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Yom Sheini, 4 Adar 5778
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04 March 2016

It’s Like Riding a Bike: Returning Home to Israel

By Rabbi Sarah Smiley

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Central Conference of American Rabbis Convention in Israel. This was my first time retuning to Israel since I began working at Temple Emanu-El. Five years away from our homeland was way too long. Before traveling, I was nervous about how I would feel once I arrived and if I would have the same connection while walking the land that I once did when I was there more often. I quickly learned that it was like riding a bike; everything came back to me; my connection, my feelings, my love/hate relationship with a place that is my home. This trip, however, was not like any other I had taken. The opportunities I had with the CCAR were awe inspiring.  

I journeyed into the West Bank and visited both the first Palestinian planned city of Rawabi and a Jewish settlement near the ancient town of Shiloh. I learned about how Israel is one of the premier start up nations. I studied text with colleagues. I soaked up every bit of knowledge that I could during my short trip.

Kotel picAlthough I might not remember every text I learned or every company I visited, I do know that I will remember my visit to the Kotel. One of the mornings, I chose to wake up before the sun and journey with other reform rabbis to the Kotel. This visit to the Kotel, however, was different. Instead of walking by myself in the women’s section up to the wall, we prayed as a coed collective group at the place that will hopefully one day become the egalitarian section. I raised my voice together with men and women as we sang the morning prayers and read Torah. The collective prayer, however, was not the moment that I will remember forever. I will always remember the moment when Rabbi Josh (my husband) and I, sharing his tallit, silently prayed our individual prayers while touching the wall together. I can’t even describe in words what this moment was like for me. The first time I visited the Kotel, when I was 16, it was nothing more than a pile of bricks. This visit, however, I embraced the wall and my husband at the same time. I can only hope that the progressive movement in Israel is able to bring this dream into a reality in the future for anyone who wants to have this same experience. 

This trip home was way too short, but the memories and learning I will carry with me forever. 

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