With the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, I can’t help but think back to my first, and what has so far been my only, trip to Israel 10 years ago.
Frankly, it was the last place I wanted to go that summer. My hope was to head for Alaska and spend several weeks camping in Denali. So the idea of flying with several hundred members of my sister’s congregration to the Middle East in June and riding on tour buses around the desert left a bit to be desired.
Then my father got sick.
It was his first bout with Cancer and turned out to be the warning shot across our collective bow for what would come six years later. The fact that we found out about this tumor at all was a matter of chance. My father was having surgery to remove an irritated gland from his neck. A simple procedure, and so when he went in for his preparatory chest x-ray we didn’t think much of it.
Until the doctor called and said there was a large mass in the lower lobe of his left lung. Further tests showed that it was malignant.
That happened on December 9, 1994.
The plan was to wait until my father had recuperated a bit from his neck surgery and then immediate send him back under the knife to have the tumor removed.
That happened in February 1995.
In March my sister asked me again if I wanted to go on the trip to Israel.
This time I said yes.
To put it simply – this trip transformed my life. It wasn’t the soul shaking experience I had upon touching the Western Wall. It wasn’t the incredible sense of connection to the millenia of history. It was the sense of place I found within my family, and within the larger group that is the Jewish people.
Each day I found myself more and more engaged with this phenomenal country. This place that’s hardly more than a fraction of a sliver of land carved out in the midst of far larger nations. (Many of which, by the way, would be quite happy if Israel were to cease to exist altogether.)
Towards the end of our trip we journeyed to Yad Vashem – the Holocaust memorial. Gut wrenching. Horrifying. Infuriating. Perhaps most of all, inspiring.
Families massacred, entire towns expunged from the map, every thread of the Jewish culture and social fabric shredded – and yet the Jews survived this ordeal and today remain a steadfast people.
We stand steady in the face of adversity. We stand together in maintaining the history and heritage of more than 5,000 years. There are times when outside forces may snap us from the base, leaving us ragged, exposed and vulnerable but as long as we remember who we are, and never lose sight of the connection that brings us all together, those open wounds can heal, and we can continue to thrive.
Memorial at the entry of Yad Vashem