Shalom Aleichem, Salam Alekim may peace be with you.. I heard this many times in Israel, Shalom Aleichem at the wall, and Salam Alekim at the Arab Market. Two diverse cultures yet in two words that sound so similiar and mean basically the same thing... yet these two cultures whose lives are so intertwined over a small miracle of land.. Though the words are a little different it really is the same language.. wishing peace.. I wish peace too.. PEACE one word.. woven in the lace of so many languages.. below is a letter I sent out to family and friends upon my return from Israel : I have added more to this letter and it is my hope as I make this final entry for this blog.. that you can in some form feel what I felt.. and know that YOU need to come and see all I have described. You need to see it with your own eyes so the value becomes real so the history .. no matter what your faith.. becomes a part of you..
We arrived back home Monday mid afternoon. and too think just 18 hours prior I had been at the Western wall saying goodbye.. Now Steve and I are getting back into routine .. and the memories of Israel come flooding back .... All of my life I had been taught about Israel, I have heard about it, read about it, sung about it, but truthfully Israel was no more than a place on the map. I was not really indifferent or anything , even though I thought I understood, the fact is ,no one can understand or know Israel until they are there. Until you hear the pilot say everyone must remain seated we are now in Israeli airspace. Until they exit the airplane into unfamiliar surroundings...Until they walk along Massada,see the streets of Jaffa, see the view from the top of the steps at the Bahai Shrine and walk down 700 of those steps and still be in awe of the beauty that surrounds you, see the bustling streets of Haifa and walk about the markets that wind in and out of the alleys, asking if anyone speaks English and being greeted with a WELCOME TO ISRAEL, is this your first time here? or listening to the Russian woman as she shouts fo Yakov to come over because Yakov speaks English. Tasting the fresh vegetables, and fruits. Smelling the wonderful pastries and breads. Seeing this mix of people selling whatever they have. Knowing that life is not easy for them there.. but it is as if they don't care. For the smile on their faces as we wandered about would never let you know if times are hard. On the surface you might think Haifa is sort of a dirty unkept city.. but when you look , really look you see so much more. You can not know Israel unless you listen to the recording of Ben Gurion declare Israel as a state at the Independence museum in Tel Aviv. See Caesarea and look at the excavations from Roman and Byzantine and Crusader periods and imagine life then. Civilization built upon civilization. . See Akko and visit Rosh Hanikra and see the sea grottos and railroad, and read that moment in history. and when you wander about you see the reality of a tightly guarded border protected by Israeli soldiers. Right there.. so close to you.. a border ... You start realizing bit by bit that though there is so much to see and do.. Israel is surrounded by borders tiny yet strong.. Bustling and busy .... You understand and feel so much more when you sit with a young Israeli soldier and for the first time in perfect English he opens up and tells you the horrors of the Lebanon war. He was in the reserves, and it was a few days before the war was going to end. He and two of his best friends were standing together, they were attacked by rockets, he knew his best friend was gone and he knew his other friend was gone, He could not help them. but he could help himself... He was standing there, with shrapnel in the side of his face and unaware he had shrapnel in his back, he goes for help, only to weather another attack where those helping the wounded from the first attack, are either injured or among the dead. He then decides he must save himself. so he and another young soldier cross the border on foot back to Israel. He collapses and nearly dies in the ambulance. After surgeries, and some counseling he is sent home. I saw a picture of him and his friends.. this young man was a beautiful boy in his early 20s, a glowing smile, Youth at its best. unaware that in short time he would lose those closes to him. Now, though still handsome.. that boyishness is gone..that youth has become unwillingly wise. unwillingly questioning why did he survive and why did his friends die? There were plans.. and dreams all in that youth. there were futures waiting .. children waiting to be created.. and all that was lost.. for nothing.. so when you look in those sweet eyes.. there is a sadness almost a haunted look. Those eyes say so much.. they hold only the pictures he knows.. he replays in his mind during quite times... he has those unanswerable questions.. he is struggling to make peace with it all.. he and I talked .. and talked... and we cried and I listened and understood what Israel means. Far more than just a imprint on a map.. Israel is vibrant and alive with so many souls just like this young man... I asked him , if God forbid, something else happened would he go back and fight again. he said.. I WILL GO . I will go. 3 very powerful words filled with his devotion for Israel and putting aside his personal grief for his country. This young man is related to Steve. We visited Steve's cousins near Safed, They had not seen their cousins in over 30 years .. it was some reunion and it was a blessed moment in my life to talk with this young man. His mother later said to me.. that he seldom talked about what happened let alone talk about it in English. My tears flowed freely because I felt I had been in the company of bravery I had never known. At this family's home as is common where they live, they have a bomb shelter built into the side of the house. Their neighbors house suffered rocket damage during the war. Yet life goes on. His mother who made aliyah over 30 years ago and settled in Israel shared with us .. when she was sending each one of her children to the army. She and her husband have 3 children. Each time she questioned what she had done. Putting her children in such danger, but it is what it is. and in Israel you do what you have to do. This is what is normal. Later that evening we went to a cemetery and prayed at a Tzadeks tomb, the men on one side and the woman on the other. This place is sacred to many and people come at all hours to pray here. the story goes that if you want to meet someone, or get married, or have children or if you just want to pray for a loved one this is where you come. The woman then go up on the roof and walk 7 times around the dome of the tomb. We did that. you would not believe all the scarves and trinkets left by those who had come before us. all tied on the railing that surrounded us.. all that lit our way was the moon light.. no flash lights. We then went and lit candles in this designated area. It was another sacred moment in this unique and wonderful place. When you see the Golan Heights and view the area from Mount Bental. When you see Tiberias and see Beit Alpha Synagogue and see the well preserved mosaic floor. When you see the dead sea and float in the dead sea you suddenly start feeling it. When you travel to Arava to Park Timna and view Solomons Pillars and the ancient copper mines... when you are in the heat of Elat you get it. When you cross the border back into Israel after visiting Petra , a calmness surrounds you yet again..... for your heart knows something your logic does not really understand yet... You have come back home... When you visit Ben Gurin Park and see Latrun and visit the Armoured Corps Museum and see the tanks and watch the films and learn the history it becomes even more clear.. When you visit small religous villages and see the devotion of prayer and see the mixture of the Hassidic and the mixture of the secular walk the streets getting ready for Purim. When the older jewish poor approach you for money. or the Hassidic ask for a donation for this or that. When they give a red thread with a trinket on the end to protect you.. you give them a few shekels in return.. you start knowing it. BUT not until you are immersed in the Old city and see the diversity of religions does it really sink in. I watched the people there.. on the surface you have to ask yourself why are those on the outside trying so hard to rip this apart.. these people seem to get along or at least tolerate each other.. but perhaps underneath they too simmer with resentment.. or just perhaps all they want is peace.. to raise their families do their work.. and live quiet lives ...in my eyes.. I only saw people living daily lives.. doing daily things.. In that , watching all of this around me.. I felt I had time traveled into a world that bubbled with modern energy yet clung to the old ways. We even visited the ultra orthodox neighborhood whose name slips me right now.. No one addressed us and they covered their faces when we walked by. All of us were dressed properly.. yet we were outsiders.. and really not welcomed there.. I understood how they felt.. after all we were the intruders in their neighborhoods.. What struck me there was I felt there was a lack of color.. Everything I saw was black or white or drab or grey .. faces were hidden.. except every now and then a curious glance from a child ..otherwise this area was very stark...Going back to the old city each corner yeilding a new surprise.. In the arab market some sights were not that pleasant ... Goat heads and brains come to mind.. yet turn a corner and the sweet smell of incense beckons you to explore even more... Vivid rich colors.. enticing smells....Winding through the jewish quarter was wonderful.. I wished we could have stayed even longer.Visiting the Western Wall..touching the wall both outside and touring the tunnels and praying on the inside.. Seeing the Kotel and the preperations for shabbat and then seeing it again the following weekday as bar mitzvah after bar mitvah takes place.. Seeing the joy and celebration of my heritage displayed in such vivid color. touring all the quarters.. learning about Christianity in a way I had never known.. understanding things more clearly. This woven tapestry of faith as you wander each quarter is alive and colorful. Even the arab market was fun. Everyone was friendly. I loved visiting the Machanheh Yehuda open air market on Shabbat you could hardly move for all the activity. I loved the Kotel. Seeing Yad Vashem.. no words are neccesary for that experience. Visitng the wonderful Menachem Begin Heritage center. It falls so clearly together. There can not be a world with out Israel. Israel is no longer a place on the map, a place we raise funds for.. Israel is a place in my heart.. and should be a place in all of our hearts. Not just by donation.. but by action and visiting and seeing.. and touching and smelling and tasting and learning.and finally knowing. It is truely a destination EVERYONE must see! Only then do you know Israel.. only then does it make sense. Israel, endless in its rich stories. Complicated and wrapped up in so many different faiths, each staking a claim to something far bigger than itself. Faith, Religion, Denominations of every caliber float around this country. Disagreeing, agreeing, battling, warring, fighting, dieing, all in the name of land and religion. I can tell you that Israel will always be Israel and will not be washed out to sea in the name of Allah or any other entity. For in Israel, this is where you come to be closer to God. One God.. not a God of war, or killing but a God of Peace.. Perhaps if outside forces believed this.. then those inside forces could actually make Shalom Alechiem and Salam Alekim . PEACE~Until the next great adventure... .