Milk and Honey
By Salomon Maya
On Sunday, June 2, I joined hundreds of locals at Liberty Station at Celebrate Israel, the yearly festival put on by the Jewish Federation. This year was especially memorable for me as I was able to bring my nearly four-year-old to the festivities, where he watched his older cousins dance a modern Israeli dance put on by the Ken Jewish Community. And, as I walked through the endless white booths of Jewish educators and publications and synagogues, I was reminded of the common bond that brought us all together. A small strip of land on the other side of this globe measuring roughly 20,000 km2.
For Jews living outside of Eretz, Israel isn’t just a location on a map, but rather a state of being. People don’t live in Israel; they live for it. And though one can never escape the infinite minutia of political rhetoric that surrounds the baby nation, I can’t stop to wonder and be amazed at the passion one small tiny strip of dirt emits.
I have visited Israel twice in my life. Once when I was 15 years old (for six weeks as a tourist); and the second time, where I lived six-months on a kibbutz and six-months in a Jerusalem school for group and self-leadership. The years were 1995 and 1998, respectfully.
The feeling of landing in Ben Gurion Airport is unlike a feeling I had every felt. When I was 15 and visited Israel for the first time I bent to my knees and kissed the ground as soon as we deplaned, just like my brothers had done years prior. Tradition abounds in Israel, especially for diaspora Jews such as myself. I did everything a U.S. Jewish teen should do on their first trip to Israel during that trip, but it wasn’t until my year long trip to Eretz where I realized the true magic of Israel.
After high school graduation, I embarked on Hakhshara, a year-long trip to the Holy Land. We were joined by a larger contingent of young community leaders from Mexico. Through my twelve months living in Israel I lived through the following:
- I was awoken from sleep by Lebanese rockets flying overhead when I lived at Kibbutz Shamir, which is only 5-miles south of the Lebanon border.
- I had hot coffee thrown in my face by an elder Kibbutznik for putting my feet on furniture.
- Ironically, we travelled toward Egypt on Passover.
- We walked the streets of Mea Sharim on Purim and saw some incredibly disturbing images I shall not repeat.
- Some got closer to God, some more distant.
- I slept on the soft sands of a Tel Aviv beach.
- I stayed up until the wee hours in Jerusalem on Christmas Eve.
- I built apartments for a week in Tel Aviv
- We got kicked out of our kibbutz.
- We didn’t “graduate” from our leadership school.
I could go on and on. But the minute list seen above are just some samples of my adventures in Israel for the year. You see that is exactly what Israel is. An existing contradiction. By all accounts, the state shouldn’t even exist. The land is mostly dessert. The mountains in the north are treacherous. One of their seas literally has no life in it. Israel is so painfully unique one can’t help by grow up and mature upon living there. I shot a gun. I made brothers. I saw death. I lived life. I touched a wall. I floated in water. I walked with Jesus and Moses and Mohammed.
I grew up. I didn’t live in Israel, I lived for it.
And all because of one tiny strip of land halfway around the globe.