OCTOBER 19, 2017 – I didn’t put Israel on my do not call list, but neither did I call Israel. An Orthodox rabbi I know said to me long ago, “You travel to Paris, Italy, Spain. From any of those places it is only a couple of hours to Israel … why not Israel?”
I did not listen. But then Israel called me – six times! The first was when my daughter married an Israeli in the early ’90s. I was attending a philosophy conference in Greece and remembered the rabbi’s words. I could meet my new son-in-law’s parents. My good friend, a nun and a philosopher, decided to come with me. I would go to the Western Wall, she would go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
It took several buses to get to the kibbutz in northern Israel where my new son-in-law lived. As I slept in the little kibbutz guest cottage, I was awakened by a large snake. It did not tell me not to eat from the tree of knowledge, it just looked scary.
The next day, I traveled to the ancient city of Safed, and visited the graves of famous Tzadikim. For some reason, philosophy professor and intellectual though I am, this site, like the Western Wall, made me weep.
In 2001, the International Plato Society elected to hold its meeting at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Plato’s “The Republic” was the subject. Many professors from France, the US., and Italy had cancelled because of their objection to Israeli politics. What that had to do with Plato is still a mystery.
Strangely, the hotel we stayed at was hosting my son-in-law’s entire family from all over the world – Paris, Morocco, the US – that very weekend for a family wedding. I happily attended.
The Sbarro pizza parlor suicide bombing took place during that time frame. My son-in-law’s family had hired a sightseeing bus and was about to enter that very pizza parlor when a man outside said to them, “Don’t go there, go across the street.” They watched in horror as they saw the terrorist bombing that killed 15 – including seven children and a pregnant woman – and wounded 130 occur across from where they sat. We never learned why they were warned or by whom. My third trip came when an aging, very accomplished artist friend who had difficulty walking asked me to show her Israel. Berenice and I covered ourselves in mud at the Dead Sea, took a cable to Masada, and stayed at the Y in Jerusalem. I hired an old Army guy from the kibbutz to take us around the Holy Land and we saw sights no tourist would ever get to see. High in the Judean Hills, we saw Bedouins and goats. The biblical landscape inspired Berenice’s later painting.
Next was a conference in Haifa on Neoplatonic philosophers who had written texts in Israel. Who knew? An architectural tour of ancient sites in northern Israel revealed Hellenistic and Hebrew antiquity had close ties.
The next trip was for my granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. I flew from a conference in Wales to Tel Aviv. I first went to Safed to visit my grandson studying in a yeshiva there. I had rented a small apartment, and my grandson stayed with me to escape the dorm. On Shabbat, as he was dressing himself, he exclaimed loudly, “I forgot my socks!” Minutes later, there was a knock on the door, and a woman appeared with a pair of black socks. Only in Israel.
All the rabbis called me “Bubbie.” They invited me for lunch and dinner and we had very meaningful conversations. So much for “They don’t talk to women.”
My next trip was for my grandson’s wedding in Jerusalem. It was an amazing combination of religious Jews in black hats and relatives and former Army buddies of my son-in-law in short-sleeved shirts. A good time was had by all. And so, as I said in the beginning of this piece, I did not call Israel, Israel kept calling me. Who knows when I will receive another call? In anticipation, I am studying my Hebrew now, and have put aside my ancient Greek.
Emilie Kutash is a philosophy professor at Salem State University.