a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

I Left a Piece of Myself in Israel

Posted on: December 12, 2011

When I boarded the A train in Penn Station on November 21st after traveling for twenty-four hours I was shocked by how loud it was.  People pushed and shoved their way around me as I tried to awkwardly position my luggage in a way that didn’t block too many people from standing on the crowded train.  My iPod died some where over Europe so I couldn’t lull myself with Adele or Sara Bareilles.  Instead I found myself wondering when the *ding-ding* of the subway doors closing got so loud.  I was surprised to be able to understand the conversations around me, I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to see brown people again.  I was startled by how dirty the train was, how disgruntled people looked.  A few weeks later I’m still waking up in the middle of the night, but I’ve re-adjusted to the sounds of the city around me.  I’ve not quite gotten back to the point of ignoring the people around me, but I’m sure with a bit more time in the U.S. it will happen. 

I can feel everything moving around me at the lightning-quick pace of New York City, but it feels like I’m walking backwards.  If I were a film director I would zoom in on myself walking on 6th Avenue.  The camera would focus on me, head down scarf tied around my neck, ear buds in my ears.  I’d be walking in slow motion as the people around me with blurred faces would be walking at their normal, frantic pace.  Just as the camera continues to zoom in to almost capture the look on my face, I suddenly start walking backwards and the world continues to move forward.

“My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west.” is a quote famously said and attributed to Yehuda Halevi the Jewish poet born in Toledo, Spain.  I’d heard the quote before, but now I understand it.  Pieces of my soul are scattered around Israel.  I left a huge chunk of myself in the Negev desert. 

I’m a bit behind on the week’s Torah portion, but reading places in Genesis that I’ve been less than one month ago is nothing short than amazing.  One of the people I met on the trip explained that Israel felt a bit like Narnia to her.  This fantasy place that you read about in your childhood that can’t possibly exist.  But it does.  For years I’ve read Abram walked through the Negev.  Never in my imagination could I dream to walk through the Negev as well, possibly in the same places that he walked.

There’s a large chunk of my soul in Jerusalem, specifically the Old City-in the depths of the Western Wall Tunnels.  Standing on ancient streets is profound.  Only a fraction of the Western Wall is visible from current street level.  When you follow a guide down into the depths of the earth you get to see the other parts.  The parts most people don’t see.  There aren’t as many notes crammed into crevices down there.  There aren’t as many people (we went at night).  It’s not as hectic or frantic.  It’s actually really quiet, peaceful, and serene.  I left a large part of my soul at the Western Wall, on the women’s side when I found myself crying uncontrollably as I recited Psalms and whispered quiet prayers of thanks.

I’ve talked to a handful of trip participants and it seems that we’ve all left pieces of ourselves in Israel.  Questions left unanswered.  Places we didn’t see.  People we didn’t meet.  Experiences we still don’t understand.  When you’re on a ten-day trip to Israel you barely scratch the surface.  You don’t even get to see the first layer.  I found this to be true when we walked through the Western Wall Tunnels.  We kept going further and further under ground until we reached what appeared to be the bottom, but they’re still doing excavations.  Who knows what I’ll discover as I keep digging.

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