Around nine years old my dad introduced me to Fiddler on the Roof. That’s when I announced I was going to be Jewish when I grew up. What I saw was a group of people both tied to and struggling with their traditions. I spent most of my childhood longing to be a member of this community. It wasn’t until 2002, after moving to San Francisco, That I finally converted. This was what I had been aiming for all those years. After converting I felt Jewish, connected to the tradition. There was something missing from my Jewish identity. I didn’t know what that was until this last week when I traveled through Israel for the first time. Never before have I felt so connected to my religion and the wider Jewish community than being in Israel. The night before my trip I has a mix of emotions - joyful, excited, nervous. As I boarded the plane the next day the only thing I could think about was the fact that when the doors opened I would be in Israel.
The next afternoon I arrived in Tel Aviv. I arrived home.
The trip took me from Tel Aviv to the Negev and up to Jerusalem. Ascending the hills of Jerusalem was a moving experience. I was pretty emotional just at the thought of walking the streets, not to mention the fact that I was going to get to celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem.
Our first full day in Jerusalem was a Friday. After touring in the morning and afternoon, we all went back to the hotel to prepare for Shabbat. We attended a lively pluralistic Kabbalat Shabbat services under a large tent in what was the first train station of Jerusalem. Then went over to the Kotel to welcome in Shabbat. On our way to the Kotel we ended up having an impromptu song session with a group of Hassidic young men. We all joined together in singing Hinei Ma Tov (Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity).
I danced with a few groups of yeshiva students and prayed at the wall. The night ended with a Shabbat dinner on the Hebrew Union College patio overlooking the old city.
Back home I’ve been asked many times “How was the trip? It must have been an ‘interesting’ time to be there.” It was indeed an interesting time. Tensions escalating between Israel and the Palestinians over the three kidnapped Israeli teens who were murdered and the Palestinian teen found shortly after. However, with all the demonstrations and the likelihood of missiles, I still felt at home and completely safe.
After nearly 13 years as a Jew, I finally felt Jewish…fully Jewish. And it all started with Fiddler on the Roof.
Click through the slideshow for some highlights from the trip.