A Letter to Israel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Elizabeth Schuman

Dear Israel,

Everything I know about you, I know secondhand. I know that you are a country swirling with vibrant colors and cultures, where spirituality rubs elbows with technology. I know that you are country filled with passion, a sabra mentality of tough encasing soft. I know your history, born from the fires of the Holocaust.

Everything I know about you, Israel, I know secondhand.

I talk to people about you. They always pause, gathering their thoughts to answer the collective question: Where to begin? And their stories always, always, always come back to family and identity.

Debbie Attman told me about her first visit to Israel. Last year, she went on a Heart to Heart mission with The Associated. She is forever grateful. “My parents told me to visit Israel. I didn’t listen then,” she says. “The minute I stepped off the plane, I felt my parents’ arms around me.

“Everyone is so proud to be Jewish, it’s so comfortable,” she says. She remembers Shabbat in Jerusalem, unlike any Shabbat she knew before. Everywhere she turned, she connected. “I got it. I got what they were talking about. I got what it means to be Jewish.”

Debbie’s daughter joined her on the trip. The family is returning this spring, for her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. “My parents would be overjoyed to know that their great-grandson is marking his Bar Mitzvah in Israel.”

Everything I know about you, Israel, I know secondhand.

I know that you have repeat customers. Until recently, I never understood why someone would go back … especially with a world of places to discover. What I’ve learned is that a return trip is a new trip. I talked to Ellyn Polakoff about her Heart to Heart experience. It was her second visit. “You could go 100 times and have a different experience each time,” she says. “I remember going to the Wall and seeing the soldiers. You cannot imagine the feeling, unless you are there.” She remembers visiting a high-tech school where students learned, just a few miles from the bombs over Sderot. She met women learning skills for self-sufficiency and heard stories from a Holocaust survivor who found a home in Israel. She wants to return.

Everyone does, says Laurie Luskin, who chaired the national Heart to Heart mission. “Every time you go, it’s a different experience, she says. “It’s never a been there or done that. You realize that you have been changed after visiting Israel.”

I think it’s a visceral, intoxicating connection – no one seems to get enough of that feeling of belonging … of coming home. No zip code in the States has that same pull.

Dear Israel, I know that my grandparents visited you, back in the 1970s.

They weren’t much for travel, never even had a passport until then. But, you, you they would see. I imagine that it was a virtual fist-bump to their parents, who came here from Russia, leaving family behind, whose letters stopped one day. I imagine it was a dream come true, a victory, for them to see the Jewish homeland firsthand.

And even though my grandmother was recovering from the brutal treatment regimen that defined early cancer care, they went. How could they not? It was their only trip. It was their last trip.

Israel, I have news for you.

Baltimore is on the way. Again.

In February, The Associated is joining the national Jewish Federations of North America Heart to Heart mission. We’ll spend a meaningful, inspiring Shabbat in Jerusalem and visit Ashkelon, our sister city, as a Baltimore group. Then, we’ll join the national mission. We’ll see the sights, talk with people making a difference, explore and understand how all of us are part and parcel of Israel – today and tomorrow.

Every woman is invited to be a part of this life-changing mission.

Israel, in my dream come true, I’ll be there, too.

Heart to Heart 2014 Baltimore experience: Thursday, February 6 through Saturday, February 8 Heart to Heart: Sunday, February 9 through Thursday, February 13 Costs: $2350, land-only, double-occupancy, plus additional costs to be determined for Baltimore experience; flights coordinated through Gil Travel at 212-284-6660. A leadership gift to The Associated’s 2014 Annual Campaign is requested. For more information, contact Liz Schuman, 410-369-9251 or eschuman@associated.org.

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