The Return of the Tourists

Every day I encounter an immeasurable amount of experiences. I have a reaction to each one – a passing thought, a laugh, a smile, an emotion – often unnoticed. Other experiences change me in a profound
way; some immediately, others over years: The birth of a my children, the death of my father, my army service, a car accident, a movie, the friendship with my wife.

Radio, television, newspapers, magazines and the Internet all centralize many of the experiences we have. At the same time they bombard us with more information than we can possibly absorb. Every
once in a while, I allow myself the time to notice my reactions over time, to take note of how I have changed and the path I have taken to get there. Some of my changes are very personal while others are part of a communal experience, sometimes even part of global growth.

In the past few years many of us have become more aware of our vulnerability.

For Americans, just as President Kennedy’s assassination shocked many into the realization that even he could be the victim of an assassin’s bullet, 9/11 brought Arab terrorism to the heart of New
York City and Washington, D.C. With thousands of victims in a single day, suddenly our understanding of the world had changed.

For Israelis, the promise of peace followed by Rabin’s assassination, the breakdown in peace talks and the past few years of terror have changed the way we understand the threat from both the Palestinians
and from within the Jewish people.

For both American’s and Israelis, a terrible sense of loss has forced us to adjust the way we see ourselves and react to the world around us. We have been forced to accept a new reality, to adjust to it and
to move on.

This summer in Jerusalem, evidence of our acceptance is very evident. Unlike the past few years, the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall downtown is packed with people. Once again, summer crowds in downtown Jerusalem forced me along the flow of pedestrian traffic. Pressed chest to back, I flowed with the crowd looking at the sidewalk merchants and storefront windows.

Last Saturday night I went downtown with two teenagers who spent Shabbat with us, one from Toronto who is touring Israel through Camp Ramah and another from New Jersey who is here with NCSY. They did not notice the change as much as I. There were outdoor performers and food kiosks sending music and exotic smells through the air as they had expected. In the crowd I saw native Israeli families along with teenage tourists. Israeli highschoolers with spiked hair froliced among American mission participants with their izod shirts. People from all over the world are coming together again in the heart of Israel’s capital. It was the way summer in Jerusalem used to be. But different.

The day before we had hosted two additional teenagers for Friday afternoon. My family and I took our four visitors to the swim club at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, about a mile from our home. Surrounded by many of our friends and neighbors, we enjoyed the playground, the swimming pool and the exciting water slide ride which our guests went down repeatedly.

Kibbutz Ramat Rachel is on the southern edge of Jerusalem. It is a kibbutz which was established before the State of Israel and has been the scene of fierce combat in Jerusalem’s battles. Perched on a hill
overlooking the highway which brings traffic from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and on to Hebron, the site has had strategic importance since Biblical times.

While laying in the sun on lounge chairs we had a picnic lunch on the grass , I glanced over to the edge of the grass where a fence separated us from the desert below. Looking out, I could see Bethlehem not far away. I could not help but be aware that I was afforded this country club oasis, because within my eye’s view there were security checkpoints which allowed me to have a sense of security. The children’s shouts and laughter from within the swimming pool was a welcome distraction from the distant sounds of artillery and tanks which I had heard from the same ridge not so long ago.

The night that followed when we went to the crowded pedestrian mall, we passed through checkpoints as we drove downtown. Soldiers checked each car one-by-one. To enter the pedestrian mall, security guards
frisked us with metal detectors.

Enjoying the normalcy of the swimming pool fun and the downtown recreation was tempered for me by my appreciation of the change from years gone by. These experiences were now surrounded both in time and space by lessons learned in the past few years.

How we are living has changed as a result of our experiences of the past few years and our reactions to them. However, I am happy to report that we are forging ahead, not only surviving, but thriving. I
am able to declare that Israeli night life has recovered and that with this summer, the tourists have returned.

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