By Barbara Gordon
It took me 83 years, but in March, I finally realized my lifelong dream of going to Israel.
One of my granddaughters has made aliyah – so my trip, of course, was doubly meaningful as my daughter, Tracy, and I went to Israel to visit her.
When I heard the El Al pilot announce that we had landed at Ben Gurion Airport and then heard the words “Welcome to Israel,” I felt tears start and I was very emotional as I spotted my granddaughter Becca and her IDF boyfriend waiting in the airport with a huge “Welcome to Israel” sign.
We were invited to stay with the family with whom Becca lives, and the family’s five adorable children had posted “Welcome to Israel” signs outside of their house for our benefit. Israelis eat a healthy diet – loaded with vegetables, and on the kitchen table there was always a huge bowl of fresh fruit – fruit so big and luscious, it was amazing.
I know it’s hard to believe, but at 83 I saw my first real palm tree. I was enthralled with the cacti I saw growing in the moshav where Becca lives – the beautiful flowers – mostly the incredible hospitality we were afforded wherever we went.
The first stop on our itinerary was Yad Vashem – a heart and soul-wrenching experience – which served for me personally as even a stronger commitment to the promise of “Never Again.” As I travelled through Israel and saw and felt the joy and strength and determination of the Israelis, I kept saying to myself: “See you evil and horrible murderers, you didn’t destroy us.”
My first view of the Kotel was breathtaking – more tears. There it was, a view I had seen in so many photos – a scene I had needlepointed and that hangs so proudly in my home. Crowds of people praying and pushing notes into the crevices of the wall – so many prayers on those pieces of paper. The emotional force was palpable. We stood, placed our hands and foreheads on the wall and placed our notes of prayer in whatever openings we could find, then backed away from this sacred place without turning our backs, and left with an indescribable feeling of spirituality, pride and love.
The old city of Jerusalem is starkly different from the modern Tel Aviv. I loved the peaceful look of all the buildings made of the sandstone material.
The Israelis are an amazing people. Living under the threat of attack, they exhibit a happiness and verve for life that is wonderful. They do not sweat the small stuff; they don’t constantly check their watches; they enjoy their children, their food, their culture and each other. They are warm and loving, and we were welcomed with open arms wherever we went – and with an abundance of delicious food.
We drove to the Dead Sea; walked through open air markets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; ate falafel in an open air café, watching the diversity of people going by; and we ate shwarma in a crowded restaurant, accompanied by small bowls filled with beets, olives, coleslaw and even French fries. I think the shwarma-filled pita weighed 10 pounds. I fulfilled one my goals one night – I had my first hamburger and fries at a McDonald’s – kosher of course!
Then, a very exciting event for me. Years ago when I worked for Governor Bill O’Neill, I had the privilege of accompanying the Israeli artist Yaacov Agam through the Capitol. We ate tuna sandwiches in the cafeteria and he drew my portrait on the plastic sandwich container (now one of my prized possessions). Our photo appeared in the Jewish Ledger. There is a brand new Agam museum in Rishon Lezion, an absolutely amazing place featuring Agam’s kinetic artwork. I left a note for him in the guestbook, hoping he’d remember our day at the Capitol.
Back at the house in Nir Galim, we were relaxing before going to Tel Aviv when I heard a strange sound and asked our hostess what it was. She tried to tell me it was the air conditioner, but Becca finally told me it was a rocket and we were not going to Tel Aviv. Actually two rockets were fired from Gaza – thank God, neither landed in Tel Aviv. A few hours later we heard bombers overhead clearly headed to Gaza in retaliation. Even the children were amazingly calm. The drill is to go to the basement bomb shelter if the sirens sound – this is part of life in Israel. Retaliation is survival. Israel does not start battles, but responds quickly and with toughness.
I have never been more proud of being Jewish.
My daughter and I returned to Connecticut with so many unforgettable memories of our incredible land of Israel. May it survive and thrive.
This year at the Passover seder when we said “Next year in Jerusalem,” it had an even deeper meaning. I cannot wait to go back.
Barbara Gordon lives in West Hartford.