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This is Israel calling…

Dispatches from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh's Mega Mission

The Israeli flag flies in Masada, the site of historic clashes with the Roman empire millennia ago. Photo by David Rullo.
The Israeli flag flies in Masada, the site of historic clashes with the Roman empire millennia ago. Photo by David Rullo.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Mega Mission is June 13-21. I will be embedded with the mission, providing coverage on social media, traditional reporting in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and through this blog. By combining all three sources you’ll hopefully get a sense of what the mission is like, the experiences I’ve had and my thoughts along the way. Feel free to bookmark this page as I’ll be updating the blog on a frequent but irregular basis.

June 24
Final Thoughts

This is the final blog post about my trip to Israel as part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Mega Mission.

It’s been a hard post to write, or as they say in Israel, “It’s complicated.”

That phrase was used a lot over the nine days I spent in the country. It was spoken by tour guides, guest speakers and retired generals. It was used to describe territory disputes with the West Bank and Gaza, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and even used to describe how long it would take to reach a destination.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you know I began this trip as a convert questioning my connection to Israel, maybe searching for a relationship with the country. In truth, I perhaps conflated Israel and Judaism.

In Israel I found a country that does a lot of things right. How it thinks about water is stunning; conservationists in America should spend a few weeks there learning how to better use the resource. Its respect for the land and the thoughtful approach for its use is another positive. There is a respect for animals and the sustainability of food we would do well to heed here, and a sense of collective responsibility I have not witnessed, read or learned about anywhere else in the world. Israelis care about Israelis. The government-run medical system, the gun laws, the love of country are all things for which citizens across the world should strive.

There are, of course, uncomfortable — or “complicated” — issues in the country, as well.

Israel and some of its Arab neighbors don’t play well together. We were told Israel is going through a difficult divorce with only one partner willing to negotiate a settlement agreement. I’m not certain that accurately reflects what’s taking place in the region.

On another occasion we were told that there is no more conflict with the Arab countries and that the fight with the West Bank and Gaza Strip was no longer about land, rather it had to do with ideology and was a proxy war with Iran. I’m sure the Israeli government would like to believe the fight for land is over. I’m not sure the other side agrees.

Plurality is still an issue within the country. When we were at the Kotel the women traveling with us had to go in through a separate gate and were only allowed in sections designated as acceptable.

There’s also no question that Tel Aviv continues to become more liberal while Jerusalem becomes more conservative and Orthodox. These two extremes will cause complications over the next several years and decades as the country continues to sort through the boundaries between secular and religious life.

For brevity’s sake let’s not discuss the Israeli government which dissolved during our trip, readying the way for the country’s fifth election in four years.

In Israel I found a vibrant Jewish state proud of all it has achieved since the 1948 War of Independence. I also found a country where Judaism, in all forms, is respected and practiced, even if some are unwilling to see the positives in the ways others observe.

What I didn’t find was my spiritual home. That, it turns out, is here in America. What I thought I would find in Israel was impossible to find. My spiritual journey didn’t begin in the country so it can not end in the country.

Instead, Israel showed me that there is still a lot for America to get right. It has made me more committed to the concept of tikkun olam, making the world a better place. It has recommitted me to creating a better world for my son, here in this country. It has taught me that there is always a solution for those desperate enough to find it. It has made me understand that close enough isn’t good enough. Israel has made me want to be a better American. What more can you ask of a nine-day trip?! PJC

Temple imaging taken at the kotel. Photo by David Rullo

June 19, 2022
Unexpected spirituality

David Emanuel ben Abraham v’Sarah.

That is the Hebrew name I chose almost a decade ago. Until now, the name has been stuck in a locked, fireproof box in my office, written on my conversion documents. I haven’t used it since then and didn’t foresee a day when I would.

I am a Reform Jewish convert, and when I have been called to the bimah for an aliyah my Hebrew name has never been used. I don’t remember it being used for my son’s bar mitzvah or any of the life cycle events at my temple.

Don’t misunderstand me, the name has significance. I chose it, after all. The first part was simple, it was my name. I shared it with the most significant king of the Jewish people, the slayer of giants. It mattered. That name was given to me at birth and, as such, meant a line of continuity as I chose a new life.

The second part of the name, Emanuel — that was perhaps more meaningful. I chose it because it was the place where I began my journey of discovery. It was where I attended a Taste of Judaism all those moon cycles ago. It was my way to honor the most significant building I had entered in my adult life. It was chosen because of the role Temple Emanuel of South Hills played in my life.

Despite the significance, I never thought I would need to use the name. Israel changed that.

On 19 Sivan, 5782 — you might know it as June 18, 2022 — I, along with Temple Emanuel of South Hills Rabbi Aaron Meyer and a few other Mega Mission attendees were called to the bimah at Kehilat Kol Haneshama, a Reform congregation in Jerusalem, for the fourth aliyah Shabbat morning.

Reform congregations in Israel use your Hebrew name when you are called for an aliyah. Who knew? I was asked by the rabbi my name and I froze for an instance. I was lost in the rarity of needing the name and the weight of the moment.

“David Emanuel,” I said, almost under my breath when asked for my Hebrew name. “Your parents?” the rabbi asked. “No,” I said before Meyer guided me through an awkward moment answering for me “ben Abraham v’Sarah.”

I, of course, remembered that a convert claims Abraham and Sarah as his parents in honor of the pair being the parents of all Jews, but was shaken in the moment.

Before I left for Israel, I thought visiting the Kotel and touching the Western Wall would be the most meaningful moment of my trip to Israel. It turns out it wasn’t.

I’m not sure why that moment didn’t resonate. I could offer theories but they would most likely only offend some reading this. Let’s chalk it up to a feeling of “Jewish tourism” I sensed. No matter, the moment I had waited for fizzled.

I left disappointed. I was sure feeling a spiritual connection to Israel was lost. I, of course, didn’t anticipate Shabbat at Kehilat Kol Haneshama.

Don’t get me wrong: I know that if not for attending services with Rabbi Meyer, who called ahead and said a contingent from Pittsburgh would be coming for Shabbat, I would never have been given the opportunity I experienced.

And yet, it was then I found the spiritual connection I was seeking on this trip.

The secret, I guess, is that you can’t pick and choose spiritual moments. In the end, they come when the time is right, not when you attempt to force them. PJC

The Machne Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. Photo by David Rullo.

June 17
This year in Jerusalem

Today, I entered Jerusalem. We are now in the Middle East.

Technically, I’ve been in the region for almost six days but today, as we entered Jerusalem, it felt like, at last we really were in the Middle East.

When we arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday, I didn’t know what to expect. I found an Israeli city that felt, in spirit and practice, closely aligned to other large cities across the globe. Did I think it was a Jewish city? That’s a hard question to answer. It certainly had signs in Hebrew and there were historic sites and museums. But if I had to answer the question, I would say that what I saw had a more cosmopolitan than Jewish feel. I’m sure, though, that when bomb warnings sound in the city it feels very Jewish.

The next leg of our journey took me to Karmiel and Haifa. Both felt more traditionally Jewish but not quite Middle Eastern. I was there in the middle of the week, though, and Jewish — like secular — time doesn’t place much significance on that part of the calendar.

There also seemed to be a working relationship between members of the Arab community and members of the Jewish community. It seemed as if they coexist much differently than I thought I would find. I know that isn’t necessarily true in towns outside of Karmiel, but it was my experience during the two days I was in the region.

As our bus approached Jerusalem from the north, I observed the dynamics of color in the city. Don’t misunderstand: In large part there is no color. Regulations require all buildings to be constructed using Jerusalem stone, so everything has a tannish desert color. That was the color I expected to see throughout the whole country before arriving here. Tel Aviv was alive with contrasts, though, and color was just one of the bold experiences available. Haifa was celebrating Pride Month so there were rainbow flags every few feet above the streets in the neighborhood where our hotel was located, and we spent time visiting the Baha’i Gardens. It was awash in greens and whites.

After we disembarked the bus, I immediately felt the heat. It felt like an opposing force that I knew would continue to get stronger during the day, steadily rising until the sun went down and it retreated, leaving a skeleton crew to keep things prepared for the next day’s battle. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh and Connecticut; I’ve survived hot summers. This felt like a different type of warmth. This was Middle East hot. I felt like a clay brick being baked in an oven. My back sweat with minimal movement and clothes quickly became stuck to my body as I became dehydrated faster than I had in our previous stops.

Lunch was at the Machne Yehuda Market. It only took one step into it to know you were in the Middle East. The market reminded me of a few books I read that took place in Tangiers. Throngs of shoppers crowded the streets jockeying for space and the attention of vendors. Every inch of the market was filled — where there were no people there were open-air booths. Beggars sat on the ground in the center of the street, some were perched on stools or chairs playing music. Horns blared from scooters and cars alike. Wives yelled after husbands; husbands called to their wives, attempting to attract their attention as they selected fish for the night’s meal. Children roamed, often alone, with the type of certainty in the chaos that only comes from shopping in the market since birth.

And while Jerusalem is the Middle East, and the Machne Yehuda Market had the type of feel that other markets throughout the area most likely have, it was also decidedly Jewish. It was late afternoon when we got to the market and shops were getting ready to close for Shabbat. Jews in various dress were selecting breads, meats, fish and desserts for meals. Falafel shops were situated next to stalls sells kippot. There was no mistaking that the market, like most of Jerusalem, operated on Jewish time.

The final stop is a Kabbalat Shabbat celebration at Huldah Gates in the Old City before a visit to the Kotel. I’d like to tell you more, but the sun is setting and as Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “a breeze has blown away the marketplace.” PJC

Israeli not for profits like A-CAT Akko Center for Arts & Technology work to ensure citizens don’t fall through the cracks. Photo by David Rullo

June 16
Collective responsibility

Israel understands the importance of partnerships.

When the Jewish state was founded, the power of the collective was important. It is most easily seen in the kibbutz communities and settlements. Everyone here, it appears, started with nothing and knew they were surrounded by enemies. Depending on your neighbor wasn’t simply a nice idea, it might be the difference between life and death.

As the years have progressed the country has become more conservative. And yet, during my time here I’ve seen a system based on the country’s collective past. There doesn’t seem to be much discussion here about individual rights vs. the good of the community. Everyone understands the need to stick together and help the most vulnerable. Everyone seems comfortable with the idea that self determination can only be accomplished through group security — extending beyond defense of the land into social services.

To that end, I haven’t seen many homeless people yet in Tel Aviv (a huge city), Karmiel or Haifa or Akko. I’m sure they are here but I haven’t seen them.

One of the rabbis asked an Israeli about this. They told her it was because there are so few that when the community sees a homeless person, they are able to use social media to direct resources to the person and get them the help they need. Imagine that: using social media for good instead of the latest Kardashian/Kanye West rumor!

I’ve spent a lot of time the last few days at various organizations in Israel created to protect Israel’s vulnerable population, including at-risk youth, low-income seniors or simply a house dedicated to helping nonprofits in Karmiel.

The differences between Israel’s and the United States’ collective concern, and the protection of individual rights, is striking.

What’s been most interesting is the way the responsibility carries forward. Yesterday, we spent time in a community that cares for at-risk youth. When the children age out of the program at 18, they either spend a year volunteering and then enter the military or go right into the IDF. The children I spoke with were excited about the opportunity. Maybe that’s because the army is positioned differently here. You see soldiers throughout the country, leading museum tours, guarding citizens and doing things we don’t consider part of the job of the United States military. Better or worse? You tell me.

In the end, what I think I’ve learned is that the argument shouldn’t be about capitalism vs. socialism. If we can shift the paradigm and change the conversation, the discussion becomes collective responsibility vs. individual greed — and that’s an easy argument to win. PJC

The Pittsburgh Promenade and Karmiel Memorial to the October 27, 2018 Victims. Photo by David Rullo

June 15
Final Day in Tel Aviv

Creation myths and liberation stories.

Most cultures have at least one of each. What is remarkable is how close they resemble one another. Stories of great floods exist in the Torah, the Kwaya people in Africa, the North American Choctaw population, the Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh and more.

Yesterday we spent time learning about Israel’s liberation. While we recount the story of the Jewish people’s liberation from Egypt on Passover, the tale of Israel’s liberation from the British Mandate leading to the War of Independence is perhaps less well known in the States and with Jewry around the world.

Yesterday, that story was recounted at the Palmach Museum. There we learned of the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces.

Interestingly, what I gleaned was that this strike force’s history is close to that of the Irish Republican Army and even the early days of the Revolutionary War here in America. Secret missions; funding from abroad; clandestine groups with similar interests but very different philosophies, before the group is subsumed as part of a newly formed government.

We also spent time at the Peres Center for Peace & Innovation. Created by former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, it is the type of organization that could only be created by a free people, living in a free land, making contributions to the world.

Today, we’re traveling by train. We’re leaving Tel Aviv. I feel like I’ve been in the restaurant at the end of the universe for the last two days.

“The World’s First Hebrew City” is a tale of two cities.

Riding to and from locations organized by the Federation, “old Tel Aviv” can be viewed from the windows of the bus. The buildings are aged. They are run down. There’s graffiti. I’m sure there is crime. It feels like Brooklyn, pre-gentrification.

The city we’ve been shown is very different. It’s new. There are huge cranes everywhere heralding a city built up to meet population needs. People live in new high rises. The wait for a coffee at Aroma is long. There are BMWs parked in front of trendy restaurants. Think Brooklyn post-gentrification.

I’m not sure there’s a lot of overlap between these two cities.

Over the last two days, we’ve been introduced to how Federation helps support Jewish institutions, bridging both of these cities.

As we depart and I think about my time here, Tel Aviv feels more alien and otherworldly than I expected. There’s much more chaos, especially in the rhythm of the traffic. Motorized bikes and scooters appear not to be governed by traffic laws. Fashion appears to be both utilitarian and couture. Construction seems to be one long ongoing project. The flow of pedestrians continues unfettered by whatever is happening on the streets around it, yet everyone seems to understand how it works. Street art is painted on almost every white space of a building, at least at street level. The beach along the Mediterranean is filled with young people playing beach volleyball or beach table tennis (with a volleyball and their feet) or simply soaking in the sun.

I’m certain there are poor sections in the city where people are worried about eking out a living and sending their kids to college, but I haven’t had the opportunity to explore it.

Despite the mosques I’ve seen in every section of town and the metropolitan pulse of the city, Tel Aviv has a Jewish feel. That shouldn’t be surprising. What it doesn’t have — at least what I haven’t found — is a deep sense of spirituality or Jewish culture, at least what we call Jewish culture in the States. It is simply Jewish, unconcerned with living the Jewish sensibility marketed by American television shows and movies. Or, maybe it’s simply Israeli and I’m conflating the two. I’ll be thinking about that as we move on to other cities.

We’re on our way to Karmiel Misgav. I don’t expect to find much spirituality there, either. It feels like maybe Israel has decided one city, thousands of years old, and which is considered the meeting place of three of the world’s great religions, is enough. We’re traveling from the restaurant at the end of the universe where everyone is permitted, even encouraged to flaunt their individuality on a journey that will eventually unite mankind. PJC

Photo by David Rullo.

June 14, 2022
Tel Aviv Day One

I see travel in colors.

Train trips are brown. Most trains I’ve been in have been shaded brown, as have the stations I’ve waited in, the benches I’ve sat on and the interior dining cars I smoked in (when I still smoked) whiling away the hours between Pittsburgh and New York.

Plane voyages are gray.

Gray is the color of the planes. The terminals are gray. Even the art they paint in the various airports and walkways that starts in bold pinks, blues and greens eventually fades and becomes coated by a transparent gray.

The tray tables in planes are gray, as are most of the other parts of the interior of the jets beside the seats, which always seem to be blue. Of course, Picasso’s Blue Period included a lot of grays, so at some point gray transitions back to color, usually when I reach my destination.

I traveled to Tel Aviv yesterday. The first leg of the journey was easy. Too easy. I got to the airport early, made it through security with no issues and landed in Boston early. I should have known the luck couldn’t hold out.

Almost as soon as I landed, we learned of a delay. Our 3 p.m. flight was pushed to 4:50 p.m., then 6 p.m. We didn’t leave Beantown until nearly 8 p.m. Making matters worse, I received a text message from one of my brothers letting me know my uncle had a “cardiac incident” while I was in the air.

The flight was a struggle. The many fits and starts, and the stress of wondering how my uncle was, made it nearly impossible to sleep.

Once we arrived in Israel the gray of plane travel slowly started to take on color.

Tel Aviv is an amazing city. There’s a rhythm to the city completely different than that of Pittsburgh. I could have watched the traffic flow for hours.

My hotel overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. The sunset last night was beautiful. Federation has plenty planned and I hit the bed exhausted.

I’m still tired but at least I’ve made it. I’m looking forward to the next several days.

When I was flying from Pittsburgh to Boston the woman in the next seat asked where I was headed.

“Israel,” I told her. “This is the first leg of a long journey.”

“You could have said that the day you were born,” she said.

Those words rang in my ears. The next few days will be filled with activity. I’ll still worry about my uncle but I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. It goes without saying but there’s a “Jewishness” here I haven’t felt in America, it’s infused throughout the experiences I’ve had and I’m only at the start of this long journey. PJC

June 8, 2022
Anxiety

It’s been some time since I last flew. I can’t remember how long but I know that I was excited by the idea of having two hours of music stored on my iPod and the ability to play a knock-off version of “Breakout” on the Apple device.

I didn’t have to worry about a COVID test before flying or setting up one for my flight back to the States, either.

The world has changed — a lot.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t like traveling.

Back when I was flying to California or Texas for work, I didn’t like the long trips, even with the just-released New Radicals album on my iPod. Back then the planes were less crowded, more reliable in their departure times and allowed more than one piece of luggage without signing over the deed for your house in fees.

And now, I’m preparing to fly to Israel, economy. A journey so long I can’t even figure out how many hours I’ll be in the air. I’m not anticipating comfortable seats or excited about the possibility of getting to know mates sharing a row in a filled-to-capacity plane.

I’m also worried about leaving my wife and son for 10 days. Ten days probably doesn’t seem like a long time if you’re a touring musician or a circus act but in my neck of the woods, it’s an eternity. The last time I traveled without my family was to California. My son was only 2 or 3 years old. It was a four-day trip. On night two my wife called to tell me that the living room wall to our apartment had collapsed during a prolonged rainstorm because of a long present leak we knew nothing about. Jack still remembers it, still talks about the time the wall fell.

A lot has changed in our life since those early days as a family. Back then, we could have never imagined that one day I’d be flying to Israel to cover a Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh mission. Of course, back then we couldn’t foresee a day when we had two cars or Jack was out of diapers.

I know we’re lucky. I know we’re blessed. I know this is an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing trip. That doesn’t help the anxiety.

I don’t consider myself an anxious person but there have been clues throughout my life that maybe I am. I remember as a kid I couldn’t sit still. I had what my grandfather called “ants in my pants.” I know that I don’t like sitting in silence, that I actually worry about whether the dust between the outlet and the plug is combustible enough to start a fire that will consume my home and that whenever I do anything, go anywhere or make any plans I’m consumed by the “what ifs.” “What if I didn’t turn off the gas to the stove,” “what if someone breaks in while I’m not home,” “what if Kim falls down the stairs while doing the laundry because I wasn’t there to do it?”

Like I said, I don’t consider myself an anxious person, but there are signs that maybe I am.

Today’s worry though isn’t about not being here; rather, it’s about what I’m bringing there.

I’m leaving in six days and have started to think about packing. There’s no way I’m going to fit what I need in one bag.

I have close to 60 pairs of shoes and am pretty sure I need them all. There’s a reason they make leather in various shades of black and brown, right? I have at least two dozen hats. Each provides a different function or look.

How many pink shirts do you have? I have 10 and each is worn for the subtle matching it provides with other clothing.

My point is packing makes me anxious. Maybe it shouldn’t be this way but I’m more concerned about bringing what I consider to be the right amount of clothes and shoes for this trip than I am about terrorists taking over the flight or the plane running out of gas midway across the Atlantic. Oh jeez, I hadn’t even thought about the plane running out of fuel until I typed that sentence. OK, now I’m equally concerned about running out of fuel and having the right amount and combination of clothing and shoes.

Look, I know, this is going to be an incredible trip. I’m not worried about that. I know I’m going to walk away with a deeper spirituality, connection to the Pittsburgh Jewish community and Israel, and I’m going to make memories that will last a lifetime.

I’d be lying though if I said this last week before flying wasn’t making me anxious.

If you’ll excuse me, I must go and figure out the right number of salmon-colored socks to pack. PJC

“Israel” Photo by baklavabaklava, courtesy of flickr.com

June 1, 2022
I wholeheartedly support Israel. I want Israel to feel the same way about me.

Written two weeks before I travel to Israel with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Mega Mission.

In a little less than two weeks, I’ll be traveling to Israel as part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Mega Misson. I’m excited about the opportunity. It will be my first time in the country.

I must admit, though, that the upcoming trip has me thinking a lot about my Jewish identity.

For most American Jews, identity is a simple equation: I am Jewish because I was born Jewish. I am an American Jew because I was born in the country. I support Israel because I see value in the Jewish state. Israel supports me because I was born a Jew.

Those sentences don’t require a lot of math.

It gets trickier when I, or others who converted as part of the Reform or Conservative movements, examine our own identity.

I am Jewish because I converted on July 19, 2013. I am an American Jew because this is where I converted, have built community and had my experiences as a Jew. I support Israel because I see the value in a Jewish state.

Israel, however, seems confused about its support of me.

In 2005, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that conversions performed outside the country were recognized as part of the Law of Return. Under this ruling, I can become a citizen of Israel — but my religious and future life cycle rituals there would not be recognized.

Jews who had non-Orthodox conversions inside Israel, its Supreme Court decided in 2021, are Jewish in the eyes of the law and guaranteed citizenship.

The Orthodox rabbis in charge there see it otherwise, however.

Following the 2021 ruling, David Lau, one Israel’s two chief rabbis, said that Reform converts are not Jewish.

“No ruling by the Supreme Court this way or that way will change this fact,” he said.

Not to be outdone, disgraced Israeli politician Aryeh Deri, the country’s then Interior Minister, promised to amend the law so that only conversions according to Jewish law (as determined by the minister and his rabbinic colleagues) will be recognized by Israel.

Many who are ultra-Orthodox in Israel believe that conversion is a religious matter that doesn’t concern the state. They believe the state cannot decide who is, or isn’t, Jewish.

I appreciate the tension between a secular Jewish state and its relationship with the Orthodox rabbis who rule on religious issues. However, until my commitment to Judaism is accepted by both the state and the rabbis who help run the country — the years I’ve spent studying, my appearance before a beit din to defend why I wanted to convert, the religious services I’ve attended and my dedication to Jewish institutions — then I, and all liberal converts, are still only two-thirds of a person, despite the recent rulings of the Supreme Court.

Or, to put it another way, the attempt to divide the baby — recognizing us as Israeli citizens but not quite Jewish — is a failed attempt at a compromise.

That isn’t too surprising. There are some here in America who don’t consider me a Jew either.

For nearly the last decade I have had to confront many in the Orthodox community who do not see me as Jewish. They ask about my background, question my commitment and challenge my Reform conversion. Shockingly, this prejudice has usually come from rabbis.

It doesn’t matter that I have served as a vice president of my temple, worked for both the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, volunteered at Jewish events, raised my son Jewish — or that I work as a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, telling the stories of our community.

Their equation is simple: I did not convert through the Orthodox movement, so I am not Jewish.

The one person, it appears, who doesn’t question my Jewish status is the gunman at the gate. When someone comes to murder Jews, they don’t question conversions; they simply shoot to kill.

What all but those who have converted don’t understand is that I’ve always felt Jewish, even if I didn’t know it. I certainly felt more connected to Judaism than to the ethnicities of my heritage: Italian, Czechoslovakian, Irish and German.

Before I knew what it was, I was interested in Jewish culture. My favorite writers, directors, actors and movies were Jewish. I enjoyed Jewish food, despite its scarcity in my small town, just several miles away from Squirrel Hill. And, as I began my journey to conversion, it was Jewish spirituality that attracted me, not the Christian religion my family has claimed.

I’ve always felt Jewish; I simply didn’t know it until I became Jewish.

I’ve also always been a strong supporter of Israel. The only thing that changed after my conversion was that I became a stronger supporter of the Jewish state, more Zionistic in my beliefs.

I want Israel to feel the same way about me. I don’t think it does. Israel, it seems is from Venus and it thinks I’m from Mars.

I am excited about my trip to Israel. I am anxious to learn about the land and meet the people. I feel a calling to see Israel. I am sure it will deepen my Jewish identity and connect me to the culture, religion and country. I hope it also allows Israel to see me as more than a tourist.

That might be a bridge too far but there’s always hope.

After all, as Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav wrote, “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be afraid.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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