When is Your Next Trip to Israel?

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Not everyone can travel this summer.  For some, it is difficult to take time off, for others the high cost is a barrier, and for others, there are physical or health challenges that make it impossible. 


However, there are many people who will take advantage of children being off from school, of life slowing down, and of accumulated vacation days to travel.  The question is: to where?


When a person is blessed to have living parents, he does not use each vacation to visit them at the exclusion of everywhere else.  When one’s parents are healthy and well, it is perfectly appropriate to balance seeing and visiting parents with travelling to other places and gaining new experiences.  But if a person’s parent was sick, convalescing and recuperating, it would be inappropriate, insensitive, and unthinkable to travel elsewhere or go on a vacation without having at least visited the sick parent at the first available opportunity.  


Israel is our mother.  For the last eight months she has been recovering from a significant trauma and she isn’t out of the woods yet. It is incumbent on us to visit her if we haven’t already. 


The 5th bracha of the Sheva Berachos we recite under a chupa is “Sos tasis v’sageil ha’akara b’kibutz baneha l’socha b’simcha. Baruch atah Hashem, m’sameach Tzion b’vaneha – May the barren one rejoice and be glad as her children are joyfully gathered to her. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gladdens Zion with her children.”


What is the connection between the Chosson and Kallah and Yerushalayim?  Former Chief Sefardi Rabbi of Israel Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron writes (Binyan Av) that the source of this Beracha is the pasuk in Yeshayahu (54), “rani akara lo yalada, shout baren one who has not born a child.”  Yerushalayim in its state of destruction is likened to a woman who has not given birth but whose happiness will come when she welcomes children into her midst.


At that milestone moment, as two individuals enter a covenant binding them together, they are to have an awareness not only of their biological parents, of their physical origins, but of their spiritual mother, Yerushalayim, and their metaphysical origins.  Just as the bond with parents is permanent and can’t be broken, so too our connection with our spiritual mother, Yerushalayim, is eternal. 


The gemara (Kesubos 75a) teaches:

״וּלְצִיּוֹן יֵאָמַר אִישׁ וְאִישׁ יוּלַּד בָּהּ וְהוּא יְכוֹנְנֶהָ עֶלְיוֹן״. אָמַר רַבִּי מְיָישָׁא בַּר בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי: אֶחָד הַנּוֹלָד בָּהּ, וְאֶחָד הַמְצַפֶּה לִרְאוֹתָה.

The pasuk states: “And of Zion it shall be said, this man and this man were born in her, and the Most High shall establish her” (Psalms 87:5). Rabbi Meyasha, son of the son of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, said: Both the man who was actually born in Zion and the one who looks forward to seeing her are equally considered sons of Zion.


Rav Bakshi-Doron writes: “It is not the geographical place where one is born that determines if someone is a ben Yerushalayim, but it is the existential spiritual identity. Therefore, whoever longs to see her, it is as if they were born to her.”


As families of soldiers tragically continue to sit shiva, as hostages remain in enemy hands, as thousands remains displaced from their homes and as countless soldiers are still recuperating in hospitals and rehab facilities, the question for those who don’t live in Israel is, are you a מְצַפֶּה לִרְאוֹתָה, do you long to see her, to visit her, to be with her?


Some have had the chance to be in Israel since October 7th, others have longed to go but haven’t been able to pull it off yet, but all of us should be thinking about and planning for when we can go next.  Not “if” we will go but when and what it will take to make it happen. 


I received the follow note from someone I went to Israel with in March:


Just wanted to start by saying thank you. Thank you for putting this together and getting me involved.


As you know it's been some time since I've been to Israel - 25 years. It was a real struggle to decide if I would come on this trip. Was this how I wanted my first time in Israel in a quarter of a century to be? Without my family? For such a short visit? Wartime tourism? It seemed macabre and voyeuristic. It's not what I imagined it would be for my return to the holy land. But thankfully my wife pushed me and I relented.


You asked how some would respond to a drasha about telling people to come here, and I'll tell you this: there are many legitimate reasons why a person cannot travel to Israel. For 20 years I could never take time off from work, using every vacation day for Yom Tov. Also financially it's a huge expense for so many. But there is another reason that people have - I know I did - in the back of their minds: I want my Israel trip to be perfect. When the weather is good, when the crowds are small, when flights are cheap, when the kids are off, etc. and with that in mind it took an extra 4 years for me to just come home.


This is what was running through my mind on the flight up. I felt like it was a mistake, I shouldn't come to gawk at the soldiers or the displaced families like going to a museum or sideshow. I should come when I can be with my entire family and do all the things that people do: Kotel, Masada, tunnel tours, Ein Gedi, Eilat, etc.


But I was wrong. This experience was something that I will never forget. Not only because of the incredible access, the people we met, or the places we went, but because we were able to be with Israel instead of just going to Israel.


Being here, with the people, in the land, helping and bringing smiles, was all the experience I really ever needed. Driving through didn't feel like the endless orange groves on the way to Disney because everywhere you turn, the land comes alive. Efes Damim, Kiryat Yereim, Har Hacarmel. These are real places that carry significant value to us. Coming here, even now, is truly meaningful. Even if I can't splash around in Ein Gedi with my kids.


But not just for me, the trip was meaningful for those we visited and met. We sat in the van with our guide, Eli, when everyone had left and we talked to him about us visiting and being here. How did he view this kind of "tourism"? He got a little emotional and told us we had no idea what it means to him, his family, and everyday Israelis. Forget that it gives him parnasah, he said that after spending a few days with us, that he now knows that we CARE. And not just about soldiers and memorials, and the horrors, but about Am Yisrael, be'eretz Yisrael, al pi torat yisrael. That it’s not like going to the zoo to see, but we are checking in on something we love, on our brothers, on our people. He talked about our group every night with his wife and she said to him that she loves us for what we gave him. She pointed out that after 5 months of being unable to express himself he was finally opening up and talking. He felt like he was spending the days with family. The cynical part of everyone wants to believe this trip is selfish, and I did too. But it's not true. It really is a give and take.


I know you wanted to know through my eyes how this would feel. But to be honest, I don't recognize anything. Literally everything is different. But I knew it would be. Time and change don't wait for anyone, even me.


And that's my takeaway. If you can afford to go, don't put it off. Don't put your trip to Israel on a pedestal that it needs to be perfect or you won't go. Because before you know it, 25 years will go by, and you'll wonder what could have been.


When you mother needs a visit, you don’t wait for everything to be perfect, you figure out a way to show up.  It isn’t easy for everyone.  Many don’t have family, a place to stay, a way to get around, connections to volunteer or the finances to go.  Those are not small things and shouldn’t be minimized.  But if there is a will, there will be a way, maybe not tomorrow or next month but a plan for somewhere down the line, hopefully in the not-too-distant future. 


If you can, go because our mother needs us.  But much more importantly, go because we need our mother.