Our life experiences change us. Often, whether consciously or not, we pass those experiences on to our children. We inherited our parents’ experiences, too, even if they were unconscious of the experiences’ impact on them, and even if they never deliberately told us about those experiences. By extension, our children inherit from us the marks that have been left upon us by our encounters. They also inherit our parents’ experiences, and their parents, and their parents’ parents as well, back to the beginning of time.
The famous words of Israeli author S.Y. Agnon reflect this deep reality. Agnon said, upon accepting his Nobel prize, “As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. However, I always regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.” If our ancestors’ experiences are instilled in us, then we Jews, regardless of where we were born or where we live, are all of us children of Jerusalem. And, not unimportantly, the same is also true of Jews by Choice, who are regarded by our tradition as being “born again” into the Jewish people. Becoming a Jew makes you, just as a Jew by birth, a child of Jerusalem.
To be, in our core, children of Jerusalem helps explain why just being in Jerusalem, even if the visit is brief, feels special. One feels something akin to an electric surge just stepping foot on its ancient ground. Breathing deeply of its rosemary-and carob-infused air, being blinded by the light of its sun shimmering off its white rough-hewn stones, feels like being pulled by a magnet or embraced by a parent. If you have ever traveled to Jerusalem, I am willing to bet you have experienced similar feelings. You may not be able to explain what or why, but you know that being in Jerusalem feels different than being in any other place on Earth.
Recently, Adira and I had the exquisite joy and great privilege of traveling with our baby, Lilah, to Jerusalem. Many have expressed fascination and surprise about our decision to schlep with an infant all the way to Israel for such a short visit. “Won’t the plane ride be awful?” some wondered. Others challenged, “You won’t be able to enjoy the traveling and sightseeing with a baby.” Some pointed out, “She’ll never remember it, anyway. What’s the point of taking her now?” But a wise friend, the wife of my rabbi in Israel, instantly understood: “You came so she could touch the ground.”
True, Lilah may not remember the trip (though we have the pictures to prove it), but we needed her to feel the electricity of the earth between her toes. We knew, though it may never be cognitive, that smelling its crisp air, eating its succulent fruit, drinking its water, absorbing the radiation of its light, hearing the music of Hebrew in the atmosphere, would stimulate a latent part of her being and would alter her. We did not want to wait another moment for her to be back where she was truly born.