The opportunity to travel through Israel at any time and with any traveling companion is a privilege. But to be afforded the opportunity to be here with fellow friends in faith, even if our faith traditions are different, is a true m’chayeh; truly, it is a life-affirming experience.
I have been to Israel many times. And yet, each time I return, I am reminded of what compels my allegiance – and that of the other pilgrims with whom I am traveling the length and breadth of this small, yet sacred land.
It isn’t the history, per se, though the layers of the human story that are revealed here are stunning. And it isn’t the competing religious narratives laying claim to the myriad hilltops and valleys, each of which is invariably dotted with any number of ancient synagogues, churches and sacred shrines; though I defy anyone not to be amazed by the depth of faith that inspired such creations. Nor is it the modern story of Israel, only 69 years young; though this, too, is a breath-taking and altogether unique tale of Jewish ingenuity, gumption and resolve.
Rather, the most compelling aspect of traveling through Israel is, in my opinion, the way the experience confirms what each of us already intuitively holds sacred.
What do I mean? The variety of people here is astounding. On our trip alone we have Catholics and Protestants and Jews. It is not unusual – and as has already happened many times – for one to meet travelers from across the globe, Koreans and Canadians, Europeans and Australians, pilgrims from Africa and the subcontinent. And in the faces of the Israeli populace, too, are reflections of the world. Jews from Africa and the Middle East live alongside Jews from Europe and North America. Immigrants from Ethiopia are now neighbors of Russians. And, of course, there is a robust population of Moslems and Christians, the vast majority of whom want nothing more than to live in peace alongside the Jews. After all, howsoever we may understand ourselves and our relationship to own faith tradition, when you are here, one cannot help but be reminded of what makes being a human being such a special privilege and so sacred a responsibility.
And it is this essential teaching (which is the sine qua non for the 3 great monotheistic faiths), that lies at the heart of what makes Israel such a singular place to be. After all, whether or not we are able to see the other in our own image, when one is here, there is no denying that each and every one of us has been created in the image of God.
Rabbi Aaron Benjamin Bisno
Rodef Shalom Congregation