I did a lot of traveling after college. I spent six months traveling through Asia and Europe soon after graduation (and blogged about it 20 years later here), and another entire summer in southern Europe a few years later. I knew exactly what I was doing at the time: taking advantage of my youth, my lack of attachments, and my ability to withstand the daily grind of sightseeing, youth hostel lockout hours, summer (and tropical) heat, and the eerie phenomenon of midnight waking where I wasn’t even sure what country I was in. Too, though I didn’t know it yet, I was enjoying some pretty fabulous cuisine that would be off-limits once I decided to become Orthodox.
I had all that in mind the other day when I took the morning off from laundry, cleaning, my half-hearted employment search, and other daily cares and drove into Jerusalem to spend a few hours with my cousin who was just ending a 10-day, whirlwind tour of Israel. We had breakfast out on the shaded patio of the David Citadel Hotel dining room, then browsed through the Mamilla outdoor shopping mall. It was a construction site when the Cap’n and I stayed in the nearby Dan Pearl Hotel on our honeymoon in 2001, but the last time my cousin was here, in 1959, it was right on the 1949 Armistice Line, i.e. No Man’s Land. When we reached the end of the mall near the Jaffa Gate, I asked her if she would like to continue, and meander through the Old City. She readily assented.
Her tour had taken in the Kotel Plaza and the Western Wall tunnel tour, but that was the extent of their time in the Old City. So I was honored and delighted to be the one to show her the Tower of David (onetime home of King Herod), the Golden Menorah, the excavated section of the First Temple Period wall, the Cardo, the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue, and a view of the Mount of Olives and Robinson’s Arch. One can spend days exploring the wondrous things in the Old City—the Burnt House, the Old Yishuv Court Museum, the Tower of David Museum, the Davidson Museum (which includes the Southern Wall excavations, including the Hulda Gate to the Holy Temple), the Wohl Archeological Museum (where one can walk through the excavated neighborhood of the Temple priests, see their bathtubs, get a glimpse of how the Roman-era sewage system worked, and see scorch-marks on some of the walls, left from the burning of the city during the destruction of 73 CE) and dozens more amazing sights.
As we walked through this amazing city, I told her how I had loved traveling years ago, and how I decided early on that I would try to make my life as much like a vacation as possible. I still expected to work and I wanted a family, but I also wanted to live somewhere exotic, beautiful, and fascinating. I once lived in San Luis Obispo, California, a small town on the central coast that during the school year was fairly quiet, but which came alive with swarms of tourists in the summer, flocking to the quaint main street, the mission (built in 1770, one of a string of missions built by Spanish priests as they tooled up the California coastline), the annual Mozart Music Festival and Jazz Festival, the Hearst Castle (about an hour up the coast), and the nearby beach towns which boasted fresh seafood, bromeliads, a rare nesting pair of endangered California condors, and dozens of little inns, restaurants, and craft fairs. I loved living in such a quaint, beautiful place and the tourists, rather than annoying me with their crowding, chattering, and shutter-clicking, made me proud to be a resident.
How much more so do I feel that living in Israel. To be able to take a morning and spend it with family or friends, in a restaurant overlooking the Temple Mount, walking through the streets of a 3000 year old city, visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs (also a short drive away), or flying a kite in the Judean Hills with the Dead Sea and the mountains of Edom (Jordan) in the background is more than living a vacation. It’s living in history. It’s living five lives at once. It’s living a dream.
It just doesn’t get better than this.