"Did you love Israel?"
I turned and faced my questioner - a beaming, proud Israeli woman just ahead of me in the customs line at London Heathrow Airport. Looking at her face I could see she wasn't going to take anything less than "I loved it!" in return. Contemplating my answer, I noticed how fresh she looked despite 4 hours of security questions from El Al Airlines in Tel Aviv, a 1 1/2 hour delay on the tarmac, and 5 1/2 hours of flying, only to be currently standing in another long line awaiting more security questions and another flight.
Had we just come from the same place? I had just returned from one of the most challenging experiences of my life and she appeared as though Israel was the fountain of youth everyone was searching for.
But I couldn't deny her question. "Intense," I said. Despite her obvious leading, I appreciated her question.
“Why so many walls?” I wanted to ask, struggling to give words to some of the feelings of conflict, separation, and fear that marked my trip. I was thinking of the Old City Walls in Jerusalem, creating the four quarters of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Armenians; the Wailing Wall, all that’s left of the great temple, inviting cries of prayer and suffering both; and the Separation Walls on the West Bank that keep Israeli and Palestinian populations apart.
I began searching her face for what I knew must lie beneath the smiling surface. She has a story. She has an opinion about the conflict. She's experienced pain, anger - an identity crisis. She’s overcome suffering, resolved a loss, and come to terms with the walls.
I pleaded silently: “Reveal it to me. Show me where it's taken you and what you have to teach the rest of the world. Feel pity on me, for this is my first visit. Empathize with me, for war isn’t easy. Understand that check points, gunfire and barbed wire are not part of my normal daily existence. Dare to look into my eyes and see what I have witnessed in your country, where I have judged out of ignorance and truth alike. Remind me of a larger purpose and of our underlying unity.”
She remained quiet, giving space to her lingering question.
"Did you love Israel?"
Remembering the walls - the ancientness of Jerusalem, the wisdom that is part of the land itself, the anger at losing one’s home, the desire to find new ground, the war, and the peace, I slowly began to understand the gleam in her eye.
Yes, I thought, the Holy Land is worth fighting for. If this land can stay holy despite the blood, if it can continue to reflect sacredness into human consciousness despite all the conflict and struggle, it could be one of the most powerful living symbols of peace imaginable.
Each of the people we interviewed pointed to this tremendous possibility in Israel, and we were reminded that although the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is unique to the Holy Land, the whole world is affected by it. The struggle to find harmony and peace among diverse individual, communal, national, and religious identities is universal.
I recall Rabbi Froman saying, “If we can figure out Jerusalem, it can be a bridge for all humanity."
In Israel, where, more than anywhere else I’ve been, life and death seem to be equally present and possible in every moment, I was reminded of the teaching that when everything is dying, there is tremendous potential for something new to be born, and the light that emerges can be like a torch for all the world.
I looked into her eyes, the woman before me in line, and said, “Yes, I really did.”