The Israel I Came to Know
November 6, 2018
By: Jeffrey Albertson, Honeymoon Israel Atlanta, July 2018
“May there always be heard in the cities of Israel and in the streets of Jerusalem: the sounds of joy and happiness, the voice of loving couples, the shouts of young people celebrating, and the songs of children at play."
This was a line cited during my ceremony to my wife, Amy. At the time, that was one of the few connections I shared with the country. Amy recalled her travels on Birthright, but it was still a struggle for me to relate and understand her connection with Israel.
Prior to going to Israel with Honeymoon Israel, my experience with the country was limited. There was a complex religious and geo-political situation across the ocean, but by no measure was I able to understand any of it. When Amy and I were selected for the Honeymoon Israel Atlanta trip, my expectations were bound by the secondhand recollections from her stories. I expected to find rich history, exotic foods, and holy sites, but in time, the experience would yield so much more.
One of the first connections Amy and I shared was during a Shabbat service held the evening we landed in Tel Aviv. Overlooking the blue water and peach colored sunset near the marina, we experienced an incredible moment of tranquility. Entertaining the message from the service of creation and vitality, and embraced by a warm Mediterranean wind, I initially understood why she loved Israel so much—beauty. As we traversed the country by bus, cable car, and jeep, the views were frequently spectacular and significant. Whether the beach in Tel Aviv, the Rosh Hanikra grottoes, overlooking Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, or the mountain roads near the Lebanon border, the entire country possessed a unique sense of beauty.
Towards the end of trip, we walked through Jerusalem’s Old City to several sites significant to Judaism and Christianity, including the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Each afforded a unique opportunity for Amy and I to learn about each other’s religion and discuss the importance and foundation of our beliefs. Personally speaking, praying at the Western Wall was the closest connection with Judaism I had felt, and helped me to understand Israel’s importance to my wife. The Wall does not just offer a place to worship, but serves as a foundation of Jewish identity to so many people. To me, this site represents the survival of the Jewish identity through triumph and tragedy, destruction and revolution.
The most difficult day of my Honeymoon Israel trip began in East Jerusalem at the Educational Bookshop near the Damascus Gate, and ended in West Jerusalem at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum.
The East Jerusalem bookshop serves as a town hall where journalists, local leaders and interested parties meet to discuss the politics of the day. We had the opportunity to meet and chat with the bookseller, Mahmood Muna, and from him we learned about some of the difficulties of life for Arabs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This experience afforded us with an important perspective to understand the realities of life on the ground.
From there, we headed to Yad Vashem. In the initial museum exhibits, we learned how anti-Semitism had evolved over generations, especially in the years between the First and Second World Wars. Throughout the museum, there are images and stories of death, perseverance and the struggle to survive. The victims and survivors are the ancestors of couples on our Honeymoon Israel trip - and more closely related, ancestors of my wife’s family. Amidst the sadness and horror, the museum ends with the story of the 1948 War of Independence. I recall one striking photo of survivors from Buchenwald arriving in Haifa in 1945, wearing clothing from the concentration camp and carrying a flag with the Star of David.
By the end of this most difficult day, I received a very real, very juxtaposed lesson - it was a lesson on the culture of Israel. A culture that is steeped in and influenced by Jews, Muslims and Christians - of all ages and all backgrounds.
Before this trip, I wasn't sure what to expect or what I would discover once we landed. However, as the lights of Tel Aviv faded on the flight back to the United States, I contemplated my newfound enlightenment on Amy’s connection with Judaism and why Jewish culture was so important to her. Perhaps for the first time, I also thought about my own connection with the country. I began to process my experience and how it would impact our marriage and family in the future.
It is evident that after this trip, Jerusalem would forever be on my mind.