"where everyone knows your name..."

After looking through my recent blog posts, I realized that I haven't written about one of the most important parts of this trip...just being in Israel.

When I was younger, all I wanted to do was come here.  When I am here, I never want to leave.  And when I leave, all I want to do is come back. This ongoing trend has brought me to this country five times now, each time for a different purpose, different program and a different experience.

While I'm here, it comes easily to find family in a group of strangers, find home in unfamiliar settings and find comfort in the fact that one of the greatest things about this country is that through all of her trials, tribulations and successes, it still stands strong.  And I love feeling like I am a part of it all. 

What I appreciate about this trip is that in between all of the organized programming and planned meetings, we are given a great deal of freedom to experience and navigate everything this country has to offer - everything that I have come to love.  In between it all, I find myself enjoying dinners with my host family up the street, planning dinner parties for the garin/FBN community, sitting at a cafĂ© with an ice-coffee in hand making plans to go to Shabbat dinner at our waiter’s house, juggling barbecues in a different city with wine making get-togethers in Gedera and visiting my family/friends around the country during the weekends. 

Even during the toughest of days, I look around and remind myself of where I am and why I am here. Many times, putting things back in perspective can help turn those tough days into beautiful ones.

Speaking of beautiful days and what Israel means to Jews around the world, last week the Yahelniks went to Jerusalem for the day to celebrate Sigd, the annual Ethiopian-Jewish festival commemorating the acceptance of the Torah and revelation of Mt. Sinai.  When Ethiopian-Jews celebrated this holiday in Ethiopia, it was a time for reflection on reaching the ultimate goal of living in Jerusalem.

Now that all of the Ethiopian Jews have made Aliyah (moved to Israel), this holiday has taken on a new meaning, especially after it became an official national holiday in 2008.  Some use the holiday for introspection and soul searching on what it is to be in Israel, while others may pray for the return of the Jerusalem of their dreams.

As thousands upon thousands of Ethiopian-Jews gather on a promenade overlooking Jerusalem, the Kesim (Ethiopian rabbis/spiritual leaders) lead them in Amharic prayers and blessings.  It has become a place where the large majority of the 120,000 Ethiopian Jews who live in Israel come together and stand as one.
As my friend Annie and I walked around and said our “Salaams” and our “Chag Sigd Sameachs,” I began talking to a woman, who between the triple language barrier, we spoke about how special this holiday is for her, her family and the Ethiopian community as a whole.   

Although Annie and I stuck out like sore thumbs through the masses of Ethiopian Jews, we could see the the strong appreciation and respect in this woman’s eyes when she recognized our sincere interest in her holiday.  I felt so connected. 

I love it here, really more than words can say.  From the northern mountains of the Golan Heights to the most southern tip of Eilat, I feel at home and that, my friend, is why Israel holds such a special place in my heart.  

1 comment:

  1. I am profoundly moved by your stories Rachel. Thank you for sharing.