Why I Come Back To Israel

Despite the spiritual jet lag of being a foreigner here, despite my deep-bellied moans of “I don’t want to go back”, I do, always and inevitably, return to this strange land – and thank my lucky stars for it too.

When I ponder why and from whence comes such plucky resilience the core images that come up for me are always the same. It is 1993. I’m 19 and I have just landed in Israel for the summer. I am the Jewish Outreach Rabbi’s dream girl. Open, spiritual, impressionable. Wandering around dreamy-eyed at the Western Wall Plaza.

I caught the attention of one Rabbi Meyer Shuster, of most blessed memory. An awkward lanky holy gangsta for God. He approached me as if he was a drug-dealer and in this sort of hunched-over mysterious style, said, ‘Nu, where are you for Shabbas?” I didn’t even know what he was saying. It was like he was speaking a different language. I looked at him blankly…He repeated, ‘Nu, where are you for Shabas?”…“Nowhere, where should I be?” He peered into my eyes and said, “YOU should be in Shabbas….Walk this way….”

He escorted me up to the Heritage House…a life-changing little Old City Outreach establishment with a standing offer of a free bed, free meals and free Torah classes.

And thus transpired the first full-on law-keeping mind-blowing Israel-enriched Shabbas of my life. Rabbi Shushter was right, I needed to be ‘in shabbas’. I prayed at the Wall. I went to the Friday night meal with a Hassidic family in Mei Shaarim.  I was floating in a Chagall painting where angel-faced people sat around ornate tables and sang, and actually talked – out loud – about God and spiritual experiences. The schmaltz had hit the fan. I was knee-deep in Shabbas schmaltz and loving in!

And I was not alone. There was a whole rag-tag band of us American stow-away souls with dread locks and mohawks…with yoga mats and cowboy hats…with discreet tattoos and nothing to loose…ready to up and lift the top off of our hither-to existence to erupt onto the streets of Yerushalayim! High as a l’chaim!

Totally turned on by the Israeli dream.

*The Live Tree – SpokenWord Snapshot of 1993

So this is what it means to be a Jew –Who knew?!
Who knew that Judaism was ancient and yet progressive
mystical, intellectual and impressive
grounded yet elevating paradoxical and penetrating.

Suddenly I am plumbing depths and thumbing through texts
that have been thumbed and plumbed
for generations past and more to come.

Living the return of Judah’s long lost children – so far gone, so far hidden.
Now come home to the old books of OUR OWN venerable tradition!

Ready and willing to kiss these white stones – and make a home
in Yerushalayim’s now-revived dry bones.

Clamoring with higher calling
cleaving to deeper meaning
shining with persistence
and a 3000 year-old commitment

Commitment to the Torah, to something more
than the mores & norms of the Western world
with her hordes of the immoral and the impure.

Committed to something more than a Manhattan latte
and a pumped-up paycheck to “provide for the family”
that may smile wide for the cameras
but weeps inside, for their bankrupt neshamas.

Famished for a richer truth
than the loose change of material gain
famished for the fresh fruit of the living tree
of Jerusalem with leaves of flames!

And so I paced myself with the stealth
of a leopard on the chase of the truth
which darts like a gazelle
through these hills of Yehuda
and tomes of Gemara
I have come to know so well.

With a fire hotter than a 1000 degrees
from the cool Ivy League.
My ivy climbs the Western Wall
– a beanstalk tall to which I cleave.

We have returned to these streets
to breathe these books
to dream these dreams.

If Torah is a tree of life
then I would gladly change my life,
that I may sit amongst her leaves and read…

I had tasted the taste of Shabbas in the land that God promised

– and I would simply never leave.