When love echoes or comes back to you from your own expression, whether it be from a person, or a place, or an experience, there is a feeling of belonging and unity that ensues. This feeling became a predominant theme for me while I was on the Silicon Valley Community Trip to Israel with the OFJCC from June 18–28, 2018.
On our fourth day of the trip, we went to Masada. After our group tour, I still wanted more time to explore this historical place. Zack Bodner, the CEO and leader of our group, offered to stay back with a few of us. He brought us to an area right at the edge of the mountain cliff that echoed back the words you yelled out. Once he demonstrated this natural wonder, he asked each of us to pick a word and try it ourselves. He pointed to me first. The only word that came to mind was, “Love.” In unison, our small group yelled out the word “love” and then listened in eager anticipation for the word return to us. It was in that moment, I thought of the story of Masada, and anyone who had felt fear, or that felt alone, and that our love chant, and the power of love, could make all the difference, no matter what challenges present themselves. The word “love” was literally echoing back to us on top of that desert mountain. And in reflecting back on the trip now, it became my mantra.
I almost skipped out on going to the Western Wall at Shabbat. I had already been twice the few days before and I wasn’t sure it would be worth seeing again. Boy, was I wrong! The experience of being at the Wall at Shabbat and seeing the women and men, in mass, dancing and praying and honoring these traditions was absolutely priceless. There was a point where my daughters and I were swept into a large singing and dancing circle. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know the words or the simple dance steps. As long as we were there, engaged and open, we were accepted into their tribe. I clearly understood that for the moment we belonged. There was a pervasive feeling of unity and joy, that we not only witnessed, but also were a part of. I thought if I could bottle just a fraction of the love I was feeling, with these women who were strangers and yet my sisters, the power of our combined energy could change the world. Love was certainly echoing for me that night.
For the last decade, in my professional life, I have had the privilege to work with a cultural exchange program and see close up how this sentiment works. I watch au pairs from all over the world bravely come to live with American families and help them with childcare. The host families trustingly open their homes and hearts. Because of what I do, I see differences in culture and personality, celebrated and respected on a daily basis. I see young adults from all over the world feeling like they belong with American families. This cross cultural feeling of belonging, just like I felt traveling in Israel, creates a ripple effect. Love echoes when this happens.
In my personal life, I chose to marry someone with a different religious background. For us, it was never a thought that one of us might convert or that we would only acknowledge one tradition in our home. We are raising our daughters with both Judaism and Christianity, and hope they identify as both, and that they see the beauty and richness in both religions. My husband and I want to model, first hand, that you can choose acceptance and respect, in the face of perceived differences, and still be true to who you are. We believe that when you have love as a starting point, you do not have to be afraid of your differences, rather, you can celebrate your similarities.
I saw hints of this ideology, of belonging, woven throughout my trip to Israel. I am a Christian and, yes, sometimes on my visit to the Jewish State of Israel, I thought things were a little unusual…like when the shops would start closing on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday in order to honor Shabbat, or when a little boy didn’t give me a high five as I was ATV riding by him, only because I was a woman. But I also observed a desire for peace and harmony in a way that I didn’t expect. Of course I felt this at Masada and at the Western Wall on Shabbat. But I also witnessed it in more subtle ways. I observed Jews and Arabs living together in an integrated fashion. There was a lot more commonality and acceptance than I might have thought prior to my trip. When we went to the City of David light show, the ending message was a prayer for peace for Jerusalem. It was written in English, Arabic, and Hebrew, honoring the different religious languages. When we visited a local kibbutz, they pointed out the view of The Olive Column and talked about its message. Their three-pillared monument, with an olive tree on top, is said to represent the three major religions. It is also said that they hope to rebuild it one day with only one pillar. And I thought, if that isn’t a symbol of a hope for unity, for peace, and most importantly, a feeling of belonging, I am not sure what is.
I heard the whispers of love echoing throughout my trip. From the people I met, to the places I visited, to my own personal delight of being able to take travel with family and friends, the OFJCC Israel trip was amazing!