Today I am feeling nostalgic. Opening my phone this morning, I was reminded that six years ago today, knackered from taking 250 Jewish kids away on a youth camp for New Year, I headed to the airport. I boarded a plane, nervous, worried and far more anxious than I’d have let on.
Five and a half hours later, for the first time as an adult, and the second time in my life I walked down the famous ramp and Ben Gurion Airport Tel Aviv.
The last time I walked down that ramp, was nine years before – as a 16 year old on a three week tour of Israel. After 3 weeks I walked down what I now know as the sad ramp, and came home. Indifferent.
In those three weeks, contrary to whatever “AsAJew” antizionists will tell you… I was not brainwashed, I didn’t ‘Fall for the hasbara’… I came back thinking “that was a nice 3 week holiday… Jerusalem was special… maybe I’ll visit again one day”.
I didn’t grow up in a family of strong, Zionists. I grew up hearing stories of one of my sets of Grandparents who visited a few times… Grandma tongue-in-cheek always said “Lovely to visit, but I wouldn’t choose to live there”.
I never visited as a child. I have no close family there. (Because we escaped Eastern Europe early). I didn’t grow up visiting once or more a year, obsessed over bamba and shoko b’sakit. I had no connection and even after 3 weeks on tour, I still didn’t feel compelled to rush back.
I felt like I understood it was important that we had Israel, and I might occasionally talk about why I thought antizionism was an antisemitism problem… but I never fully felt connected.
Then one day I got a Whatsapp from a school friend. A school friend who had begged me to visit since she moved out there after school. The Whatsapp was a photo, the photo a wedding invitation.
My first instinct, as British as can be, was “Oh she’ll want my address to send me the proper invite.”… How wrong I was! But an invite to a wedding is an invite to a wedding, and I know better than to turn down an invite to a Simcha.
So 6 years ago, I found myself flying alone, to a foreign land, expecting to grin and bear it, maybe enjoy a wedding and come home… Except I didn’t just ‘grin and bear it’ and it didn’t feel all that foreign…
We always say that being part of the Jewish people is like being one big family, and landing alone in Israel for the first time was testament to that…. I felt at ease, like I could do anything I needed or wanted to… and in a really strange way which I couldn’t really articulate at the time, I felt at home.
I said it, quoting the song as I wrote about leaving in October – Ein Li Eretz Aheret – I have no other land… I understand that more now as a phrase than ever before – I have been to America more times than Israel, yet don’t feel the same sense of ease, touching down at JFK or IAD as I do crossing the Mediterranean, seeing the beauty of Tel Aviv, and touching down at Natbag. (An Acronym in Hebrew for “Ben Gurion Airport”).
A wise-ish lady, on the reception desk in the hotel I stayed at in Tel Aviv said “Eeeerrmmm, You know, if you can enjoy eeet in the rain, you will like eeet here”…. She made little sense, yet I understood her. The weather was abysmal, and Tel Aviv cannot deal with rain. The roads were rivers and the pavements were… also rivers! But I absolutely enjoyed every minute of my time.
(Wise-ish because she failed to warn me of the puddle that had engulfed the road and kerb outside the hotel. When I returned to change my socks and shoes which were wet past my ankles she said “You’re the third person in the last hour”.)
So, perhaps it was the rain… Perhaps it was the food, the people, the scenery, the land, the connection, the giant mishpacha (family)… but 5 visits later… In sun, wind, and… erm… rockets… I finally get it. I do like it there… perhaps I finally appreciate it there too… because I am PROUD of it there…. a the world’s only Jewish state, surrounded by hostile nations, not only surviving but flourishing and achieving amazing things.
The past months have been hard for us all as Jews. Not least for those in Israel – the level of mourning and anxiety is as high as can be… not a day goes by without checking in on friends and trying to somehow share in their sadness… We feel it here in the diaspora too. Not an hour goes by when I’m not worried for my friends and almost every day I ponder my own safety here in London…
The thing about terrorists however, is that they can kill our brothers and sisters, but they can’t kill our spirit. This war has, without a doubt bought us together closer as a people… closer than we’ve ever been in my lifetime. One big ‘mishpacha’ feels more true than ever.
So I guess… in a way… thank you evil terrorists: for lighting a fire in our hearts… for reminding us that we are all one big family that hurts together, BUT soon I hope, we will be celebrating your end together.
As we start a new year, I keep thinking of the song B’shana Haba’ah – the chorus translates as “You will yet see, you will yet see, how good it will be next year.” – let’s hope and pray that ‘next year’ is now already ‘this year’ and we can soon be back to living in more peaceful, less worrying times.
Oh, and that wedding… you might wonder about the wedding.
It was fantastic. I’m glad that I gambled travelling alone to Israel in 2018. I’m glad that, trip made me realize what a brilliant place Israel really is…
The real thanks, goes not to the terrorists, but to my friends, the bride and groom – Taphat, Tamir and now my bestie Gaia (plus ‘Bar-li’ the dog) – TODAH RABBAH – 6 years ago, I didn’t dream I’d have come and stayed with you so many times, been on fantastic tiyulim, and eaten such wonderful food… or cancelled all my plans and come to stay with you during a war… thank you for looking after me – I guess I do have mishpacha b’Eretz Yisrael! ❤️ Mazal Tov on your upcoming wedding anniversary. 🥳🥳