I’ve just returned from 10 days co-leading a trip to Israel, and marveling at how the past, present and future collide. The modern State of Israel is only 71 years old, a blink of an eye considering the land’s thousands of years of history. Until 1948, the Jews of the world had no homeland, no safe haven, and weren’t the collective masters of their own fate. The creation of modern-day Israel solved that issue, but not without challenges; wars, terrorist attacks, economic difficulties and divisiveness within the various sectors of the Jewish community, to name a few.
Like people, nations grow, change and adapt. When I first visited Israel with USY Pilgrimage in 1975, I saw armed soldiers everywhere, often in groups on the street corners. There was no light rail running up and down Jaffa Road, and in many areas, archaeological excavations were just beginning. We recited Tefillat haDerekh (the traveler’s prayer) whenever our bus went around a mountain curve, and barely any cars were on the streets on Shabbat.
Fast forward 37 years, to December 2012, my first trip back. What a difference, seeing the land and country through adult eyes, and with my husband as opposed to 40+ other teenagers. Israel had emerged as a leader in the high-tech sector, and her economy was no longer dependent on agricultural exports. Museums had been created and opened, and more ancient archaeological sites (one of my favorite parts) had been discovered and have been enhancing our knowledge of the history and people who lived there.
This time, I went as a rabbi, co-leading the trip with a friend and colleague who had previously spent 20 years living in Israel. Our guide was an American who had made aliya and raised her six children in Jerusalem. As you might expect, the changes in seven years weren’t quite as dramatic, but still, much was new. Ir (the City of) David boasted a new gift and snack shop, and lots of wooden “boardwalks” made it easier to walk around. The Taglit Birthright Innovation Center showcased the myriad startup companies improving the quality of life for millions of people individually and in community.
Especially meaningful to me was seeing Israel through the eyes of people who were there for the first time; their wonder and amazement, their questions and curiosity. It reminded me of my parents, of blessed memory, when they became grandparents. I’d watch them with my kids at the zoo or a museum, and it was hard to tell who was having more fun.
As Israel has grown and developed as a country, I have grown as a person. What the State and people of Israel have accomplished in 71 short years gives me hope that when I reach that age, I will be able to look back on my growth and accomplishments, enjoy a fulfilling life in the present, and look forward to a long future that includes a few more trips to Israel.