I woke up just before sunrise this morning. I've just arrived in Israel so my entire sleep schedule is off. I sat in bed for about an hour, pondering returning to sleep. But then I realized where I was. I realized I wasn't in Memphis anymore. I realized that I was in the land of my people. I realized it was my duty to arise early and do whatever I could to experience Israel.
I began my day with a morning workout in my brother's backyard. The workout itself was so mind boggling. I didn't find myself in a gym surrounded by people trying to look sexy. I found myself in the Hills of Judea, alone with my thoughts. I didn't use fancy, expensive workout equipment. I used rocks. I lifted large stones. I felt as if I was utilizing the natural resources that God created for this land. As I was lifting, I stopped to think about my efforts to stay in shape, comparing those efforts to the efforts of my ancestors. I was exercising in the hills that my forefathers traveled through. I was looking out at the mountains, absolutely blown away by the fact that Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, all of my ancestors saw the same ones.
I've never really appreciated the idea of prayer. I contact God when I feel desperate enough to do so. That being said, if I don't have something to pray for, I won't do it. But I looked up at the clouds this morning and I felt as if God was traveling through them. The clouds were moving so fast, almost as if they were making their daily rounds through Israel to ensure everyone was okay. For the first time in my life, I felt as if God was really all around me. After seeing the clouds, I felt it necessary to put my Tefillin on to pray. As I said the Amida, I passed quickly over the first Passuk. But then I took a step back. I slowed myself down. I re-read the words. When I said Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, I felt them there. I saw them looking at what I saw. I progressed through the Amida with meaning and passion, finally arriving at Shema Koleinu. I always stop to speak to God in english at that point in the prayer. As I was talking, the sun rose a little bit more, just enough that it shined on my closed eyes. The experience gave me the chills, it made my heart race. When I said the words, I meant them. When I talked to God, I felt like he was listening.
Finding the connection here seems to be effortless. Being in the home of my ancestors gives Judaism a new meaning. I identify myself as a Zionist Jew, not necessarily as a religious one. But I felt something I had never felt before this morning. I felt my appreciation for the land of Israel strengthen, something I didn't think was possible. And I felt a religious connection to God and my people. That feeling is one I'm very much looking forward to reliving multiple times while I'm here. That feeling is almost indescribable.
What's more, today I traveled to Ma'arat Hamachpaela with my family. We visited the tomb sites of some of the most significant Biblical figures in Jewish history. I stood just above the dirt where my forefathers rest. Learning about the Jewish People's history in a classroom is not so emotional and impactful. But living the history, being enamored by it - it doesn't get much more impactful than that.
Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, my brother took me to watch the sunset over the Hills of Judea. We sat on the edge of a mountain, looking out at the beautiful land God promised us. It was absolutely surreal. The scenery in itself was breathtaking. But thinking about my people's history was absolutely baffling.
I see the history here. I feel God. I am absolutely delighted and amazed by all of the beauty of this land. It's been just over a day and I'm already having a phenomenal experience.
I'm going to be writing about more of my experiences here within the next few weeks. It's good to post again.