Today I'm traveling with my family to Israel, my children's first trip ever to the home of the Jewish people. It is also my first trip in some sixteen years.
I'm embarrassed by how long it has taken me to return, for it is a place that is so important to me. Any length of time spent away seems like it must be a mistake.
I often remind American Jews that Israel is a real place, not the make-believe land that they sometimes imagine. It is neither the dangerous place of unending warfare they see on television, nor is it the place where people sleepwalk in constant reverie of their prophetic ancestors. Israel has more than its share of problems, to be sure, but it is a place like any other—complete with traffic congestion, petty crime, and painful disparities between rich and poor. It may be a land founded on a dream, but its present realities can be rather mundane.
Except for this…Israel just happens to be our place, the place of our people. It's the place where the Jewish heart lies and where our identity as a people began. It is where we discover what it means to create a truly Jewish society and the real-world challenges of living up to Jewish values. By pulling Judaism into the world of the here-and-now, Israel forces Judaism to reach even higher to realize its dreams.
I recognize that I, too, am not immune to the bug of creating an Israel of the imagination. Traveling by way of the lofty sky, I realize that I also dream my Israel fictions. I keep thinking about wanting to relive experiences from my first year of rabbinic school in Israel. I think about showing my children those special places and watching them discover them to be their own. Such thoughts along the journey are for clouds. I'd like to arrive on the ground at some point upon reaching my destination.
I'll do the best I can to keep a journal of my trip on this blog. I want to share with you both Israels— the timeless dream and the gritty reality. Really loving Israel, I think, means staying true to both. The Jewish people and the Land of Israel are, I think, like an old couple who love each other deeply through the memory of the days when love was new, and who love each other even more deeply when they see each other for who they are now. That is how I want to teach my children to love Israel.