For the past eight days, I have been in Israel accompanying my first group from Honeymoon Israel. This trip has been an eye-opening experience. Together with seventeen couples from around the Atlanta area, we have traveled from Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights, and now we are ending our trip this Shabbat in the Eternal City, Jerusalem.
Every time I come to Israel I enter with new goals, and I leave with a new perspective—this trip is no exception. I was accustomed to the familiar sites: the beaches of Tel Aviv, the natural beauty of the Hula Valley, and the golden stones of Jerusalem. However, nothing could prepare me to see this land through the eyes of this Honeymoon Israel community—most of whom have never been to Israel before.
To frame our experience, we opened our first Shabbat in Tel Aviv with a poem by my favorite Israel poet, Yehuda Amichai. His poem, Tourists, describes a tour group in Jerusalem whose guide asks them to focus on the ancient Roman-era artifacts rather than the real-live Israel before them. His poem goes:
Once I was sitting on the steps near the gate at David’s Citadel and put down my two heavy baskets beside me. A group of tourists stood there around their guide, and I became their point of reference.
“You see that man over there with the baskets? A little to the right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. A little to the right of his head.”
“But he’s moving, he’s moving!”
I said to myself: Redemption will only come when they are told, “Do you see that arch over there from the Roman period? It doesn’t matter, but near it, a little to the left and then down a bit, there’s a man who has just bought fruit and vegetables for his family.
The speaker in Amichai’s poem laments the group’s focus on the still, lifeless, arch from the Roman period. Whereas the tour group should marvel at the fact that an Israeli, speaking a revived Hebrew language, is carrying groceries on the ancient streets of Jerusalem today—a feat so miraculous and simultaneously so mundane. Miraculous, because few people in the past one hundred years could have imagined such a sight. Mundane, because this man is doing what every human being does for one’s family.
For honeymoon couples in Israel, these words challenge the pairs to appreciate the ancient beauty and the modern miracles at the same time; however, the meaning of this poem goes deeper. During this time, the month of Elul, we are in a state of spiritual preparation for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. We might decide to focus on the big successes and challenges of our year—this is like the Roman arch—big, important, connecting us to our history. But, we must not forget to see the metaphorical man carrying the groceries.
We must appreciate the miraculous events of our every day that, too often, go unnoticed. We can call these “shehechiyanu moments.” Every Shabbat at Temple Emanu-El we say “shehechiyanu” for the moments, big and small, that we have reached in the past week. These shehechiyanu moments are no less miraculous than the big review of our past year that we consider during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur services.
In these final weeks before the New Year, may we give gratitude for the big wonders of our lives, our families, and our community, AND may we see the miracles in our every-day lives that bring us to these momentous moments.