Israel has been amazing. My sabbatical is soon coming to a close but I have had a wonderful time in Eretz Yisrael. In the next few weeks I will be recounting some of the sabbatical adventures that I have had and the study conversations that I engaged in.
I have lost count about the number of times I have visited this place. But in the last few years something else has happened. Something really special has happened here. It has been happening the last couple of times I visited. Israel is no longer a vacation destination. I really feel it now. It has transformed into a sense of home. I feel transformed when I am here in a way I have never felt before. It is hard to describe. I don’t feel like a tourist. I am not a resident yet. I still feel like a little bit of an outsider but each time I come for another trip I feel more at ease and more connected. Perhaps that is a function of extended stays but I think there are other forces at work as well.
My Hebrew keeps improving. Each time I come I notice that my comprehension is growing as well as my ability to speak. My vocabulary grows. It also helps that as I am here studying Jewish texts. But my facility with Hebrew (albeit it the texts are in Biblical, Talmud and Medieval Hebrew which is different somewhat from Modern Hebrew) is strengthening.
That helps me feel more at home. And home is the point.
For thousands of years the Jewish people longed for this place. For Zion. For Jerusalem.
I grew up in a home where the blue box for JNF was always there. Although my parents and grandparents had no intentions of making aliyah, (they didn’t even own passports!). And my parents never visited. But there was a mythos about Israel in our extended family. They bought Israel bonds at every family occasion, birth and bar mitzvah and wedding with the expressed idea that every family occasion should help Israel!
So I guess I come about the love of this place naturally. I was raised on it. Or at least they planted the seeds. And my own nuturing of my relationship with Israel continues to make this bond with Israel grow. It is a complex place. Ancient and Modern. It is a place of great joy and great heartache. It is a place of contradictions and conundrums. It is a place of high tech and cobblestones. Israel is still a place of promise even with its political challenges.
I hope I can continue to make Israel a priority in my Jewish life. I hope I can convey my love of this place to others. I hope some of you will come on a trip to Israel with me in January 2012 to experience this sacred home of the Jewish people even with all of its contemporary challenges.
I am grateful to have been able to be here this summer. Thank you to my family for the time away to renew spiritually, to my congregation, Kol Ami, the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and the Shalom Hartman Institute for the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative for making it possible.