The guy at the security checkpoint for El Al Airlines really got to me. It isn’t that he made me nervous. It isn’t that he made me scared. It was that he made me feel guilty. “Do you speak Hebrew? You don’t speak Hebrew? You never learned as a child? Your parents didn’t send you to Sunday school? Why didn’t you learn as a child? Why don’t you learn now?” Wow. No one can make you feel less Jewy than a Jew. Particularly an Israeli Jew. So as I was being peppered me with rapid-fire questions about my background and religious affiliation, I found myself explaining more than necessary to this young man (a boy really – probably no more than 19 or 20). I then carried the guilt (or was it shame?) inspired by my fumbly answers to his questions all the way through check-in, past security and onto the plane. Along my journey down the hallways of Ben Gurion airport, I passed sign after sign written in Hebrew and my shame grew. Weren’t those signs in both Hebrew AND English last time I passed through here? I found myself feeling guilty for never having served in the army (which is truly ridiculous because I never even visited Israel until a few years ago and I am clearly far too old now). I found myself moved and upset and flustered for reasons I do not know.
What I do know is this - in Hebrew, you say hello and goodbye with the same word: shalom. And so as I say, "Shalom, Jerusalem", I will think about what it is that so attracts me to this place – this messed up, inefficient, aggressive, loud, beautiful, thought-provoking and sometimes dangerous place. I am incredibly sad to be leaving and wondering when I’ll be back. And at the same time, I am incredibly happy to know that there is such a place - a place I feel so connected to in spite of having only just visited for the first time in my adult life. So Shalom Jerusalem and I'll see you soon!