This is an oldie from just before the beginning of the Iraq War. My family had taken part in a family mission to Israel at the end of February, 2003.
Lisa and I just returned from a family trip to Israel. The woman checking us in at the airport surveyed our children, and, after some hesitation, said "I hope you make it home OK". Being a Rabbi, (and blessed with rabbinic telepathy), I knew she was actually thinking "what sort of a lunatic takes four little kids to a dangerous country like Israel?".
Actually, the danger is exaggerated. Attacks on Israel receive disproportionate media attention which distorts reality. The most dangerous part of our trip was when Uri, the cabbie who took us from the airport, drove at breakneck speed and tailgated while yammering on his cellphone. Indeed, statistically speaking, you are far more likely to die of a car accident in Israel (or Canada) than in a terrorist attack.
But I appreciate that it’s reasonable to worry. Bombs and Scuds are remote, but genuine possibilities. When we arrived, the Jerusalem Post had a full page ad emblazoned with the headline "Are You Prepared", which advertised protective suits and gas masks. The ad reminded us that Israel constantly lives with the possibility of war.
This reality is distressing. An Israeli friend told us how her 11 year old son, fatigued by conflict, wants to move to New Zealand, an isolated country without enemies. My own children, on their first visit to Israel, percieved the conflict as well. At the Air Force Museum, my seven year old son asked: "Abba, why does Israel have so many enemies?". Living with this question is Israel’s tragic burden.
So why did we go? We went to watch our children, visiting a school in Beersheva, feel right at home in the classroom with their Israeli brothers and sisters. We went to meet the remarkable volunteers from ZAKA, who are available 24/7 to help at accident scenes, administer first aid, and if necessary, to locate body parts for a proper burial. We (a group of 80 parents and children) went to express our solidarity with Israel.
Most importantly, we went because it’s home. It was a pleasure to see our children discover Israel for the first time; Hebrew everywhere, Kosher McDonalds, archeological sites. We visited Beersheva, the city of Abraham and Sarah, and Jerusalem, the city of David and Solomon. Watching our children connect to the Kotel was a priceless experience.
When we arrived at Ben Gurion airport, I glanced at an ad; I don’t remember much of the ad except for words "higatem habaytah", "you’ve come home". When I saw those words, my eyes began to tear, and I understood why we went. Israel is our home; it might seem crazy, but we had to take our children home for a visit.