Today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews, and it’s a time for fasting, repentance, and reflection. So, I wanted to reflect on a significant subject for me — in fact, it was why I just went to Israel’s Western Wall.
I wrote this in Jerusalem, Israel, during my recent visit to celebrate my fourth bar mitzvah anniversary.
In the early hours of September 11, 2001, as the world was shaken by the devastating events unfolding in the United States, I found myself stranded at Caltech, a postdoc far from home. My plans to travel that day to a group meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, were abruptly halted by a simple message on an answering machine (remember those?) – my flights had been canceled. No reason was given. Only after turning on the radio did I begin to grasp the significance of those cancelations.
Little did I know that this day would begin a profound personal journey that would reshape my understanding of faith, identity, and the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was born a Jew but abandoned it early on and became an altar boy in the Catholic Church at age 12, the age when boys become bar mitzvahs (hence, my recent ceremony at the Western Wall). So, on that fateful day, I realized that my knowledge of Islam and Christianity far surpassed my understanding of my birth religion, Judaism.
I solemnly committed to delve deeper into my Jewish heritage while also seeking to comprehend the complexities of Islam and the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Twenty-two years later, I find myself traversing the Holy Land with my family on a quest to connect with Arab Muslims, Bedouins, and Jews and to unravel the mysteries of this ancient land that holds within it the promise of perfection and the burden of tragedy.
As we journey through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, I am captivated by the rich tapestry of cultures, religions, and histories interwoven in this complex mosaic. The vibrant aromas of spices wafting through the Souk air mingle with the echoes of prayers rising from synagogues, mosques, and churches, creating a powerful symphony of faith and tradition.
Meeting individuals from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has opened my eyes to the profound humanity amidst the seemingly insurmountable divisions. Conversations with Arab shopkeepers in bustling markets, Ethiopian Jews wearing yarmulkes in the Kosher restaurants they own, and Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have shattered the stereotypes I once held, replacing them with a genuine appreciation for the shared struggles and aspirations that unite us all.
Yet, I am acutely aware that my growing affection for this timeless land is tempered by the tragic potential it harbors. The weight of history, the scars of conflict, and the ever-present specter of violence cast a long shadow over the aspirations for peace and harmony. As I navigate the complexities of this land, I am reminded that hope, though fragile, remains the beating heart of Israel.
Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, resonates in my mind; its poignant lyrics remind me of the indomitable spirit that has carried this nation through countless trials. This hope compels us to envision a future where Arabs and Jews can live side by side, bound by a shared destiny rather than divided by suspicion and fear.
Yet, I am not naive. I understand that the road to reconciliation is treacherous and fraught with disappointment and setbacks. The path toward a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is paved with the thorny issues of land, identity, and historical grievances. But even in the face of these daunting challenges, the Hope, Hatikvah, must prevail.
As I concluded my pilgrimage through the Holy Land, I was left with a sense of cautious optimism. The stories of resilience and empathy I have encountered have fortified my belief that a better future is possible. It is in the shared humanity, the common yearning for peace, and the unwavering commitment to justice that I find solace.
The Holy Land, with its timeless allure and tragic potential, serves as both a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a stark reminder of the urgent need for reconciliation. Through dialogue, understanding, and unwavering determination, I hope the people of this land can rise above the shadows of the past and forge a future that embraces the promise of true coexistence. That would be a dream come true.
If you made it this far, I’d love for you to let me know how 9/11 affected you. And no matter who or what you believe in, or not, I wish you a sweet, healthy, prosperous year ahead.
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“We should be open-minded and search for evidence rather than assume that everything we see in the sky must be rocks.The sky is not classified, and neither is the sea” – Avi Loeb
Check out this cosmic smiley face from the Hubble Telescope 🙂
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