to absorb the prayer as a whole, and not necessarily think about the individual words.
A friend told me that she always recites this prayer before she goes on a trip, and raised her daughter to do the same thing.
I had never read it before. But it seemed right to think about G-d, or appeal to G-d, or consider other Jewish travelers (now and in the past) and what they needed to feel safe, or at least not completely alone on their journeys. And I wonder now, as I think about that moment of speaking and appealing to G-d, of wanting to connect to that spirit to protect me and look out for me—what will it take for a Jew of this generation to ever feel safe again on this journey. Is it possible? Is it something to desire?
When we arrived at my destination, I thanked the bus driver for his cautious driving and tightly hugged (and got tightly hugged back by) younger daughter and her boyfriend.
The next day, I ventured out to start discovering my new neighborhood, where I’ll live for a couple of months. It was icy and neither the streets nor the sidewalks were cleared. Not far along on my walk, I slipped and fell on my right arm. I took baby steps to make it back without falling again. It took 15 minutes to walk a square block (about 1,000 feet). Gratefully, nothing broke and it took a couple of days for my arm to be almost back to normal.
As I was recovering, I was thinking of the pain that injured Israeli soldiers are experiencing, and the pain that the recovered hostages are experiencing, and the pain that everyone impacted by the massacre on October 7 is experiencing, and, of course, the unimaginable pain of the hostages. I thought about how much my arm hurt just from falling on it, compared to what Hersh Goldberg-Polin might be experiencing after having his arm blown off.
This is not a time, I realize, to be alone in one’s thoughts—there is only how to use one’s thoughts and experiences to try, in whatever way possible—to connect with and help Israelis and Jews. This is a time to support each other in our pain and our (eventual) healing.
I wonder, as I’m trying to drop my skepticism and doubt, what impact all those prayers to G-d have. As I told my daughter the other day about a prayer session that I attend, “It can’t be a bad thing to send out positive thoughts into the atmosphere.”
The other day, this line in Psalm 54 stood out: “Behold, G-d is my helper; G-d is with those who support my soul.” It’s a line to linger with, to think about what it means to support my soul and to consider, too, that it is not just a job for myself.
How do our recitations and prayers and thoughts connect and build? How do they help us protect ourselves and each other? How are they heeded and what does it mean for a prayer to be manifested?
As a secular woman who has always seen my identity as a Jew as important, I think that perhaps I have missed the essence. I’m not sure where I’m going, but saying a prayer for a safe journey, and praying for the safety of those battling for Israel’s safety, and those traumatized by hate and terrorism, feels like the right direction. And knowing that there are others who are doing the same thing brings me the comfort of knowing that I am not alone.
May it be Your will, G‑d, our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace (If one intends to return immediately, one adds: and return us in peace). Save us from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all kinds of punishments that rage and come to the world. May You confer blessing upon the work of our hands and grant me grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow upon us abundant kindness and hearken to the voice of our prayer, for You hear the prayers of all. Blessed are You G‑d, who hearkens to prayer. (link)