Nomad Notes will be a series of blogs about and inspired by my meanderings into the places of my ancient past.
Chapter 1 Tel Aviv, Israel August 16, 2016
It’s 10pm and I’ve just completed my first full day in Tel Aviv, a city I did not visit on my one and only other time in Israel, more than 15 years ago. Then, as now, I came for a cousin’s wedding, and this year that was the only thing that would get me on a plane. I have always reveled in travel, but the terrorist events of the past months have shaken my characteristic bravado.
The Boulevard de Rothschild reminded me of the Ramblas in Barcelona; a warm night, a European vibe, even on a Tuesday populated with cyclists, walkers, eateries and music, the wide center promenade flanked by passing cars. Not all that easy, however, to find a full bar with food, but I settled into a bar seat at a Georgian restaurant and drank Russian vodka with my chicken dish, lucky that the young bartender spoke enough English for me to quiz her about my food intolerances.
I thought about my reason for being here as I ate the peppery chicken and vegetables. Yes, the wedding got me on the plane, but there is so much more. And as I write it now, I begin to tear up. I am finally strong enough, thanks to my Buddhist practice, to look the Holocaust in the eyes, to embrace my Jewishness, to seek out my roots in Eastern Europe, my destination after Israel. San Francisco is a wonderful place, and it’s so near California! I can’t bear to get on a plane, spend a bunch of money, and come right home. So my plans will finally take me, for the first time in my life, to the lands where generations of my ancestors struggled, survived, laughed, cried and died. After singing everyone else’s songs and learning everyone else’s languages, finally now I am ready to embrace my own culture and my family’s past. I want to stand where they stood.
Today I went to the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora (Beit Hatfutstot) at Tel Aviv University. I saw many images that touched me; brought me to tears like this holy book did, and also at the resemblance of myself and my family to some of the people in the photos, paintings and videos. I am lucky that my branch of the family emigrated to the USA in the early 1900’s. That’s how I am alive today. I saw my DNA in those photos.
Did those boys with the stars on their shirts survive? Was the man on the left a relative of mine? He looks like my father did as a youth. The Italian bride and the Polish Jewess both remind me of me and my mother.
“This is the story of a people which was scattered over all the world and yet remained a single family, a nation which time and again was doomed to destruction and yet out of ruins rose to new life.” – Abba Kovner
Abba Kovner was a Jewish Hebrew poet, writer and partisan leader. He became one of the great poets of modern Israel, but I just learned about him today. Pretty much a contemporary of my father, he was educated at Vilna University. My father’s family came from Vilna. His face has the same shape as my father’s did as a youth.
“To remember the past, to live the present, to trust the future.” – Abba Kovner
Stay tuned for more Nomad Notes, as tomorrow I see the ancient port of Jaffa and drive up to the Golan Heights for the wedding of my cousin.