Two Journeys

by Alix Kane

I am a seasoned traveler: France, England, Spain, Germany, Morocco, Thailand, South Africa, Cambodia, Peru, Costa Rica – these destinations in just the last ten years. Oddly, I have had no desire to visit Israel, despite my Jewish upbringing. In fact, I judiciously avoided Israel because of pre-conceived notions that Israel would not want me. I am not a religious Jew. I was not spiritual, despite a longing to be. My deceased brother-in-law, Abraham, was an orthodox Jew and told me countless times that I could never be considered a Jew by any normal person’s standards. For him, orthodoxy was the norm. I had become, in some way, a product of his perceptions.

Nevertheless, a nagging sensation had begun in me about a year ago. Perhaps I needed to visit the Jewish homeland once in my lifetime, while I still had the energy. This is not an easy trip. Israel is about the size of New Jersey. If I was going to visit just once, I wanted to see everything that was important while I was there. This meant visiting at least six major cities, walking countless miles, and packing and unpacking every two days. My husband, who shared my indifference, was having the same feelings at about the same time. If he hadn’t, I doubt that either of us would have made this trip.

I had no sense of sweet anticipation or excitement. This was a responsibility we were fulfilling. A necessary one. We were met by our guide, Reuven Solomon. He had sent a photo to us by email, so we immediately spotted his white hair and long white beard. Oddly, Santa in Israel. He took us to our hotel in Tel Aviv and then on a tour of the old city before returning us to the hotel to rest before dinner. We were both already exhausted and the trip had barely begun.

Our first week was a pleasant surprise. Tel Aviv, Haifa, Cesearea. The ruins were spectacular. It’s difficult to imagine entire Roman cities uncovered after being buried in sand for thousands of years. The artifacts, many unblemished, were extraordinary: temples whose mosaic tile floors were as untarnished as when they were built. Some devastated by severe earthquakes, but still wondrous to see.

And then we arrived in Jerusalem, the religious heart of Israel. My husband and I renewed our wedding vows at the only part of the Western Wall where men and women are allowed to mingle. At our request months before, Reuven had arranged for a conservative rabbi to officiate. If only for this, our trip was well worth it.

We then went to the main section of the Wall. Men and women cannot be there together. There is a large section near the old temple that is reserved exclusively for men. Next to it, and separated by a wall about six feet high, is a small section for women. There were women standing on chairs to look over the wall to see their sons and grandsons becoming b’nei mitzvot. Anger boiled up inside me. Why did these women put up with being second-class citizens?

My husband was ready for something special. He anticipated a religious experience. I expected nothing. We went our separate ways. I had to push past women praying, crying, tearing their clothes, sitting on chairs in front of the great wall. As I had planned, I folded my vows and tucked the paper into one of the hundreds of tiny crevices meant to receive prayers, requests, blessings. I then leaned fully into the Wall and gave myself up to it.

And then G_d appeared and spoke to me. It absolutely shocked me that G_d was a male figure. He closely resembled Reuven with his white hair and beard. My husband and I had always referred to G_d as a she. That was my first surprise. As I put my full weight against the Wall, he spoke to me. “You will never, ever be cold again.” He spoke slowly; his voice was deep and reassuring. I waited for more, but of course it never came. That statement, spoken with such assurance, was all I was going to get. But it was enough. Anybody who knows me well knows that I hate to be cold. The word cold changed for me that day.

That evening, I related the experience to my husband. The nights in Jerusalem in late November are quite cool. Ever consistent, I was bundled in warm clothing topped with a down vest. Of course, I was cold. And yet…inside I was warm, protected. I realized then that G_d’s statement had nothing at all to do with temperature and how it affected my body. I had received his assurance that I would never be without him again, as long as I was willing to let him remain. And remain he has. My journey to Israel had led to yet another, more meaningful journey. For someone who had never been spiritual, I had suddenly and finally experienced what it was like to have G_d inside.

Alix Kane: Writing brings me great pleasure and introspection. Although I’ve been writing short memoir pieces all of my adult life, it was only through reading them aloud in Carmen and Leyla’s Memoir study group that I discovered my life experiences were interesting to others as well.