November 20, 1997
My Israeli Moment
I sat between two Harvard graduates on my trip to Israel aboard El Al flight No. 008. I was one of seven Jewish publication journalists brought to Israel by Histadrut's Israel Humanitarian Foundation (more about this trip in a later article). When I was warned by Israeli friends that the El Al experience would be unique, they never told me about being crushed between two Ivy League men on a midnight flight to Tel Aviv.
Daniel, class of '97, majored in political philosophy and was offered a plum job at a leading Wall Street investment firm. So what was he doing on his way to Israel to spend a year studying the Torah? And how was he going to be an observant Jew in a job that required employees work seven days a week?
My other seat mate, Avi, earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard and was returning to Israel after being on loan to UC Davis from Hebrew University. His field: making ecology profitable.
They were paving paths mined with serious problems, pioneers poised with strong beliefs in what they were doing, undaunted by the odds and the oddsmakers.
Daniel told me that he believed that the Torah was divine. I told him that I couldn't rule it out, but that something must be missing in my wiring because I've always had a hard time holding a belief 100 percent. I told him how my son, Jason, at age 4, asked our rabbi if God heard his prayers. Rabbi Arzt answered: "Well, we don't know if he doesn't." The kid just stood there, his green eyes wide-opened, and he didn't reply or ask that question again.
Daniel added that besides his Torah studies, he planned to read The Wall Street Journal every day. That Arab saying I love popped into my head: Trust in Allah but hold onto the reins of your horse.
We talked for hours. Afterward, both men slept soundly while I was wedged into a semi-conscious state, aware that my ankles were swelling while I ate twice as much as normal just to keep busy.
After the customary applause when the plane landed, we disembarked and were loaded onto a bus and taken to the reception area for passport inspection. In the line that I thought was going to move quickly (because a Catholic bishop was a few feet ahead of me), I met the Novicks, who were with a large delegation from Los Angeles. I learned all about their daughter, Nancy Fox, who's the real Mrs. Beasley of cake fame, and how much of an advance she got for her new cookbook, soon to come out from HarperCollins. In the course of the two hours I waited for having guessed wrong about the bishop, I began to experience what the Japanese, the French, the Italians all must take for granted in their homeland -- we are all one.
I go through this every time I visit Israel. The bus drivers, the street cleaners, the waitresses, the doctors, the police, the young soldiers, the security force -- they're all Jewish! Shocking. Maybe it's because I grew up in a neighborhood bordered by St. Gregory's the Great Roman Catholic Church and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. Maybe it's because I can still remember the names of the five Jewish kids in my public school. Or maybe it's because I'm not an Israeli but have come to expect what I call an Israeli moment -- an uncontrollable emotion that sweeps over me and captures me in a brief moment of supreme Jewishness. I never know when it will happen or what will cause it, because my experiences in Israel always teeter between the romance and the reality.
And, so, my Israeli moment: On Day 3, coincidentally the second anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's murder, our group visited the Supreme Court. We were allowed access to one of the courtrooms. A young attorney was addressing the three judges. There was no jury. One of the judges was questioning the attorney. I couldn't understand anything that was being said. And then I had my Israeli moment: I became supremely conscious of being Jewish.
I was sitting in a courtroom where Hebrew was spoken, where Israeli judges decided the fate of Israeli citizens, where Israeli attorneys pled their cases in an atmosphere run by the rule of Israeli law and where Israeli justice would be delivered in a dignified manner. Fifty-one years ago, none of this was a reality and the fate of the Jewish people was not in our own hands. My eyes filled up with tears. We are the people of the one God. And, now, in Israel, we are faced with the reality of whether or not we are one people.
Linda Feldman, a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is the co-author of the newly released "Where To Go From Here: Discovering Your Own Life's Wisdom" (Simon & Schuster).