My family and I have just returned safely from Israel. We were fortunate to have had two weeks of time to spend with our two sons studying outside Jerusalem and with extended family and friends. We met families from our Akiva community and had the zechut (good fortune) to attend the bar mitzvah celebration of the Jacobson family on Masada. As with every trip to Israel, it was difficult to leave and there were so many mixed emotions that we had trying to capture and make the most out of our small opportunity to feel like we were “living” in Israel.
After every family trip, we usually ask each other what our personal highlight was from the trip. My own personal highlight was not something grand that we did. It was not floating in the Dead Sea with my kids, riding up and down the hills of Gush Etzion on ATVs, nor hiking through the wadi of Nachal Arugot surrounded by majestic desert mountains. These were amazing events – fun family time and opportunities to relax. But for me the highlight of the trip was a small and meaningful visit to the City of David or as they say in tourist terms – the city where it all began.
Our guide, Yehuda, gave us an inside view of the latest excavations of the City of David, situated outside the walls of the Old City near the gate at the closest entrance to the Kotel. We witnessed and learned about the most recently uncovered sections of the dig which are thought to have been the actual palace of King David, from the time of the First Temple Period. We watched the digging taking place and the painstaking removal of the rocks and earth to be further checked for pieces of pottery, coins and other signs of life in the layers of this city’s history. We then walked underground through cisterns and the water shaft that was the main source of water for the upper walled city on the Temple Mount, ending up just outside the Herodian (Second Temple) walls of the Kotel.
So why was this visit to the City of David the highlight of my trip?
It was the highlight of my trip because of its personal meaning for me and my connection to the Jewish people. My life is all about being Jewish – from the moment I wake up and try to recite the morning prayers, to my work at Akiva and in our community, and to my efforts to educate my children and raise them in a home that models living and loving Judaism. But every so often, I need to be reminded in a very real way, why I am doing this. Life becomes rote and routine, and then something comes along to inspire the connection that you have to being a Jew. That inspiration for me was in a 2000 year old water tunnel. It was a moment that brought me back to the history that I was taught at my Jewish day schools in Toronto and to memories of my year of study in Israel. It was a moment that made me feel connected to King David, to our Tanach and to the history of my people. I felt in touch with the belief that I am truly a part of an influential and powerful history of an amazing and complicated people. Our history encompasses wars and struggles, prayers and unwavering dedication, education, books and philosophies, and the ability to build and rebuild. This moment was an affirmation for me to continue on this path and find the best ways to keep inspiring our children and students to understand the gift of being a Jew. It was a moment of hope and a moment of challenge.
There’s no better place on earth than being in Israel to make you feel like you are at home. Snow or no snow.