1st Israel trip memories still fresh as dates

The spring season is filled with so many celebratory and commemorative occasions for us as Jews; it’s almost overwhelming how much of our shared history occurs within such a tight calendar time frame.
Of course, everything begins with Pesach, when we relive again — every year — the seminal occasion in our people’s history. But this year, it was less than two weeks after the joys of our Seder tables when Yom HaShoah was with us once again — the yearly distressing but necessary reminder of the second occasion in our existence that took the Judaism we had long taken for granted and changed it forever …
And then, in quick succession: Just earlier this week, we had the solemn Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for all who fell in the struggle for the new nation’s independence — which was on the calendar for the very next day, and is always marked in our communities with an annual day of celebration (this year, a major event this Sunday at the Dallas JCC).
But now, after looking backward, I’m looking ahead. Again, in less than two weeks, we’ll have another great date to celebrate: May 24 will be Yom Yerushalayim. This is the day that marked Israel’s 1967 victory in the Six-Day War, with the reunification of Jerusalem under the young nation’s control. Please note: This year is the 50th anniversary of that long-awaited event!
Twenty-five years ago, at the quarter-century mark, my late husband and I were in Jerusalem for the celebration of that day. The whole country was alive with excitement; my memories are crowned with recurring sounds of the Israel Symphony’s concert that night. We had gone on a rather standard trip to Israel for first-time visitors — just a dozen of us, with our then-rabbi and his wife. They had a friend who was a tour guide and arranged for him to lead our group, and we thought he was exceptional. (Later, I learned that all Israeli tour guides are exceptional; the government wouldn’t have it any other way.) In our group there was one woman, a widow, who was quite a few years older than the rest of us; she was the first who, when we climbed out of the waiting van on our ride from the airport, got down on her knees to kiss the ground of the Holy Land.
Now I’m a widow, just as old as that woman was 25 years ago. How very elderly she looked to me then, and how quick I was to offer assistance (among other things, to help her up from her knees after that emotional kiss). She is gone, as are nine others of the dozen who took that trip with the local rabbi and his wife, who have long since moved off to another synagogue in another part of the country. Only three of us remain here, alive and still members of the same congregation: That one couple has since visited Israel again, as my late husband and I were also able to do.
Our second trip was different from the first in many ways: Its length was about the same, but we skipped some of what we had done before in order to see many places that were new to us. And that visit was at a different time of the year from Yom Yerushalayim. While it had its own great moments, none was quite as exciting as celebrating that 25-year anniversary.
I’m not anticipating a third visit to Israel, but very soon I’ll remember and honor that first exciting time, and the second — also memorable, but in a very different way — by reading a favorite short story written by a pioneer in early Jewish settlement days … by eating the freshest dates I can find at a local market … and by emptying my Blue Box and contributing its contents to the Jewish National Fund. Dayenu!
For me, that will have to be enough!

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