Wooden house with hole in the form of heart with little heart onIn Israel, it’s like the desert mountain air swept me up in its sweetness, and I disengaged from everything I know back home.

And so now I’m home, and wondering at the connection to the land, the intensity of the days, the wonder at being in a place so familiar, so home-like, that I never want to leave. I love it here, too, and yet I yearn for that sense of place, which most of the time I believe comes from within but sometimes I know has to do with geography.

Of course, I carry an idealist’s vision of my holy land with me, since it’s not my everyday. It’s not my routine, my frustration, my place of bills to pay. It’s just a place I visit.

We Jews look to the past to inform our present and to gain hope for the future. Today, the last day of Hanukkah, all the lights lit and burned down to gone, we are so tied to the past, I wonder how we create a present.

It’s a funny thing to be so indelibly linked to what already happened, to what is gone, history. In the swirl of holiday observance, we don’t even have time to question the veracity of these stories we live by.

What is it that we keep coming back to?

In Israel, it’s the connection to the land, which we believe holds ancient stories in its dust. You can breathe the connection in the very air you breathe, the sweet breeze of desert air, ancient stories whispered from the heavy stones. I go there, and I feel strong and proud and angry.

photo by Lynne Golodner 2014

How dare any other people build right on top of our holiest places! Why should we be the ones always trying to make peace, when so many others have wanted to erase our history completely?

And yet, the anger subsides, and I recognize the peaceful antidote: the way Israelis are proud and strong and smart. The way they (we) care for the earth and for human life.

In Judaism, it is as if one life is equal to an entire world. Every life is precious.

We talk in this country about how to stop the mass shootings, and many people go to the quick response of take away the guns. 

It’s not the guns that are killing hordes of people. It’s the lack of value for human life.

There, in that place, in our place, our hearts beat like a map to the soul.

It would be nice if, back home, we could connect to the love we felt walking on those stone-hewn paths.

No story is a perfect tale. And no happy ending guarantees future happiness.

Perhaps our tradition has some wisdom after all, that we must look to the past to inform our future but all we really have is the present, so look upon it as a gift and celebrate this very moment with all that illuminates its brilliance: light, scent, taste and gathering of those we hold dear, around one table, to sing praise.

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