Jews' Next Dor

Congregation Beth David's Young Adult Group for Jewish 20 & 30 Somethings

“A New Perspective on Judaism” or “So You Want to Visit the Holy Land …”

Posted by jewsnextdor on August 18, 2008

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by ShelleyT, a CBD and Jews’ Next Dor member, who traveled to Israel for the first time this summer on the CBD congregational trip to Israel. Pictures included are not from ShelleyT.

Our guide referred to it as the “Jerusalem Syndrome.”  One visit to the Holy City has a way of turning moderates and even non-believers into orthodox.  I have to admit, I half expected that joining Congregation Beth David’s summer trip to Israel – the first trip to Israel for myself and my 70+year-old parents – would change my life.  I had this idea that I would be overwhelmed by the Holy Land’s, well, holiness.  I’ve traveled before, but planning a trip to Israel didn’t feel like tourism.  The info packet we received before the flight put it better: it was a pilgrimage.

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem, Israel

Well let me slow down for minute here.  I haven’t exactly started growing out peyot.  I wouldn’t even say that stepping foot in Eretz Yisrael significantly changed my life.  Just so we’re clear, this isn’t another case of the Syndrome.  However, seeing Israel for the first time did change my perspective about Judaism in general, especially about what Judaism means to me. You have to understand that I grew up in a little town called Groveland in the foothills near Yosemite, and I can pretty much guarantee that my family was the only Jewish family in our neck of the woods.  With the closest synagogue in Stockton, about a 2½-hour drive away, we only went to shul for the High Holy Days and for my bar mitzvah.  Otherwise, our dinner table was our Shabbat sanctuary.  I identified as Jewish, but Israel was some far away, war-torn land I knew only from CNN footage.   Am Yisrael really didn’t mean anything to me.  I felt no connection. That changed after day one in Jerusalem.  Our primary guide/teacher welcomed us like old friends, and explained how much it meant to him to have us there.  Signs at the airport and our hotel stated simply, “Welcome Home.”  But more than any of these things, I was affected by seeing aspects of Jewish life everywhere, commonplace, as natural as having windows on a house.  There were mezuzot on the hotel door frames, little boys with kippot playing, and big signs on restaurants declaring not simply that they kept kosher but whether they served meat or dairy.  It was enough to make me repeatedly declare (in my head, not out loud fortunately), “Man, there are like tons of Jews here!”  Hey, for a guy from Groveland, it was a big deal. So I immediately felt very comfortable in Israel.  It really did feel like returning home.  Nobody gave my kippah a second glance or even a first glance for that matter.  I had decided to wear it during my entire trip in Israel, just to see what it was like.  Here in the US, I only wear one during Shabbat services, most often removing it right after I leave the synagogue.  Now, I find myself thinking about wearing a kippah full-time.  For the first time, it wasn’t a struggle to find kosher food.  I do my best to keep kosher in the US, and that makes it pretty difficult to eat out, to eat meat, and to watch other people eat things that I used to really enjoy.  (Oh popcorn shrimp, why must you be so delicious?)  But in Israel, I could eat just about anything I wanted.  We even had a downright feast at a kosher Chinese restaurant!  I still can’t get over seeing the pagoda-like entrance with a mezuzah on it. But ok, ease of “living Jewishly” aside, pilgrimage to Israel not only gave me a connection to Am Yisrael but also fostered a pride in being Jewish.  If you’ve never learned about the founding of Tel Aviv on sand dunes, if you’ve never heard of the Ayalon Institute, if you’ve never seen before-and-after photos of the Israeli countryside and cities, then you may not fully understand what it means to be a Jew.  Not everyone agrees that we’re the Chosen People, but no one can argue that we’re not stiff-necked. Speaking of stiff-necked, my elderly parents came on the trip too.  It was the experience of a lifetime to be with them for their first trip to Israel.  This was a difficult trip for them to make because of their ages (70s), because they had to take time off from work (yep, they still work), and because the trip ate into their retirement savings. This may sound somewhat maudlin, but we compared our pilgrimage to Shabbat.  It wasn’t easy for us to put aside our jobs and other responsibilities.  The cost was not insignificant for our modest incomes.  In summary, it was really hard for us to put all our other worldly concerns aside in order to have this spiritual experience.  But after we had accomplished taking a break from our normal lives, the peace we found was, simply put, divine, and we were very grateful to HaShem for it all. The memory that I will treasure most – really with no exaggeration one of the most precious moments in my life – was an erev-Shabbat as my parents and I walked back to our hotel from shul.  The weather was absolutely perfect, as if it were observing the Sabbath as well.  Jerusalem, the largest city in Israel, had shut down.  Groups of people walked home from myriad synagogues in the area.  Time stopped.  Again, my parents and I rarely attended services together growing up.  We certainly never walked to and from shul.  It was amazingly satisfying and thoroughly peaceful.  And so, walking together on Shabbat, in the middle of Jerusalem at rest, my parents and I sang the Shehecheyanu. I’ll conclude by adding one last change in perspective Israel offered me.  Before traveling in Israel, I associated the word aliyah with simply going up to the bimah to say the blessing before the reading of the Torah.  Whether it’s technically correct or not, aliyah now translates for me to “pilgrimage” and “ascension” and, more broadly the progression of my Jewish life.  I don’t know if I can call myself a “good Jew” but I keep trying, and I think I get a little better at fulfilling the mitzvot with each passing day.  For this reason, a jewelry store owner in Sfat made a lasting impression on me.  After a pleasant chat, he said, “I wish you to keep going up and up.”  He was sincere and cheerful as he said it.  I knew it was not an uncommon phrase.  However, it encapsulated so much of my experience in Israel, so much of why my parents and I made the pilgrimage, so much of what being a Jew means to me, that I think it might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. So if you haven’t been to Israel, please do.  If you’ve already been, please go back and buy more souvenirs (y’know, it’s a mitzvah to contribute to the Israeli economy). And I wish you all to keep going up and up.


4 Responses to ““A New Perspective on Judaism” or “So You Want to Visit the Holy Land …””

  1. […] Original post by jewsnextdor […]

  2. Sam said

    I don’t Know if you remember me, but I went on the trip with you and I think that you conveyed your thoughts clearly.

  3. Ruth Waworuntu said

    Hi there..
    it’s my dream to see Israel. it’s an expensive trip for me.
    but I really love to see Israel. but i have a faith that sometimes I’ll be in Holly Land to see my self
    not only heard from someone else.

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