And then there are moments when being here is just perfect. We rent a car – a small car, the Hyundai “I-10” or “I-Eser” as the rental car people called it, a car smaller than any I would ever put our family of five into in the United States – and plunge down “Kvish Echad” (Highway 1) from Jerusalem, dodging and weaving all the way to the beach in Herzliya north of Tel Aviv. The water is like a bathtub, soupy warm and salty. The sand is fine under one’s feet. We arrive in the late afternoon; the humid heat of mid-day is breaking and a cool breeze blows off the water. I have been to this beach before. Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot last year, Alon and I came to Israel together so I could officiate at my cousin, Smadar’s, wedding. Our family took an apartment for a week in a high rise next to the beach so we went out to swim almost every day. That week, there were days when the water was so still, I swam for a mile along the coastline like swimming laps in a pool, gently bobbing up and down calm waters that stretched to the horizon. Other days that week, the water was like it is today; a 3 to five foot surf with a rip current even the best swimmers must respect. After a few minutes of riding the waves, you look towards the beach to find out you’ve been moved several hundred feet down the shore.
Jen watches as Ranon and Benjamin play in the shallow water near the shore. Alon and I venture out into the bigger waves. Rami calls over to me; he is worried about Alon being out so far. Who is Rami? Rami lives on a moshav, finished a business meeting in Herzliya, and came out for a swim. I’ve never met him before but he begins to tell me about how strong the waves are and how I should keep a careful eye on Alon – in Israel, everyone’s family. Soon we are talking on the shore and Rami is telling me about all the best beach spots I should be sure to take our family to during the year.
I am back in the water for a few minutes on my own. I swim out beyond where the waves are breaking, lie back in the water and watch the setting sun dance on the waters of the Mediterranean, what the rabbis called, “Yam HaGadol” – the Great Sea. Typically Israeli, there is still a touch of belagon – chaos – even to this serene scene. One area of the beach has signs restricting it to jet skiers; signs that many people absorb so that there are jet skiers zooming out to sea and back to land as others play in the surf. Still American, we obeyed the signs and walked further down the beach towards the part reserved for swimming. Out in the waves, this area is a mix of a mass of surfers, a few boogie boarders, me and Rami. I try to ask a few surfers whether they are surfing up the shoreline and or down, but it’s of little use; a few times I just have to dive to 6 feet to the bottom of the sea, hold on to the sand, and hope not to get clipped by the surf board overhead. Still, the whole scene is, for me, paradise. I think of studies that show that it is not until the second week of vacation that we really begin to rest from the stress of work. I have not been gone from work that long and the transition from Los Angeles to Jerusalem has hardly been stress free, but this moment is, for me, a taste of paradise. I am lying back being held by the waves, my amazing wife and our children are playing in the water and sand, and we are in Israel.
As I type this back in Jerusalem, Shabbat is approaching. It is our first Shabbat of the summer not at Ramah and I can think of no better way to compensate for the loss of not being there than being here. Like at Ramah, here, Shabbat happens. Our children are showering; a meal is prepared. Soon a siren will sound over the city and we will join literally thousands of people walking to shul and then heading home for Shabbat dinner. One of my kids just asked which bottle was shampoo and which one was conditioner; so I helped him read the Hebrew on the bottle; ulpan in the shower.
I cannot finish this entry before Shabbat without noting that tomorrow, as we are in shul and then enjoying a scrumptious meal with friends, Gilad Shalit will turn 24 years old. I talked with my son, Alon, about this today as we walked by the tent outside the Prime Minister’s home set up by his parents to continue to remind the country, and the world, that we will not rest until Gilad is set free. Against international law and standards of human decency, Gilad has been denied even the most basic visits and comforts. This will be the fifth birthday he spends in captivity. Five birthdays. More than five years. To send Gilad a videotaped birthday card that will be screened in the protest tent, send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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May God bring Gilad, and all those wrongly imprisoned, home soon.
Shabbat Shalom and Amen.