This week marks the halfway point in my family’s ten-month stay here in Israel. And I’ve been asked several times what is the most memorable moment so far. So here it is…
My wife Blair and I had the pleasure of having both of our parents’ visits overlap for one week. On the Friday morning of that week, all eight of us (Blair and me, our two children and our two sets of parents) all went to the Kotel (the Western Wall) before Shabbat. Visiting the Kotel is always a momentous occasion for our parents, as well as all visitors to Israel.
Our parents were reserved and in awe of the Kotel. Then, our parents were surprised to see that our kids ran into the Kotel pavilion and began to play tag with one another. Our kids were casual and enjoying themselves. And it was at that moment that the reality hit me—Our kids live here. Our kids (ages 4 and 2) do not view the Kotel as a once in a lifetime opportunity. We go so often, our kids see the Kotel as part of their Shabbat experience here in Jerusalem.
I looked at them and smiled. For two thousand years, Jews yearned and prayed to touch the Kotel. For most of that time for Jews, it was only a dream. Now my kids laughed in front of it, the laughter of Jewish souls blissfully playing by the Holy of Holies. And two thousand years of generations of Jews looked down and smiled.
My two children have taught me the most important Zionist lesson of my life: Jerusalem (and Israel) can not be treated as a museum. Israel must be a place where people live and love and laugh. Hebrew must not be a language reserved for a scroll that is read several times a week, it must be spoken on the streets and in cafes and in the Knesset (Hebrew word for the Israeli Parliament). Israel cannot be a museum. Israel must be a reality.
For most American Jewish tourists in Israel, this is a difficult concept to comprehend because Israel is the realization of all of the stories we learned growing up in school. Israel has the City of David, Masada, the Dead Sea, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and much more. But today’s Israel also has artists and musicians and children. It’s those Israeli artists who continue the tradition of Joseph’s multicolor coat. And it’s those musicians who continue the tradition of King David’s harp. And it’s those children who guarantee the entire Jewish tradition.
I understand that Israel can be read about and studied. Israeli policies can be argued and debated. But in the end, Israel must be lived. Israel is a reality. And it’s a different reality for my kids than it is for my parents. And it’s a different reality for my kids than it is for me and my wife. And it should be.
I pray that in your lifetime that you may be able to experience the reality of Israel. Walk the streets during Shabbat, eat the food in Machane Yehuda, listen to the music on the Rakevet and dance after Yom Kippur. Israel is the unapologetic reality that Judaism lives in the world today—in many ways and shapes and sizes. And Israel is never going away.
It’s not enough to love Israel. You must take the next step and live Israel. Join my two Zionist teachers and play tag in front of the Kotel. They’d love for you to join them.