Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Roller Coasters

6 May

Over the last two days the State of Israel has endured, as it does annually, a roller coaster of emotion. Setting aside an entire day to mourn, recall, and reflect on the sacrifices on which The State stands. Followed immediately by unparalleled revelry and celebrations of survival and appreciation of the independence of a vibrant and thriving Israel is never easy, but always meaningful. This particular cycle was especially powerful personally, as it was my first while serving in the army. The Nahal brigade has been adopted by the City of Jerusalem, and as such we were selected to participate in a number of ceremonies throughout the city.

I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to be in the honor guard in three ceremonies. We drilled all day Sunday in the heat, practicing maneuvers that would become part of the ceremony that evening and the next day. Late in the afternoon, the mood began to shift as the sun neared the horizon. Despite the personal discomfort from the repeated rehearsals, I began to recognize that the role that I was playing in the ceremony was extremely important to the community members who would be attending. Finally we marched in and assumed our positions. Seconds before the siren, we stood at attention. With the first wail of the siren, those assembled instantly mirrored us, standing at attention. From that point on, I stopped attempting to maintain a steely stare, and began looking at faces. Each set of eyes stared back, sharing pain and appreciation for the other. As the ceremony progressed and my knees grew weaker, I noticed the children. As I gazed out over them, all I could hope was that they would never have to stand where I was standing. Tears

Two more ceremonies on Monday. The first was the Jerusalem municipal ceremony next to city hall. Standing on the stage behind Mayor Barkat looking out at the large plaza, assembled soldiers with whom I serve, and Israeli flags flying at half mast, I was overcome with emotion. The Army cantor intoned the memorial prayer and tears flowed from my eyes. As he reached the words, “soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces,” a chill went down my spine. Wrapped in my own thoughts, I maintained a stoic face even as those tears continued. What was I doing there? An immigrant, a soldier without immediate family in the country, knowingly putting myself in danger for a state where I was not born. Honoring the sacrifice of the soldiers before me whose lives were lain upon the alter of the State of Israel, whose lives allow me to live in a thriving Israel, that is what I was doing. The final ceremony was significantly smaller, and equally more personal. Once concluded a woman approached us, asked us to keep her safe, and to tell us that she is praying for our safe return to our families. Tears.

I concluded the day with a trip to Har Herzl, the military cemetery in Jerusalem. Despite the heat, I rolled down my sleeves and put on my beret. I knew that I needed this experience for me, I had helped others in honoring the fallen, and I needed to do the same. As I passed grave after grave, I read names, ages, places of birth and death. Each one became extremely personal. Each soldier has a story, a family, a personality, he is not just a headstone with a name and an army identification number.  All of the young men with whom I serve have a story, a family, and a personality, they are much more than an army identification number, how would I, if necessary memorialized them? I then began to consider how I would want to be remembered should something, God forbid, happen to me. What stories would I want told? Who would tell them? Tears.

Last evening, after returning from Har Herzl and removing my uniform, I attended a celebratory t’fillat arvit (evening service) before taking to the streets of Jerusalem. A day of delicious food, friends, and relaxation was the prefect way to celebrate. Thus concludes this forty-eight hour roller coaster ride. The sheer contrast of emotions leads me, and I imagine greater Israel, to appreciate the State, the price necessary for it to exist, as well as the effort needed to make it perfect.


Back in Israel

30 Aug

900Arrived late this morning in Tel Aviv, went quickly through the citizens line at the airport for the first time when entering Israel, sort of a re-aliyah moment. Anyway, no trip from the airport is complete without a Nesher (shared van/taxi) to take 8-10 passengers to their final destinations. Drivers of the Nesher are often gruff, scruffy, with a deep smoker’s voice, and of dubious repute when it comes to handling the vehicle.

Before we are off the airport grounds, the driver (not wearing a kippah), whose name I later discovered was Levi, is already on his cell phone. Correction, he is yelling at person on the other end. Conversation concluded, the passenger(wearing a kippah) next to me comments to Levi that he must love driving back and forth all day between the airport and Jerusalem because of the beauty of the land. The two begin trading verses from all over the Bible. When one man cant finish the rest of a verse, the other one finishes it, but with the volume meter continually rising.

We then move on to politics. At this point, I have been listening to the conversation, which is in Hebrew, and been able to follow, I was afraid I would lose them once the topic shifted. Thankfully, I was able to hang in there with them, not daring to participate, but listening attentively. Both of them like the Prime Minister Netanyahu, but for different reasons, economic, political, security, etc… Levi begins to explain his position, but before he starts he warns the passenger not to interrupt. Guess what, the passenger interrupted. Levi’s response, “Ay, let me finish.” This was repeated a few times until Levi had driven home his points. The passenger then began, but Levi jumps in with an emphatic, “And one more thing!” I could hardly contain my laughter.

Levi also gave us recipes for Shabbat, new ways to use the Shabbat food warmer, told us that he doesn’t go outside in the winter, and tips on how to avoid Friday traffic all over Israel.

At some later stage, Levi reaches for his water, which means taking his eyes off the road for what seemed like five minutes. Taking a swig, he says, “This is the only good thing that the Arabs have taught me.” He had wrapped his bottle in newspaper, and covered it with a plastic bag. “Why pay 300 shekel” he says “for a thermos, when I can make this myself! I filled it at dawn, and I still have cold water!” He then offers his name and phone number to anybody who would like it. Why? He says, “For help, for restaurant recommendations, for reservations, for a driver, anything you want.” With that we were all dropped off at our respective destinations.

Back in Israel. Where else does this happen?

Shabbat shalom.