A pilgrimage to Israel

Personal Journeys

A memorable placeWhenever the...

September 20, 1998|By Linda Williamson | Linda Williamson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A pilgrimage to Israel; A memorable place

Whenever the weather turns warm here in the spring, I become homesick for the unrelieved glare of the sun that makes objects waver in front of one's eyes, for the unmistakable and under-appreciated smell of bus exhaust, for the taste of fresh bread that's crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, for all the things that remind me of my first visit to Israel. Time and politicians may have made it impossible to relive the immediacy with which I responded to every sight and impression on that first trip, but whenever the warm breezes of Baltimore touch my skin, I remember.

My innocence that summer after I graduated from high school was intensified rather than restrained by my deeply felt, if parochial, sense of history. Many of my early teachers had come to this country in the aftermath of the European Holocaust. Their stories and the evidence of their own wounded selves left a mark on me. Although I was unaware of it, when I left for Israel that summer I took along the knowledge that our secure, everyday, sunlit American lives were a precarious anomaly.

Growing up in a traditional Jewish household, I had, of course, known that in Jerusalem stood a wall that once surrounded the Temple. It was late afternoon the first time I stood with my forehead pressed against the hard stones that were cool despite the heat of the sun beating down on them all day, a heat that could still be felt on our skin. It seemed at that point on Earth that opposites could coexist and hold: hot and cold, anticipation and regret, past and present.

I was 17 years old. I had just graduated from a public high school where I had had all kinds of friends. Yet, that afternoon, I leaned my head against the stones and cried my eyes out because I couldn't believe my own good fortune. I wept out of a sincere sense of gratitude that I had been born in the United States in the years just after the Second World War; that I had been born free. I had an overwhelming sense of parallel fates. I knew I could have so easily been born over there and that my life might have ended before it even began.

Shortly before the end of that trip, nearly two months later, the entire country observed the fast day of the Ninth of Av, the day set aside in the Jewish calendar to mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and all the subsequent victims of violent anti-Semitism. I was with my group of young American students at the Western Wall when the fast ended, but we faced a long walk and an even longer wait for a bus back to our hostel in the new city before we could break our fast. Imagine our glee, then, when one of our group members pulled out a bag of custard-filled Jerusalem pastries he had bought at the bakery on the way. There was hardly enough for any of us to get more than a bite, and yet it was enough. We returned from the wall and from our trip refreshed and satisfied.

Linda Weinhouse lives in Baltimore and teaches at Essex Community College.

The Southwest

Jenny Beatty, Monkton

"We are just back from a 10-day driving tour of national parks in the Southwest. We discovered their Junior Retreat Program for our sons, ages 8 and 11. At Zion, the boys attended a kids-only program on dinosaurs. At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, they attended ranger programs, learned about the animals found there, wrote haiku poems and collected litter."

London

Carey Fleiner, Pamplin, Va.

"Just got back from London, business/pleasure trip during which I didn't have the time or the energy to cope with the crowded, ordinary things! Make the trip special to you - don't rely on tour guides and package deals, especially if, like me, you have only a few days. I spent time in Muswell Hill and Tottenham Lane (being keen on the Kinks) and Finsbury Park."

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Pub Date: 9/20/98

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