17 Kislev 5768
November 27, 2007
Last Wednesday morning, jet lag awakened me before dawn and urged me to the Kotel early. I made my way just as I have done most mornings for the past six months. This time, though, it felt like the first time. The air was damp and chilly with intermittent sprinkles on slippery stones that kept many daybreak daveners snuggled in their warm homes. I love this weather because it holds the very air, the same cloud streaked skies and hovering chance of rain that welcomed and accompanied us throughout ten days in Kislev 1994, the first time we walked these stones and were kissed by the sweet clarity of the winter air.
This morning felt just like it did thirteen years ago, the morning of our first encounter with the remnant of our holy Temple, when our taxi wound its way down the steep road to the Kotel traffic circle and we watched the sky expand in pink and golden light as the sun emerged over the Har HaBayit.
Thirteen years ago David and I had no idea what Jerusalem, and Judaism for that matter, could mean to us. This was to be an adventure, a once in a lifetime vacation. We had guides lined up to take us to historical excavations, side trips planned so we could enjoy Israel’s natural beauty and interesting restaurant recommendations that we wanted to try. The restaurants offered new foods and presentations, our hikes were gorgeous, but it was the guide who gave us Jerusalem to whom we will always be indebted.
We spent three days with Barnea Selevan traipsing around the Old City and visiting every yeshiva (we had never been in one yeshiva, let alone half a dozen in one day). We explored the lives of Jews who came before us in every excavation, and learned about our cherished history in every museum and monument within these walls. We had questions and Barnea had answers. We had concerns, he understood them. We were developing ideas and he had a few of his own.
In the end, we took our lingering questions, nagging concerns and inspiring ideas back to Atlanta with us, but we also had something else to take home. Barnea held out a gift and he challenged us to take it. It was Yerushalyim. It was as if he was saying, “It’s your home, now what are you going to do with it?”
Of course, Atlanta was our home. Our loving family, good friends and supportive community are a reasonable definition of what a home is supposed to be. We had no family in Israel, few friends and no sense of community whatsoever. Our entire adult lives were spent in Atlanta. We’d spent a total of eight days in Jerusalem, yet we knew we’d forever be homesick for her as soon as our return flight lifted its wheels off the runway.
You all know the end of that story. Israel, Jerusalem in particular, is now-miraculously- our home.
Still, our ties remain strong to Atlanta and to everyone in America whom we hold dear, so two weeks ago I flew off for a week of concentrated catching up with my family and friends. Recurring questions settled on me everywhere I went: “What strikes you most about being back?” “Is being in America hard after being in Israel for so long?” “What do you miss most about Atlanta?” “…about Israel?” “What do you think about the Peace Process?” “What’s the prevailing attitude in Israel?”
And finally, “It doesn’t seem like anyone there cares...” Not a question, but it certainly does beg for an answer.
Of course we care. Every Jew cares.
Of course, I care. I care if our enemies will not only shoot fireworks on Friday night, but aim kassams at my neighbors, making French Hill another Sderot. Of course I care that our corrupt “leaders” think it will benefit our security to hand over to our enemies our security barrier of the Golan and once again exile Jews from their homes. It’s crazy. And I care that my government in America, in search of “signs of progress,” turns to the weakest party--banking on Israel’s capitulation --to save the administration from humiliation. Again.
Today is no different really than Begin,Sadat & Carter; then Rabin, Arafat & Clinton; then Netanyahu, Arafat & Clinton; then Barak, Arafat & Clinton; finally Olmert, Abbas and Bush. Now it's Mitchell, Clinton/Clinton & Abbas/Hamas. Don’t we get it?
It has always been Israel, Ishmael and Eisav. This is a struggle about gaining our inheritance, the Land of Israel.
Each of these leaders will bear responsibility for what he does...but ultimately God decides. He is involved in the tiny nuances of our lives and He is running the world according to His plan, taking care to worry us, pain us and distance us only as much as we can bear.
Three things, says the Talmud, are gained only through suffering: Torah, Eretz Yisrael and Olam Haba. But these are our inheritance, why make us suffer? Because suffering forces us to choose. We can choose to distract ourselves with our busy lives to alleviate our pain, or we can choose to look closely at ourselves and see what the Almighty requires of us to alleviate His pain.
Living in this Land, it is so easy to love God. Surrounded by incomplete, broken Jews just like me, I know He is compassionate. Driving through Judea and gazing at His hills dotted with homes filled with Jewish children, I know how much nachas we are able to give Him. Seeing hundreds of tourists each day huddled in dozens of groups around their guides in the Kotel plaza speaking Ivrit, English, Russian, French, German, Spanish, French and perhaps Swahili (really)... I know He wants the whole world to know Him. Talking to the bare headed driver who says Jerusalem is the best city in the world because Jews living here is a fulfillment of God’s Plan, I know every Jew can have an intimate relationship with Him.
We are in a struggle for our Land. God demands that we be worthy of it. That is all.
Be compassionate, give Him nachas, show the world there is a God, and talk to Him all the time.
God alone directs the hand of man. When we realize that we have no one to rely on-not this Prime Minister’s intellect, not the Presidential office, not the State Department, not Congressional clout and not even the IDF’s strength—no one except God. And we step up to the plate and ask Him, with all of our hearts-Bonei b’rchamav Yerushalyim....
Jerusalem is a gift and we are each challenged us to take it. Hashem is saying, “It’s your home, now what are you going to do with it?!”
Most of you aren’t here yet...but you yearn to be here, don’t you? And maybe that causes you pain. We are all suffering in this Galus. Through our suffering, we are acquiring the Land. He is only asking that we use the pain of separation to become the Jew who can inherit the Land that He so badly wants us to be worthy of.
May we all come home soon.
-Renee & David