Boomer Unchained: Traveling to Israel, Jewish-style
I have thought about visiting Israel since I was 16 and some kids from my high school in Los Angeles left to fight for Israel in what turned out to be the Six-Day War (1967 Arab-Israeli War).
As I got older, I learned that my father, who I knew was an immigrant to the United States after World War II, was a Holocaust survivor.
As an adult, I learned my father’s story – Born in 1909 in Poland, he attended dental school in France, and then returned to Poland when war was brewing. He was drafted by the Polish Army, and when the Germans invaded Poland, he escaped and went underground, eventually serving as a medical officer with the Partisans (They were Russian partisans, and U.S. allies at the time). My father spoke Yiddish, Polish, Russian, German, French, and a Slavic language. English came after he came to the United States.
I realized that I am alive because of my father’s education, tenacity, and luck. The more I’ve learned about his life, the more Judaism became important to me. In the past two years, I have begun to study Mussar, an ancient teaching of Jewish ethics and spirituality.
Last year Peter and I started talking about taking a trip to Israel in January 2018. As a 60-something American Jew, I figured it was finally time for me to go. And I am so glad I did!
Trip of a Lifetime
We were there from January 11 to January 23 on one of the most memorable trips of my life.
Where do I begin? The entire trip was like traveling through time. Suddenly, all those places named in the Bible, in history books, and in the news, came to life. We spent two days in Tel Aviv, which is a modern city on the Mediterranean, and adjacent to Jaffa, an ancient seaport which now also houses a lovely, upscale art colony, and then we took a public bus to Jerusalem, which is about 45 miles away. Jerusalem is in the Judaean mountains. We used Jerusalem as our base, taking three, one-day bus tours around the country to places including Haifa, Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and the Golan Heights, as well walking tours in Jerusalem.
We visited a subterranean Crusader fort in the ancient port city of Akko, awe-inspiring ancient ruins called Masada on a plateau in the Judean Desert, which was the last stronghold of Jewish rebels in the year 73 CE when they were conquered by the Romans.
My favorite place was the Western Wall, which is the remains of the Jews’ Second Temple, built by King Herod before the time of Christ, and destroyed in 73 by the Romans. It is the most holy place for the Jewish religion, and is in Jerusalem (Interestingly, before the Six Day War, the Arabs did not allow the Jews to visit it. And, as we all know, Jerusalem continues to be the focus of discord between the Israelis and the Palestinians). We took a tour of underground tunnels at the base of the wall. At one point, we walked on a 2,000-year-old street that is now underground.
In the Golan Heights, we visited Katzrin, with its reconstructed ancient village and the remains of an ancient synagogue unearthed by the Israelis in recent decades. Our guide told us that so far 31 ancient synagogues have been unearthed in the area.
Though I am not one to sit on a tour bus, I can say that the tours were educational and fascinating. Israeli guides have to go through several years of education in ancient history. They have to pass exams to be certified. One of our guides had a PhD.
What struck me the most on the trip was that there is archeological evidence that Jews have lived in the area of Israel for 3,700 years. Jews have continued to survive and celebrate their culture, despite the fighting, the sieges and being conquered by the Egyptians, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Muslims, and the Turks. Jews have managed to practice their culture despite all odds. How many ancient cultures have been able to do that?
The state of Israel was created in 1948 through an act by the British following World War II. It has survived through the tenacity of the Israeli people, even though their neighbors tried to destroy Israel as soon as the country was established.
People have asked me if I felt safe in Israel. My answer is a resounding ‘yes,’ even though I am politically astute enough to know that the Middle East is not a stable region. I saw some Israeli soldiers here and there carrying machine guns, especially when we were near the borders of Syria and Lebanon. I never felt threatened, or that there was any danger to my safety. Everyone was friendly. I felt as if everyone, whether Israeli or Arab, was happy to have tourists there. There were tourists from many different countries, and locals often asked us which country we were from.
As I left, I said a prayer for peace, hoping that one day the Arab nations will be able to accept that the Jews have carved out a small spot in the Middle East, and so make peace with Israel. In the meantime, I sensed Israel’s unwavering determination to survive, and why the tenacious Israeli is called a Sabra – (after a hearty cactus that survives in the brutal desert environment) – and why it was the buff, Israeli Gal Gadot who played the superhero in the 2017 film Super Woman (BTW, I saw four Israeli female soldiers who resembled her, with their long black ponytails).