Six Days, Alone, in Israel
The journal of a girl and her week in Israel.
Tel Aviv: Days 1, 3, 5, 6
This is not the trip I normally take. For starters I have already had to chase a cat out of my rented studio. A far cry from the customer service centered hotels of Europe, this little room on Rabbi Meir is giving me a crash course in how to let Tel Aviv be Tel Aviv. As I peer out of the window onto the edge of Carmel market a bizarre blend of people, produce and heat fills the air and I start to relax into the thought of being alone in Israel. As a seasoned traveler, one of the few things left on my bucket list was taking a trip by myself, and somehow between a breakdown at work (yeah, I’m that cliché) and a deal on Priceline with El Al, I ended up with a round trip ticket to the Holy Land.
There were two months of planning in between the time I purchased the ticket and arriving at Ben Gurion, but to be honest I didn’t plan, I just prayed. So walking down Allenby Street I really had no clue where I was headed or what I was looking for, turns out it was pizza. As I sat there watching the people flow up and down the sidewalks trying to take it all in. Necks donned with Magen David walking next to heads wrapped in hijabs entered a cosmetic store, while an Orthodox Jew and an IDF soldier in their respective uniforms purchased falafel. Tel Aviv had figured out the perfect way to mix West, Middle East, ancient and cutting edge, and it was stunning to watch.
That night as I laid in bed fretting over how much sun my lily white skin had received, and wondering which cat just won the nightly turf war in the street below, I thanked God for comforts He was ripping away from me. After I fell asleep, He tested my thankfulness as I awoke to slamming doors, laughing partygoers and obnoxious music. Indignant and irritated, I wrapped a pillow over my head and wished for the quiet comfort of home. Why in the world were people up so late, and isn’t it Thursday? …Oh, it is Thursday, and I am in the land that keeps the Sabbath holy, so tonight is for partying. In that moment when I realized I was on His schedule in the land He set aside for them, the music got better and the perfect mix of party jams and Tel Aviv heat put me back to sleep.
Dead Sea: Day 2
If it really is about the journey and not the destination, then my drive to the Dead Sea left the Mediterranean coast to travel across the width of Israel, past her fruit-filled valleys, to gaping patches of dry and arid desserts, which break apart in a pitch of green growth from the nearby kibbutz. Leaving Tel Aviv you rise with Israel to its crown jewel, Jerusalem, and then descend down west of the limestone city, to the burnt wasteland housing Bedouins quick to make a buck from you for a Kodak moment on their camel. From Masada, an ancient fortress, the Judean dessert’s desolation is only broken by the blue of the Dead Sea, with Jordan slowly sloping out of the salted sea haze.
Life does not seem possible out here, but we know from history that this area has teemed with events both Biblical and political for centuries. A careful eye can catch an ibex out to poke around the bountiful oasis of kibbutzim, and dotted along the coastline are beaches set up for soaking. Surreal, ethereal yet right under you, holding you afloat, the Dead Sea simultaneously blows your mind and relaxes every bit of body ache. Russian tourists smoke cigarettes and take selfies, newlyweds unsuccessfully hold hands while trying to balance in the water, and I just laid there, looking at the Jordan coast line, thinking how blessed I was to have a “beach day” like this.
Jerusalem: Day 4
It is a very beautiful and nearly unexplainable feeling when you are overwhelmed by something you never thought would move you. All my life I wanted to fulfill a dream of wine-filled nights along the Seine, walking down the thinly laid Parisian streets past Rococo and Nouveau neighborhoods. And when I made that dream come true it was lovely and stunning and many other adjectives of inspiration, but it was nothing like the first time I saw the White City.
Jerusalem has many names, as one should when it's endured so much. The limestone with which the entire city was constructed, combined with the heat of midday, almost gives it the fuzzy dream look of an Impressionist painting. It was putting a very important face to a name; it was walking where so much had happened as so much was to come. Fig and olive trees, stone streets, a quartered heart, fresh lemonade, old carpets, mezuzahs at each gate and electricity in the air, this is Jerusalem simplified. But what was that electricity?
After winding through the Jewish quarter I rounded a corner to a wide stone staircase which overlooked the Western Wall. Passing through the security checkpoint I approached the part sectioned off for women to pray, emotion overcame thought, and my hand finally fell against the cold ancient stone. It was a powerful moment, full of reverence as the women around me prayed deeply, and I observed various sects of Jews and Christians showing their own type of honor to a place He dwells. Some held prayer books and others just cried, while many like myself stuck written notes to God in the last remaining wall of His temple. When payers were done the Orthodox Christians walked off backwards, never turning their back on the Lord. As I left off towards the Muslim quarter I passed a sign asking visitors to dress respectfully because they were entering the place where, “the Holy Presence dwells…” Ah, the source of that electricity.
[pullquote width="300" float="left"]I passed a sign asking visitors to dress respectfully because they were entering the place where, “the Holy Presence dwells…”[/pullquote]
The last stop in Jerusalem was Yad Vashem, and the last stop at Yad Vashem was the memorial to the millions of children who died in the Holocaust. Sobered and stunned; I was thankful to be alone throughout the memorial and the day. I had no one to talk to or process my thoughts with, which meant they were very much my own, and it was such a gift.
The day I spent in Jerusalem showed me so much about the character of God; how He never abandons a place or people He loves. How God pours out so much creativity in the worst of times and to accurately recall those times. And His timelessness, the City of David, the City of God, reflects that so well. I was in the midst of a land long debated, with two walls long contended over; Western and West Bank barrier. As I headed back to Tel Aviv I never felt so exhausted, but then again I had never felt so transformed, full of appreciation and a bit of understanding.
What I left with:
On a small apartment building on Rabbi Meir Street there is a piece of art which covers a majority of the façade. Its bright and multicolored hearts flow across the white building in a pattern which nearly imitates a rabble of butterflies, and there in the middle of two hearts is a quote which I stood in front of many times in deep reflection:
“It’s not perfect, but it’s all yours.”
These are the words written on that wall, and these are the words which daily stopped my walk between the studio and the beach. Perhaps there are people who pass by this and say it’s not art, its graffiti – it’s ruining the neighborhood, but it is art because it’s lovely and it caused me to consider so much.
Life without God isn't perfect; my life hasn't been perfect or even much in all honesty, and at this point it’s just a series of trips chasing the same pipe-dream, coming out on the other side with a good story but not much more. My life has been all mine, and that’s why it’s not been much. In all I saw, everything I took in from Israel, that little piece of art spoke to me the most. I need God to have more, and His Son to have a perfected life. I don’t want to resemble that provocative message painted next to a red hart painted on a white wall.
I want my life to be so much more and all His, and it took six days in Israel to figure that out.
// photos by kristen blalock