Shma Yisrael

For all the words that I’ve collected over the years, no cache of diction can offer a truer insight into the nature of this place other than it is very real.

Here, even the banalities that come standard in any quotidian seem to carry profound connotations beyond their immediate significance. In truth, I’ve found that merely standing on Israeli soil seems to in and of itself offer some weighty statement.

This place is laden with so much hope and redemption, and yet there seems to be a soldier shouldering an uzi for every square foot of land. For a peace-philic person, the acceptance of a very visible and necessary military presence can be jarring at first. Though like all things, it becomes familiar after a while — even comforting.

In my time in Israel I’ve come to understand that though in the US we talk about fighting for freedom all the time, very few of us have the vaguest idea of what that actually means — of what that actually looks like.

Without doubt, it takes only a few “normal” days here to realize that there’s some ineffable aspect to this land that is very charged — and so addictingly worthwhile.

In a correspondence with a former professor, a man whose stoic personality is slighted only by an occasional elvish smile, I was offered a reflection I’ve been carrying with me ever since. He wrote of Israel that

“everything seems played in a higher key of intensity an meaningfulness.”

If you’ve never been here before, it’s hard to explain exactly what he meant by that statement. My understanding comes with the ability to say: I stood on Mt. Bental and heard the rock fire in Syria; I didn’t feel afraid, I felt free. That’s my “higher key.”

Even for all of the propaganda, dissent, and conflicting opinions regarding what Israel is –Israel the political entity, the state, the complicated democracy, the military power — the ideals for which Israel stands are truly extraordinary. That is undeniable.

It’s the embodiment of a living dream, and that has a tremendous amount of beauty. This doesn’t always make the dichotomy of state and ideal any easier to stomach, though it helps. Ideas and actions: they’re not always the most compatible.

Even for all of the ideological snafus, it’s important to remember that complicated places often lend themselves to simple joys, and that is something that I’ve really loved here. Of course, there’s the unadulterated bliss in eating a fresh fig from Eretz Yisrael, dancing carelessly in a Ben Gurion terminal with a new oleh (immigrant), or wandering through tangled streets to find a shul simply because the singing is rumored to be wonderful.

Nevertheless, I am one for the profound, so where I most revel is in the lightness and terror of all of this newness, the finding of friendship with individuals in jarringly transitional phases, the marvelous misgivings of independent travel, and the curious act of pressing one’s forehead against the Kotel and feeling an unambiguous sense of vastness.

There are so many stories and beginnings to address, though I think for now I’ll end with words of Neruda that have been spinning through my mind since I first set foot in this place:

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this…”



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