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Our Israel

How a trip with my son cured my apathy

Daniel and Michael Klausner during their recent visit to Israel.
Daniel and Michael Klausner during their recent visit to Israel.

The last thing I wanted to do this past August was get on a plane, travel 6,000 miles, and trek around Israel for nine days. For some reason, I did not feel that strong pull to go. But I had promised my 14-year-old son Daniel I would take him one day. I had promised close family relatives that I would return soon. I knew for those reasons I would have to go, eventually. And so I went.

This emotional numbness was strange, as I am an American Jew with deep connections to Israel. My mother was born in Israel when it was still called Palestine. She grew up in Tel Aviv at 6 Rambam Street. My grandfather was an early contributor to the agricultural economy of the country. Family members fought in the Hagana and the Irgun. One cousin, together with his friend Menachem Begin, used to store guns at my grandparent’s home (unbeknownst to them) to fight the British.

I have cousins who have become successful industrialists in the country. I have cousins who fought heroically in ‘67 and ‘73. I have a cousin who alongside Ehud Barak was part of the commando retribution after Munich. And I have another cousin who was held captive in Lebanon for three months in 1982 after his plane was shot down during the Lebanon War.

I had been to Israel many times. I was thrilled to bring my wife for her first trip just four years earlier, but on this flight to Tel Aviv, I was worried. Where was that desire, that spark? Would my son detect my lack of interest? Had I fallen out of love with Israel?

Many hours later, we landed and drove from Ben-Gurion to Tel Aviv. I watched my son quietly take in the new surroundings. It was his first time in a new country. What was he thinking? Did he sense my misgivings?

We checked in to the hotel and took a nap. A few hours later, we awoke refreshed to a room filled with bright sunshine. Out of our window, we could see the Mediterranean and the Tel Aviv promenade.

Family from nearby Herzliya met us for dinner. My son fit in perfectly with his “new” cousins. They introduced him to the local cuisine; they talked sports, and, of course, answered questions about their tours of duty in the army.

Before going to bed that night, my son asked me enthusiastically, “How are we related to them? How long have they lived here? Why haven’t we seen them before?”

We had come to see family but also to explore the country. With our private guide, Tal Beit-Yosef, we set off to see the things that would most interest a 14-year old — and a 40-something-year-old. From snorkeling among the ruins in Caesarea to rappelling off the Manara Cliffs with sweeping views of the Kinneret to a hike in the Golan, we could not help but be enriched by the country’s beauty and history.

In almost every spot we visited one could reference both biblical and modern history. There was a common thread: Jews were persecuted and attacked; Jews persevered and thrived. It was a cycle constantly repeated. And from these lessons, I soon realized the roots of my trepidation and angst.

At home, we had been under a different type of assault — a financial one. Around me, people were losing their jobs, their wealth, and their direction. I had survived so far, but fear still gripped me. What if I’m next? How would I last? What would I become?

These feelings had slowly, quietly crept into me like an enemy crossing a border. The unknowns, the lack of control had become stressful without my realizing it. Why should I enjoy myself during all this uncertainty?

Perhaps I should have been more frugal, but this was not a trip to Disney World, this was Israel. And once in the country with my son, I knew it was the right choice. The opportunity to introduce him to Israel had transcended my financial angst. Seeing him touch, feel, and comprehend the ancient history; understand how the Holocaust spurred a nation; stand along its borders and know the strategic importance they held — the ones his cousins fought for; and, of course, be with family, had no price. For a while, I had forgotten that.

Jerusalem put it into perspective. In its narrow boundaries it holds sites sacred to three major religions. It was destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured 44 times, according to Eric H. Cline’s tally in Jerusalem Besieged. It is a symbol of resilience and a living testament to survival.

And so, when I see my Israel, a thriving nation built atop a history of sacrifices and under constant threat by hostile neighbors, I feel that my worries are somewhat smaller, somewhat more tolerable. Israel had become the perfect antidote to the situation at hand.

As we flew home, my son leaned over and told me how much he enjoyed the trip. He wanted to come back and spend more time in the country. I knew then I had accomplished something important. Another seed was planted, another generation to care for Israel would grow, and things all around would be b’seder.

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