It was 1993. My husband and I were thrilled to be taking our four sons (aged 2, 7, 11, and 13) to Israel for Josh’s bar mitzvah. We had a layover in Frankfurt before we boarded our flight to Tel Aviv. Just minutes after pushing back from the gate, Josh’s voice yelled, “Why are tanks escorting us?”
Most nearby conversations ceased as our fellow passengers stared out their windows. We indeed had armored vehicles flanking each side of the plane. My children’s eyes dilated as they stared out the window. Each had to cope with the sharp reality of a Lufthansa plane heading for Israel in the early 1990s.
Sometimes the price of political freedom is the added burden of terrorists who are intent on destroying democratic principles. In order to abort those attempts, military might becomes a necessary deterrent.
Upon landing in Israel, my children’s apprehensions had become a mere memory. They felt safe. Their freedom was restored. We immediately focused on the sights and sounds of Israel.
As an American, I had experienced freedom my entire life and took delight in celebrating democracy each 4th of July. I had never been a recipient of persecution or bias even though I was fully aware of the lack of freedoms that are an integral part of American history.
As an American Jew, I entered Israel with another perspective. After spending years studying Jewish history at the college and graduate level, I could finally see the Jewish homeland that had become a haven for Jews worldwide. For many European Jews and Jews living in Arab countries, Israel became a refreshing taste of freedom. Would my 2-week visit reveal this aspect of Jewish life?
Our whirlwind tour included the major attractions throughout Israel. In retrospect, I’m not sure how our youngest son, Jordan, survived the hectic pace. The high point of our journey were the ceremonies associated with Josh’s bar mitzvah and my adult bat mitzvah. The b’nai mitzvot ceremony was on top of Masada while a recognition ceremony occurred at Yad Vashem.
Chanting my Torah portion on top of Masada acted to reaffirm how lucky I was to be an American Jew. The Romans crushed this towering structure with an intense blow that sent Judaism on a new course in the first century C.E. The freedoms once associated with the Land of Israel became a fading memory until Israel was restored as a new state in 1948. Yad Vashem memorializes the Holocaust. Many historians agree that Theodor Herzl’s Zionist dreams would not have become a reality had it not been for the tragedy of the Shoah. Both the Romans and the Nazis tried to obliterate Jewish life. Neither group was successful.
Since 1993, I have traveled two additional times to Israel with my husband. Each trip provided additional layers to my understanding of Jewish history and culture. A visit to the Underground Prisoners Museum in Akko revealed the bravery of the Jews who fought for independence during the time of the British Mandate.
A drive through the Golan Heights illustrated how close Israelis live to their hostile neighbors, the Syrians. Distant border patrols reminded us how Israel has to remain on constant alert in order to protect their freedom. Standing at Rosh Hanikra, we came close to the Lebanese border.
To see the southern part of the country, we drove through the desert on our way to Eilat. This experience let us appreciate the vast geographical differences between the northern and southern parts of Israel as well as the overall size of the country
Our latest trip to Israel occurred during an extended 3-day cruise stop in 2012. Disembarking in Ashdod and Haifa provided a new perspective. Our mandatory visit to “The Wall” reaffirmed my Jewishness. Looking up at the massive stones, I could only imagine what life was like before the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Like many who visit this holy site, I left a short prayer in one of the spaces between the large slabs of stone. As I touched the Wall, my mind drifted back in history. Prior to 1967, Jews were not allowed in this part of the Old City. Had I visited back then, I would not have enjoyed the freedom to visit and pray at the Wall.
We spent several hours exploring different Jewish cultures in the Israel Museum. The four-synagogue exhibit was disheartening. The remnants of these abandoned Jewish communities are now relegated to a museum. Without Israel, the demise of these once prosperous communities would be lost forever.
Looking at Israel through a historical perspective pinpoints how freedom is intertwined into its existence. No matter what happens in the world, Jews know that freedom to live openly as Jews awaits them in Israel.
About the Author: Sandra Bornstein is an educator, blogger, and author. May This Be The Best Year Of Your Life: A Memoir chronicles her living and teaching adventures in India.The book was acknowledged as a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, and the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards.