Try to Understand this Love of the Land

View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa

Today is our last day in Israel…until the next time.

That’s the thing about Israel, at least for the Jews. Once you come, you keep coming back. You realize that as wonderful as life is wherever you live, it’s a short time since we have been safe and prosperous and without persecution as the main preoccupation.

I know that sounds fatalistic and reeks of a persecution complex. I had buried it for a while, but I could never quite eliminate it. Because the truth lives deep, deep within.

Today, we toured the Diaspora Museum, also known as the Museum of the Jewish People, on Tel Aviv University’s campus. It begins with an exhibit of antiquities and tradition, showing Jews from biblical times until today observing ritual and tradition.


Bar mitzvah.

Torah learning.

All of the beautiful fresh produce in Israel is courtesy of the extreme weather. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Only after we establish the foundation – the written word, the rituals, the connection between all Jewish communities and eras – can we dig into the culture.

Some people insist they are only “culturally Jewish.” I understand it. Tradition is a yoke, burdensome, oppressive at times. I’ve taken it on and thrown it off.

But without the foundation, the meaning, the ancient tradition shared by Jews who have stepped foot on every continent around this planet, there is no culture.

This quote on the wall of the Museum of the Jewish People refers to the blessings in daily prayers that call for goodness in the land of Israel. Jews pray three times a day for this place.

In the taxi on the way to the museum, I sneezed. The driver, who was speaking rapid-fire Hebrew on his cell phone to a friend and laughing it up, broke the conversation to say, “labriut,” bless you, in Hebrew. It literally translates as wishing someone good health.

In the taxi ride back from the museum to our hotel, the driver had a Hebrew book on his dashboard: Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. We could not get him to stop talking about how brilliant Scientology is and how rebellious he is to his Jewish family, that if they don’t accept his new religion, he will simply disappear. (He can’t wait to leave, to live in America, because he feels no connection, no relevance, to the tradition. Sad.)

The generations revolve and go in and out of acceptance. One generation clings to tradition, the next one throws it off with a yank. The next generation to come returns to tradition, and on and on and on.

Regardless of what we believe, observe, or say, we are infinitely linked – by generation, by experience, and by birth into this tradition. We can kick it to the curb but as history shows, it follows us wherever we go.

This week, I’ve been reading Herman Wouk’s The Hope, which chronicles in historical fiction the creation of the state of Israel, the salvation for the Jewish people, and the strengthening of Jews from all over the globe on this tiny sliver of land.

We have endured throughout the millennia, despite terrific attempts to wipe us out. And now, we have a little sliver of homeland, a place where all Jews can come and be accepted into the embrace, no matter their history, no matter their belief.

Here, we are welcome.

Here, we are invited to stay.

In most places, we have to ask how to pay and when. The welcome and hospitality are infinite.

Here, a taxi driver, a college student, a hummos vendor, a businessman resemble someone we know from way back. Family.

We will be back. We will return. Israel beckons her tantalizing finger, her come-hither look, and we respond. It is inevitable. I cannot stay away.

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