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Tearing Down A Wall And Seeing Israel

July 15, 2008
 
This summer, I traveled as a member of an interfaith couples group to Israel. I was raised Catholic and rejected organized religion as a adolescent. My husband, who is Jewish, had visited Israel several times prior to our trip together. When I told people that I would be traveling to Israel they told me that I would be moved, that I would be changed by the experience. I shrugged off their suggestions and said that I was looking forward to experiencing first hand the rich history and unique physical beauty of the county.
 

When we landed in Tel Aviv, Amnon the tour group director greeted us by welcoming us home, I bristled, thinking "I do not agree with the politics of this country and this is not my home." On the second day, my jet lag lifted and my resistance began to break down.

The presenter at the Israeli Independence Hall was an articulate, thoughtful man who introduced some of the complexity people discussing Israeli politics in the States often neglect. He recognized that the creation of Israel as a state displaced Palestinians and that the individual Palestinian is not a villain. I was softened by the speaker's sensitivity and encouraged by the open and balanced presentation. In this context, and in this location, I heard a quotation from Golda Meir. I heard that she cried, and could not stop crying, for her children and the six million they were too late for. I had understood on an intellectual level the need for the state of Israel, but for the first time, in this bunker, I connected with Israel on an emotional level. It was the first of many times on the trip that I fought back tears in response to the profoundly moving experience.

couple on camel
Tasha and her husband on a camel in Israel.

Many of the sites and experiences blur in my mind, but some stand out. When I was actually standing on the Golan Heights I could see that Israel "just giving it back" is not that simple. Walking by a bomb shelter on the kibbutz, and later learning that members of the Israeli Army, the same teenagers we saw strolling through the country with rifles on their backs, had died because they didn't make it to the shelter on time, I felt that it was not that simple.

But then, there were the hopeful moments. In Haifa, outside the Baha'i Gardens, Muslim schoolchildren greeted us with exuberant cries of shalom. In Jerusalem, when we asked a Muslim man for directions, he left his bus stop and personally walked us to our destination. It's not that simple, but to the individuals focused on living their lives and supporting their families, it's not that hard either.

Our tour guide Rafi's openness to independent thought and political discourse tore down the final wall between me and Israel. Despite the uproar Jimmy Carter's recent book and dialogue with Hamas have caused in the United States, Rafi is unconcerned with people using the apartheid label to describe Israel's dealings with the Palestinians. He dismisses it as "just a word," and says that people can call it what they want. He is more concerned with solutions. He asserts that while the wall has been effective against suicide bombing, 40 percent of Israelis disagree with the construction. He argues that 60 percent of Israelis would concede land to achieve peace and to keep their sons and daughters home from the Army. I learned from Rafi that, just as I cannot be held accountable for the actions of George Bush, Israelis are not responsible for, and often do not support, the actions of Ehud Olmert.

On a less political and more personal level, perhaps the most transformative experience came from watching my husband negotiate his way through the country, speaking and reading the Hebrew he learned in Jewish day school. I have always told him that I want our future children to go to public school--after all I am a public school teacher and a liberal Democrat. Being in Israel, I felt the certainty of this decision slipping away. I want our children to have what my husband has, this strong connection through language to Judaism and Israel. I want to give them the same opportunity that he has had--to actually read from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

At the airport at the end of our journey, as I hugged Rafi, I felt as though I was leaving my extended family, leaving my home. It is amazing to me how much was packed into our itinerary and how much I have grown and changed in such a short time. I am carrying this momentum with me back to Atlanta. For the first time in, I am embarrassed to admit how long, we went to Shabbat services. It just seemed right after being in Jerusalem for our last Shabbat. We spent much of Sunday at Chosen Treasures, a local Judaica store, where I purchased a transliterated Siddur so that I can follow along at services next Friday. I am also struggling through The Aleph Bet Story, attempting to learn Hebrew. I am determined to read and speak some basic Hebrew when we return "home." I want to thank everyone who made this amazing, life-changing trip possible for not only myself, but for the opportunities that it will afford our future children.

For more about Tasha's trip, see an article by the trip's organizers, Steven Chervin and Mitch Cohen, A Trip to Israel For Interfaith Couples.

The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "prayer book," the plural is "siddurim."
Tasha Biron

Tasha Biron is a third grade public school teacher in the Atlanta area.

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