The Holy Land: Highlights

Israel, “one who wrestles with G-d;” the name given to avinu Yakov. Israel, it is a name of the Jewish people and the name of a country. A country that is both beloved and hated, controversial and infamous. A place of hope for 17 million people worldwide and a source of dread 12 million also. I was not here to debate politics or narrative, but to seek a connection, to seek the missing piece of my soul. Perhaps I was looking for G-d in the land that contains His ineffable name, or I’m just here to look for myself after losing faith.

In my search for connection, for G-d and the hope for love, I have decided to take a trip to “The Holy Land.” It is called the Holy Land for a reason – Well, just about around every street corner is some thousand year old shrine to a Biblical prophet or Quranic figure. Your hip boutique may contain a 600 years old sunken street. It is a place holy to Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha’is. For Jews, every city, every street contains history that links the people to this land. To Muslims, the Prophet rose to Heaven here and their 1000 year residency gave them deep roots. Christians and their “Christ” was born, died and resurrected here. The Bahai’s prophet spent his last days and was buried here.

I don’t know if anyone exclusively owns this place, but I can’t debate that each group belongs to this place.

Baha'i Hanging Garden

Baha’i Hanging Garden

This is certainly a small country but full of surprises… For one? As “holy” as it is, it is a booming modern country. Our views of Israel, and perhaps the wider middle east is that of movies about Jesus, it’s car bombs, it’s robe-wearing Bedouins riding camels… Well, there are those here. As there are sand dunes, minarets, churches, and Druze villages… But it is not all that, it is a place of contrast, where the ancient and modern coexists. Where the pious and the unapologetically secular vie for dominance. Here black hats devoutly sway at holy sites while pork is defiantly served in Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods; the Arabs of Nazareth and Bethlehem holds different passports; here you may hear an Arabic-speaking Moroccan Jew chants anti-Arab slurs while his Ashkenazi coreligionist abhors his racism. It is a fun place where you’ll see young kids shopping for clothes in the mall and a scary place because the same young guy buying Metallica T-Shirt is carrying his M16 because he’s an off-duty IDF soldier; a cool place where you can easily enjoy a night of drinking on a Friday evening or find a shul where they’ll welcome you and teach you how to wrap tefillin.

I didn’t think I knew what Israel was really about before I came here. Now that I was here, I am still not sure if I know what Israel is about.

Massada

Massada

For me, I was not here to party in Tel Aviv’s famous clubs. Nor was I here to enjoy the lovely beaches of Haifa. it was a journey to find a missing part of my soul… Some Native American tribes believe if a member of their tribe were to be separated from the tribe, this member will seek to rejoin his people, even if that means it’d take lifetimes. It is this feeling of separation that lead me here. Growing up in an irreligious environment, it would seem strange to many one would adopt a religion that requires so much. But I have embrace my Jewish heritage, and it is a choice. All Jews are Jews by choice in a free world. For me, my Asian heritage is something to be proud about but one doesn’t turn that off. I look how I look whether in Beijing or here in Tel Aviv. But being Jewish is a choice, nobody would know if I don’t tell them. Being Jewish, is therefore my choice.

Once upon a time in Tel Aviv

Once upon a time in Tel Aviv

As I walk through the streets of this both ancient and modern nation, I wonder if I will ever find love, wisdom and the missing piece of the puzzle that I have been searching for years… As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said “we are closer to G-d when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.” Perhaps this is true…

I didn’t get any answers when I prayed in a synagogue, I didn’t feel empowered when I put a note in the Wall. I saw no miracles when I consulted the Kabbalist nor did I feel any presence of the divine in any shrines, sites or tombs.

If I forget thee on Jerusalem, let my right hand wither...

If I forget thee oh Jerusalem, let my right hand wither…

But many questions did arise, “who am I really?” “What do I want in life?” “Will I ever find love again or even the hope thereof?” These questions drove me towards a destination. Like travel, the destination didn’t induce growth, but the journey itself. So was this trip because I didn’t see G-d, I didn’t feel I had an answer, but it was this trip that propelled me to be the man that I eventually became.

Prayers I wrote for love, for hope, for dreams... For myself and for others

Prayers I wrote for love, for hope, for dreams… For myself and for others

There was an answer I received, or it is better described – a feeling. I felt compelled to live life. As the Jewish people have endured two thousand years of persecution and exile, yet the “Joy of Torah” is celebrated each year. Even in the camps of Auschwitz, some celebrated a seder and said “Next years in Jerusalem.” The hope of a better future drove them, and from this trip, the same feeling drove me.

Sukkot celebrations next to the Wailing Wall

Sukkot celebrations next to the Wailing Wall

This place that reminded me that despite of being downtrodden, occupied, disbursed, and murdered…The Hope ultimately prevails and destiny is in my hands. I can’t say any mystics, prophets or sages can predict the future, but I do know the only way to predict the future is to make sure you make it happen.

Al-Aqsa Mosque

Al-Aqsa Mosque

So I will keep going, keep walking, keep looking… This place was what I needed to see, to feel, to experience.

Most emotional part of my trip - Holocaust Memorial Museum

Most emotional part of my trip – Holocaust Memorial Museum

In the words of David, “…Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” – Tehilim 30:5

4th Century Synagogue

4th Century Synagogue

As the journey nears its end, I am simultaneously dreading returning to the routine and solitude, yet excited and hopeful to see what the future has in store.

Menorah

Menorah

That’s how life is – What you make it. Half of it is perspective, because there are just too many things outside of our control. Where one is born, how one dies, what is one’s heritage, the cards which “Fate” dealt us. But even if things are pre-determined, I am determined to take control of my life and steer it into the happiness I deserve.

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

Each day is a new day, new doors will open, new places to be discovered! If one allows fear to take control, one will never go where one wants to go. Fear is a primal mechanism, and it has its purpose. But emotional fears are often twisted imaginations. Fear is real, but if you don’t despise your fear, then you love it more than you like to admit.

Port of Jaffa

Port of Jaffa

Here in Israel, I have embraced the unknown, the powerlessness that is life, and from the acceptance of this truth, I have taken hold of myself. There are things I don’t control, but I will control the things I do. In doing so I find power, and I will find Love.

Sunset over Jaffa

Sunset over Jaffa

“Your love has an eloquent tone. The sky and I want to hear it!” – Hafiz

[Continue on part 2]

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