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Yearning for Israel after Covid Kept Us Away

July 11, 2021 | by Emuna Braverman

So many of us are longing to be in Israel where the connection to spirituality is more tangible, more vibrant, more real.

I hear it everywhere I go – the whispers and the louder conversations. Did you get in? How did you do it?

From all over the world and certainly from America, Jews are desperately trying to get into Israel. Sometimes it’s to visit family, particularly children they haven’t seen during the whole pandemic, but often it’s just to go, to touch the ground, to see the land, to reconnect.

I’m struck by how powerful the urge is, how much and how many people want to go. It’s truly wonderful.

For those of us who came of age since the ’67 war, Israel has always been there. We tend to take it for granted, including access to the Western Wall. We forget that it wasn’t always so. We forget the arduous journeys our ancestors made to visit the land and we complain about the length of our flights (which seem to be getting shorter all the time), the uncomfortable seats or the lousy movies. We forget to be grateful for the privilege of going, we forget to be in awe of the opportunity.

I myself am guilty as charged. In the 10 years immediately leading up to Covid, my husband and I each made approximately 34 trips to Israel, mostly together but some separate, mostly business but a few personal. We felt drained, wrung out – did we really have to go back to Israel again? (Just in fairness, even with the direct flights, it is a long trip from LA although, as mentioned, short compared to those treks of our forbearers.)

I’m embarrassed by that now; I'm yearning to get on a plane (even though I hate flying) and get back to Israel. I’m willing to put up with the chaos at the airport and other discomforts in order to have the chance to walk those familiar streets, eat in those familiar restaurants (I hope they’re still in business), patronize those familiar stores (only as an act of kindness to make up for their lost business of course!) and to pour my heart out at the Western Wall.

Missing that opportunity helps me experience a tiny taste of the mourning of Tisha B’Av. Even though the Temple isn’t standing (and that’s a big “even though”!), it’s been a comfort to pray at the Kotel, to let the tears flow and to feel the connection to the Almighty. He always hears our prayers but when I stand at the Kotel, I know He’s hearing them. My soul feels at peace.

Being deprived of that experience for the past two years has created a void, a space that seeks filling. Yes, God is available everywhere, but we imperfect and material human beings benefit from having a physical place where connection is more possible, more tangible, more vibrant, more real.

This year, as we deepen our mourning for our destroyed Temple, I feel both a greater connection to and experience of the loss as well as a greater sense of hope. Not just hope because the airports are open, not just hope because the government says it won’t impose any further restrictions and will soon lift those indoor mask requirements, not just hope because I’m planning to come with a group of women in October (God willing), but hope because I see the desire, the urgent wishes of my fellow Jews, religious and non-religious, to return to Israel. I see how much we have all missed it. I see how much we are all eager to go. I see how we are all trying to cut through the red tape, to jump through hurdles (and repeated rapid COVID and serology tests) just to get there. I see how much Israel means to all of us.

And if I see it, so does the Almighty. We are taught that if you don’t mourn the Temple, you won’t merit to see it rebuilt. We are all mourning the missed opportunities to go to Israel and eagerly anticipating a future trip. It may not be perfect mourning but the Almighty is a loving Father who recognizes that His children are imperfect but that we are trying. And perhaps, please God, given the challenges of our time, it will be enough.

May the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days (and may the bureaucracy at Ben Gurion airport be reduced as well!).


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