A crumpled up map of the city of Jerusalem. Our route from the hotel to the Tachana Rishona (First Train Station) highlighted. We overshot the Windmill by about 40 steep stairs and two kilometers – and by we, I mean me – and ended up not at all very near the Train Station. Jerusalem is a complicated city to get to know, especially for a grid-lovin’ San Francisco girl like me! The night was young, and we followed our ears to the music and laughter wafting toward us on the dark, warm wind.
A ticket from the Israel Museum. If you return within three months and present the ticket from your last visit, your entry is free. I’m keeping that ticket. You never know. And their exhibits are amazing. We climbed up, down, into, around, and on top of 10,000 bamboo poles (which look as fragile as a heap of twigs) held together by nothing more than 80,000 meters of climbing rope. Big Bambu. Bigger family bonding. Amazing.
A black and red card for my favorite falafel place in Jaffa. A guide to the tunnels under the Western Wall. A pinkly pale and gray shell I found on the beach in Herzliya. The smudged, damp and crinkled remnants of our adventures gently spill out of my new, turquoise made-in-Israel bag like the fine grains of Dead Sea salt that scattered on the bathroom floor from my bathing suit this evening.
It’s almost over. And I wish it wasn’t.
Don’t be sad it’s over, I tell myself as we traipse around the market, hug my brother goodbye, watch the video montage at my son’s bar mitzvah party. Be glad it happened.
We celebrated a bar mitzvah. At the Western Wall. With more family and friends than I knew we had in Israel. We watched our kids play and love and laugh with cousins they had never met. In Hebrew they had never spoken. We went north to the Kinneret, south to the Dead Sea, rode camels, picked onions, shopped like locals, and drove like them too (it’s all about who honks first)! We ate and drank with friends from today and long ago, reconnected with family on the beach, in restaurants, the Kibbutz, their homes. They opened their arms and their hearts so big and so wide, and held the six of us closer and tighter than ever.
And we heard sirens. And found ourselves in bomb shelters. At any time of the day or night, and anywhere. We pulled the car over but didn’t know to get out. We sheltered in restaurant kitchens, protected rooms, hotel ballrooms. We heard the frightening booms of Iron Dome interceptions and saw the smoke trails in the sky when we went back outside. My cousin found a piece of shrapnel near his house.
That too appears to be over. Sixty-four beautiful lives lost in battle, thousands of children in Israel and Gaza terrified, confused, injured and worse. Six hundred tunnels destroyed. Thank G-d. The war feels like it’s over, this cease-fire has held, but anything can happen tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year.
We were questioned and blessed and thanked and hugged for being here during a war. For celebrating a bar mitzvah here during a war. A wonderfully loud and bossy woman grabbed my son in the line at Mini Israel and kissed him forcefully on the cheeks when she heard our traveling story. My boy is not a kisser. He is not a hugger. He offers me the top of his head – not even his cheek – when he says goodnight. But he hugged this stranger right back. “That you will have many blessings,” she said over and over.
I don’t want to leave. I feel closer to Israel than ever. But it’s almost over, our vacation. I laugh with the kids as they delightedly smear mud on their bodies at the lowest point on earth, and I feel low. And sad. Be glad it happened, I whisper as my eyes well. But I can’t wipe them because my hands are full of mineral-rich mud.
I am glad it happened. Not the war, of course not the war. But everything else. My children are unfazed by rockets and screaming sirens. They understand more about their heritage and their people than I wanted them to learn right now or in this way.
My fingers feel the softened, torn tickets for the cable car up Masada. We met a Torah scribe at the top, who sits amongst the ancient ruins in an air-conditioned cave behind a glass door, and scripts the Torah. With a white-feathered quill. On the finest parchment. He wrote our Hebrew names with that quill, on a scrap of that parchment, in beautifully formed letters and then blessed our family. I almost forgot to breathe.
I’m sad it’s over… but so happy it happened. We love Israel, all of us, in ways and more than I could ever have imagined.