“But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.”
These are words from Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai’s poem, “The Place Where We Are Right.” Interpretations of poems can vary, but for me, this piece refers to a difference in opinion about a place that you love but can’t quite vocalize both out of fear and out of love. I have felt this type of conflict several times in the past year on two very different types of trips.
A year ago, I visited Eastern Europe. I was traveling with my mother. In the course of three weeks, we’d trek’d to concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland, across Austria and the Czech Republic, ending up in Dachau in Germany – camps which contributed to the death of six million Jews. While I was intrigued and enticed by the beauty of many of the places I visited, such as Prague, Budapest, and Krakow, I felt haunted by the voices that were left behind. I wanted to feel close to these places, with offer such incredible architecture and beauty, where so much of my own heritage originated, where most of my family comes from. But I was haunted. It was definitely a combination of love and fear.
When I came home, I felt a wave of sadness pulsate through my being for weeks.
This feeling of dreaded conflict occurred again when I recently visited Israel, a place I have called home several times in my life. I have lived there during the Intifada, and I know what it’s like to live in fear of being able to eat out peacefully or ride a bus wondering about the people coming aboard but I also fell in a deep, passionate love for the country… for the land, the people, it’s history, my deep connection. The fact that I don’t live in Israel continues to astonish me. My roots run deep.
But this trip was different. Firstly, I was there as a tourist which felt so very strange. I had been invited by a group called the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) on a trip with 30 other media influencers to tour and see the country up close and personal. For a week, we would study together, travel through the country together, experience Israeli culture together. When I received the invitation and looked up JWRP, I saw that it was connected to Aish HaTorah, a religious organization. I was told there was a chance we would be meeting with Netanyahu who I vehemently disagree with. My husband and I talked through my concerns and I decided to take my chance and go on the trip to a place I call home.
And the trip was tremendous, I can’t deny or lie about that simple fact. For one week, we were shown all the goodness that exists in Israel, and there is a tremendous amount. We went on a graffiti tour in Tel Aviv; we explored the spiritual city of Sfat; we visited a hospital where they treat Syrian refugees; we went to Nalagaat, a theater for deaf and blind actors; we heard from Miriam Peretz, the mother of two Israel soldiers who died defending the State of Israel; we went to Yad Vashem to remember the 6,000,000 who perished in the Holocaust; we went to the Kotel on Shabbat; we climbed Masada and swam in the Dead Sea; we heard from humanitarians from WeWork, IsraAID, and Innovation Africa who are doing important work for the world; and we explored Israel’s beautiful culinary scene at restaurants such as Medita and Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, as well as Moshav Livnim’s Roberg Restaurant.
The trip was indeed inspiring in so many ways. I loved the sisterhood component of bonding with thirty other women from around America and Canada. I loved being taught about Jewish values identity in a life where they can slip away so easily if you allow them to. It was easy to close my eyes and imagine that the whole country was as peaceful as I was being led to believe.
But that was because we rarely spoke of the polarizing situation that exists in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians. At Eucalyptus, a sublime restaurant in Jerusalem, we met Chef Moshe Basson who spoke about Chefs4Peace, a non-profit non-political organization founded in Jerusalem by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and coexistence through food. On our last day we paid a visit to David Saranga, President Reuven Rivlin’s Security Advisor, who expressed his concern for Palestinians and called the conflict a tragedy for all of Israel. I had needed someone to stand up and speak for them the whole week, and he did just that. It was like, finally! When an Israeli female soldier addressed our group about the work she and other women do in their army service, even she did not mention Palestinians. I was grateful to separate from the group at one point and enter the Christian quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City, where I was reminded about both the country’s diversity and struggle that exists for so many – too many – there on a daily basis.
Being on a trip that primarily showed one view point and one population, which in this case was Jewish, was tough, even or especially as a devout Zionist and somewhat observant Jew. On prior trips I had learned all sides of the struggle that exists in the land of Israel since its creation in 1948. I had walked down the Via Dolorosa, a street within the Old City of Jerusalem, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. I had been to Bethlehem and Nazareth, largely populated by Christians. I had been to the West Bank. I believe in a two-state solution. I felt uncomfortable not addressing Palestinians or Christians as people who long to co-exist – and should – in the State of Israel. A lot has happened between our peoples since I lived in Israel as a young girl. I could not stop thinking about how people were living just a few miles away. Nor did I want to forget. Nor will I forget. When I return to Israel next summer with my children, we will explore these parts of me.
We can’t rewrite history. Otherwise history will rewrite us. Therefore, let’s include everyone and face both our love and our fear. Let’s address the whispers, not run away from them.