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Thank You Israel

May 31, 2016 | by Debbie Gutfreund

My top seven gifts I’ve received from my beloved homeland.

I’ve been thinking about how much Israel has given to me over the years and how much I love the country, my homeland. The gifts that I’ve received from visiting and living in Israel are too numerous to count, so here are my top seven.

Thank you, Israel:

1. For giving me a Jewish identity. I spent the summer before college hiking and backpacking through your stunning mountains. Your star-studded skies cradled my dreams and your sparkling waterfalls opened my eyes. By the end of that summer, when I walked up to touch the holy, white stones of the Kotel, I had fallen in love with the sounds, the people, the songs and the prayers of the Jewish homeland. And I knew before I stepped foot into the ivy-covered corridors of university that fall that before anything else, I was a Jew, and I had a home across the ocean and a heritage that I wanted to pass on to my own children one day.

2. For teaching me how to care about the people around me. When I first moved to Israel, I was taken aback by how everyone seemed to mind everyone else’s business. If my baby wasn’t wearing a hat on a hot day, half a dozen people would tell me she needed one. This was a culture shock for me coming from New York where most people will do everything they can to avoid making eye contact with anyone. So thank you, Israel, for teaching me to look at and care about the people around me.

3. For showing me how to live simply. Our days are a lot freer and less complicated when the material world is not the focus of everyday life. Thank you Israel, for the small apartments that had just enough space and for the shuk full of fresh fruit and simple food that was better than anything that I have tasted in the finest restaurants since. And thank you for giving me the wisdom to travel lightly wherever I go, unencumbered by unnecessary possessions.

4. For teaching me the meaning of prayer. In Israel, everyone prays, all the time. The non-religious taxi driver and the rebellious teen, the scholars and the soldiers, the young and the old, the poor and the wealthy. Wherever I went, I would hear authentic echoes of prayer as the Jewish people turned towards their Father in Heaven countless times a day asking for help, saying thank You, whispering the Shema, begging for recovery, praying for the safe return of young soldiers, declaring their constant faith that with God’s help, everything will be okay. I lived with the reality that Someone is truly listening to our prayers.

5. For giving me mentors. The teachers that I had as a student and later as a mother raising children in Israel were irreplaceable in the depth of their wisdom and the extent of their compassion. They taught me how to parent and give and how to see the blessings in my life and overcome obstacles. Their lessons still weave their way through my thoughts and days, helping me to deal with new challenges and to continue to be grateful every day.

6. For showing me how to grieve. Tragic news in Israel is deeply personal. The horrific terror attacks kill neighbors and friends. Wars impact every single home, and when someone loses a son or a daughter, the entire nation mourns with him. So thank you Israel, for teaching me how to cry and how to grieve when our nation is hurting. For giving me the capacity to be present not only in times of joy but also in times of loss and loneliness.

7. For connecting me to the Jewish people and to our history. Living in Israel or even just visiting makes me feel like a crucial part of our nation. I am an inextricable link in the chain of the incredible living history of our people. In Israel I feel I am building the future of the Jewish nation each day, bringing to fruition the vision our people has dreamed for thousands of years.

My beloved Israel, thank you for motivating me to grow and for showing me how to see the contours of my soul. I have been blessed to live on your hilltops and climb your mountains, and I have seen the ‘ordinary’ miracles that hold and sustain our people, miracles that give us a way to come home when it seems like we can never return.

Thank you, Israel, for your open arms and open heart, and for the promise that you whisper every day to every Jew across the world: there is a place for you here, at home.

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