Friday, September 28, 2012
Epilogue: So Long To Israel
August 23, 2012 (continued)
With only Americans left, we headed to the Young Judaea headquarters in Jerusalem to fill out questionnaires and discuss our travels. Everyone shared their favorite moment from the trip or the time when the experience of being in Israel resonated most with them. I was thrilled to hear my performance of "Floatin'" for and along with the group at the Bedouin campfire rated so highly as to be mentioned; however, the event discussed most was our brief but powerful meeting with Avraham, the Kabbalah artist from Detroit who moved to Tzfat in order to connect with the spiritual side of Judaism and participate in the building of a Jewish state. The message of peace, tolerance of different beliefs within and outside of the religion, and pilgrimage to Israel in honor of the thousands of years our families could not resonated strongly with nearly everyone in the group.
We then shared one last giant meal in Jerusalem, taking up a special room at a restaurant with a long table that comfortably accommodated the entire forty-four person group (including guides and chaperones) and seemed to echo the great spread of Da Vinci's "Last Supper." At first there were just dips and salads, then we were presented with laffa (big pita) to eat each of these with, followed by beans and rice, and finally long skewers of various meats. The meal was a bit overwhelming in scope, and by the time we were presented with a small dessert I felt my stomach couldn't handle anymore.
After dinner, we returned to the Mamilla Mall, a big pedestrian shopping street on the outskirts of the old city, which we'd previously walked on an empty Friday night following our shabbat service at the Wailing Wall. Coming back on a Thursday around 9, the street was bustling with mostly orthodox families spending the night dining and shopping before the sabbath, a fascinating social phenomenon. Up and down the avenue were street performers including a Hasidic puppeteer and puppet, an orthodox banjo player, and a full-fledge stage performance in the square at the center of the street where a rock-like band played Jewish folk music to a great crowd of viewers and dancers, who moved in much the same manner as my family on holidays—perhaps Ashkenazi origins?
We made our own contribution of sorts to the street show, organizing a group flash mob where we entered one of the more open sections of the street little by little, joining our designated solo performer in a rousing rendition of "the chicken dance." After about 2 minutes of holding court in the space and attracting a host of onlookers, we dispersed in random directions. It was one last fun bonding experience as we counted down the hours and minutes until the trip's conclusion.
As the hour approached 11, we made our way to the Western Wall for a third and final time to participate in our last programmed activity: a tour through the tunnels along the wall to see remnants of the city's former self. Unfortunately, everybody had been up for some 19 hours—on at most 5 hours sleep—by that point, and the time was marked by people grabbing at walls for support, falling asleep on stairs, and laughing inappropriately loudly, disrupting any sliver of a chance there would have been at focusing on our Scottish tour guide. It would have been a terrific activity on another occasion, but the guide's voice got lost in the space among such a large group and we did not have any level of concentration left to devote to what he was saying. Everyone wanted to sleep after a very long day at the conclusion of a fortnight jam-packed with activities. Our program had been winding down all day after the climb of Masada, but this final event reversed that trend, and we weren't able handle it.
For the final time, Team Shlomo boarded the bus, departing to the airport entirely spent. One by one we parted ways, as relatives picked up a member or two at the airport drop-off. Others left on their own to continue their adventures in Israel: some for a few days, others for a few months. Our tour guide, Einat, so beloved by our group, made her final goodbyes with each one of us, and the remaining two-thirds of the group filed through security to the departure gate, where we'd be returned to New York, and then for some, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, New Orleans, Houston, Boston, Washington, and parts in between.
We spent a magical time together, exploring the roots of our culture, discovering the nation it has birthed today, wandering its terrain, pondering its neighbors, and relating with one another, the rising generation of Jewish adults in both America and Israel.
The morning I left Florence after four months of study and life in Europe, I wrote the following lyric:
I may be in Europe forever at heart,
But it won't be the same now that we're all apart.
All I have left is a memory…
Now that we're on our own again.
Oh where did you go my Florentine friends?
I wasn't yet ready to say goodbye,
And though it's not over it feels like the end:
The close to this chapter of our lives.
Those words came back to me the last few days in Israel as the trip came to a close. The message endured even if the context did not. Some of us remain in Israel. Many will return later. Most will keep in some sort of contact with people from the trip, be it in person or over the internet, but the moment, with all of us together, in Israel, at that point in time was over. Tensions that may have flickered in the group surely would have grown to raging fires with time, and while it is perhaps best we ended at a high point of bonding with one another and the nation of Israel, it was nonetheless a somber moment as we bid each other adieu. We will carry forth with us memories from the journey, and new ones will be facilitated by the bonds created on the trip. No doubt these ten days changed us all in some way, big or small, and now it is a matter of seeing how this will effect our individual paths as we each move into the future.