I was sifting through gravel from an illegal (more on that later) Mt. Zion excavation project as the kind Israeli young woman who worked there asked me this very question.
“No,” I said, hoping I looked braver than I felt.
In fact, I never feel scared to come to Israel, but this time, I admit I was a little nervous. Arabs wielding knives, in search of a Jew to spear triumphantly, have filled the media over the last few months, and it IS scary.
I’ve come here in times of bus bombings, but that didn’t scare me. On my first visit to Israel in 1995, I whisked in a Mercedes cab from the airport straight across the only road to Efrat, a Jewish town in what is known as the West Bank.
I wasn’t afraid. I interviewed the rabbi, then hurtled back to Jerusalem before Shabbat, watching at the checkpoint as people with darker skin than mine were stopped for longer than I was.
At the time, I was liberal and open-minded, and I like to think I still am. But life has jaded me a bit, and now I know that while most of us can and should be friends, can and should see the humanity in one another’s eyes, it’s not always likely.
You see, we’ve drawn lines in this desert sand and rather than see our similarities, we cling to our differences. We’re all guilty of it. There is safety in what is known, and the night before I left for this long-awaited journey to my holiest place with my incredible children, I couldn’t sleep, kept awake by the visions of knife-attacking others in search of me and my brethren.
So the streets are quieter and less crowded. There are some tourists like us, but not enough. Over our sifting platforms today, the 8th-grade girl from Atlanta beside us paved the way for conversation. Her uncle laughed as he admitted to making aliyah three years ago, “and now they visit.”
This is so far away from my world, and yet so close.
This morning, we left the hotel and gulped in what I can only describe as Israel air. Clean, brisk, invigorating. The sun bright overhead. The blue sky swiped with strong streaks of white cloud.
The sifting project is an effort to find archeological treasures in the rubble unearthed by an illegal excavation at the Temple Mount. I won’t lay blame, but the dirt and gravel was unearthed when the Arab community decided to create an alternate entrance to their new mosque beside Al-Aqsa. Without proper excavation procedures.
The docents today called it an archeological crime, which has turned into a blessing because now we’re finding pieces of ceramic and metal and glass from as far back as King Herod’s time, from the Byzantine, from the First Temple time, too.
Ancient relics, which clue us in to this place we all claim as so incredibly important.
As we sprayed the bucket dump with water to illuminate our findings, Shaya discovered a piece of metal pipe from 400 years ago, along with tiny pieces of other things – a piece of mosaic, chips from earthenware used during our holiest days thousands of years ago, metal from Roman times.
Think of this long history! And now, our modern people, thriving and striving in this holy land.
We stood at the edge of Mt. Scopus, as our guide Yinon pointed to the undulating hills of Judean desert. A woman in a long skirt herded sheep down the terraced mountainside.
In the distance, the golden Dome of the Rock, above our last standing Temple wall.
At 3 a.m., the kids and I were wide awake, suffering through jet lag. When the alarm went off at 6:30, we were all in perfect repose.
At breakfast, the dining manager wished me good morning, lingering over his glance. “You’ve stayed here before,” he said with a knowing smile.
“Yes,” I nodded. “Last year, I was here with my husband.”
The man positively beamed. “Welcome back,” he said.
I’ll never not come, despite whatever fear may arise. This is the heart of the world, with reasons for all of us to hold on tight. And perhaps that is the best reason of all to not let go, and not destroy it in the midst of claiming it as our own.
The young woman surprised me when she asked why I wasn’t scared. She admitted that, despite having lived through the second intifada, she feels that these are scary times.
“Jews don’t know how to defend ourselves against knives,” she said. And truly, I agree.
But the moment we accept defeat and stop coming to this place, the moment we give up, is the moment the terrorists win. The moment that crazy becomes king. The moment that anger and hatred rule the world.
Are you willing to vote this corrupt leader into power? I’m not.
So I’ll beam that smile, which is backed by a bolder power than just my own humility and naivete, and nod in agreement. Yes, these are scary times, but that’s no reason to stay home and cling to fear. I couldn’t wait to come. And I am so glad I’m here.