I am now back in Haifa looking back on the events of the last few weeks. I’ll be going back to Jerusalem from here where I’ll be based for the rest of this visit to Israel.
Last week, in Tel Aviv, I had a meeting to discuss ways of bringing the Canadian co-op model here. That meeting promises to lead to other meetings before I go. Tel Aviv is far different than Jerusalem, Haifa or Hebron; it feels more European or Quebec than the other places I’ve visited.
Yet Tel Aviv, like every other place I’ve been in Israel, felt like home. And I still don’t understand this. The land is strange; the language different; there are tensions all around. And yet this is home. It is home in a shul where every word I hear is Hebrew and at a store where the clerk asks if I’m entitled to the seniors’ discount and on a walking tour of a divided city and in an upper floor apartment overlooking a busy street.
It is a place where public tears come.
Standing at the Kotel (Western Wall) feeling it is a place that reaches out to me, drawing me in to my spiritual home I cry. The divine presence welcomes me in a way I’ve not experienced before; like the feeling I once had in celebrating the Eucharist but one without a sacrificial essence. My place in creation somehow is linked to this place and to the millions who have mourned and rejoiced in being close to something immanent and transcendent. I felt I was in a sacred place when I visited the Wall while I was a Christian priest. It feels now that I am in my sacred place, a place where as a Jew I am fully welcome. Tears flow here.
Standing in a rebuilt shul in Hebron, one destroyed in anti-Jewish riots in 1929, and touching the Torah scrolls that were saved during the attack and are not only in the Torah Ark but used regularly. These are the words presented to me at Mount Sinai. I get to touch these centuries old scrolls and tears flow.
I see signs of hope at times. I saw a mixed group of Arab and Jewish school children (distinguishable by their head coverings) laughing together while waiting to get on a bus. I stood in line at a coffee shop where Muslims, Jews and Tourists shared the space and waited patiently for their latte or Cappachino while the clerks shifted from Arabic to Hebrew to English.
In Hebron, I talked to a Palestinian woman who showed pictures of flooding of her store last year. She claimed that the flooding occurred on both sides of the divide and it was only stupid men on both sides that prevented solving the common problem. For her, if they could solve the common problems they could then start working on overcoming differences with some hope of success.
I see signs of despair at times. Having to show bags and go through metal detectors to enter a shopping mall; having to have my luggage go through an x-ray machine to take an inter-urban train; people sleeping rough; empty buildings in a place with an affordable housing crisis—lots of signs of the fear of terrorism and lots of signs of poverty and stress.
There is an odd openness in many places and inward looking tensions in others. Acre and Hebron are divided cities in different ways—Hebron due to rules and regulations; Acre due to tradition and distrust. Tel Aviv and Haifa are places where there are tensions but also openness. Jerusalem seems a place of surface openness and fear lurking just under the surface.
Unusual for me, I do spend time in coffee shops just drinking a latte or other caffeinated beverage, and listening to people. One overhears odd conversations. I heard a group of U.S. Republican supporters feeling betrayed by the appointment of an anti-Semite to Trump’s transition team and a group of U.S. Democratic Party supporters feeling betrayed at the effort to appoint an anti-Semite as the head of the Democratic National Committee.
I did video audition in Yiddish (I haven’t heard back yet if I got the part). It was an odd experience. I auditioned for a part in a film where I would play the head of a Yeshiva in Quebec in the post-war period faced with an ethical dilemma. I don’t know the language or culture but I do think I would do a credible job with the role.
The human politics around the wall distress me; humans should not be putting barriers between the sacred and people. I don’t understand why there is so much tension arising over a 3rd section at the Wall. I hear the arguments and appeals to both tradition and inclusivity but don’t get them.
It is a small thing, but I was delighted when I finally made sense of the currency and could pay the exact amount at a check-out. I don’t know the language but I have learned one of the expectations of living here.
I only have about 2 weeks left in Israel (I leave for Toronto on the 1st). While I am greatly looking forward to being with my family again, I am already trying to figure out the practicalities of coming back to Israel. This is home.