July 26, 2014

Finding Love in the Holy Land. ~ Shari Tischler

Israel Sunset

The morning I left for Israel, my Facebook opened to this quote from Eat, Pray, Love’s author Elizabeth Gilbert, “What if I fall, oh but my darling, what if you fly?“

I had much trepidation about this trip—but as my best friend wisely told me, I owed this to myself.

I needed to start mentally preparing. I needed to wallow. Let myself breathe in the magic. Sell my soul to something new and let it muse me.

“Be strong and be brave,” she said.

“Why? Because it is time.”

And so it was.

The last time I packed a suitcase that large was four years earlier for my honeymoon to Europe. I was very young, just married and frightened, while at the same time exhilarated by the possibilities of the world at my fingertips.

Fast forward four years later, divorced and single and here I was, with my bags packed about to take a ten day journey with strangers.

The fear was just another voice to remind me that stepping out of my comfort zone is where life begins.

This trip wasn’t just another stop on my journey, it was the journey. I didn’t know what Israel would bring, but I knew that I wasn’t missing the chance to find out.

I stumbled upon this trip through an email that a good friend sent to me for a Krav Maga class. In it was an opportunity to travel with the Jewish community. I had a choice between visiting Poland and Prague or ten days in the Holy Land. I chose Israel.

Israel was the perfect place to find my identity, authenticity and a true sense of wholeness. It was the place where I hoped to let go of the heartbreak of my past.

It is not until we are lost, that we find ourselves.

I had always thought of a broken heart as a strong sign. It meant that underneath there is a deeply changed human who is still alive with the ability to feel and it is perfectly acceptable to honor that.

Israel was the journey that I wanted to take to step outside the stifling familiarity I had become accustomed to.  But I knew that no matter where in the world I was, I would take myself with me.  And despite the kindness of strangers, who I soon began to forge friendships with, that sense of aloneness still haunted me.

Somewhere along the way, I began to let go of the relics of my past, little by little and each part of it which had led me here, slowly began to dissolve.

Our journey through Israel began in the Golan Heights to Beit She’an, Tiberias, Kinneret and then all the way through Jerusalem, also known as Yerushalaim, the city of peace. It’s name is evident upon arrival when you feel the sacred and divine energy it emanates.

There are those rare moments in life that you become afraid to close your eyes. Israel was one of them. Sleeping meant missing the adventure and this trip was about embracing the unknown.

Perhaps the greatest moment came when I discovered the divine presence that resides at the Western Wall. I cannot talk in depth about my experience because the profundity of that moment is far too intimate to share.

For me, the Western Wall was symbolic of the human experience. It was Abraham who first linked the Jewish people to Jerusalem, when he offered Isaac in sacrifice at the Temple Mount.

The Talmudic sages taught that the Western Wall of the temple can never be destroyed, for it’s “shekhinah” is where you can experience the Divine presence.

In Judaism, there is a phrase known as “tikkun olam,” which translates to repairing and healing the world. This is the symbolism of the human condition—your life can get destroyed but you can always be healed and repair.

The Western Wall represents true transformation—the way it’s surroundings had been pillaged, yet this wall remained. It now stands tall and serves as the holiest place in the world where thousands of people come everyday to pray and place their notes.

According to Jewish law the prayers and notes said at the wall ascend to heaven so God can hear them. The strength of this wall served as a reminder that often in life, the person we become is shaped by the adversity in which we overcome.

As of this writing, two of my prayers have come to fruition.

And just like that, love finds you.

As we continued our journey, our tour guide brought us to an open mountain at the Judean Desert which allowed us to self-reflect.

It was there that I fell in love.

I fell for the freedom and liberation of being in the moment and for the first time in my life not worrying about the next thing.

I fell for the open winding road ahead filled with nothing but darkness and the unknown, which I had learned to embrace.

It was a feeling of always wanting to conquer your worst fears and then finally being able to and now having come out the other side much stronger as a result, earning perspective, wisdom and endurance through your experience.

I knew this love was not eternal, but it was just the love I needed to mend my aching heart, and to make me believe again, even if for that one transient moment that it does after all still exist.

My gift of desperation that forced me on that plane had now become the gift of a second chance to celebrate my life.

It was in Israel where I let go of those inconsolable feelings and began to experience boundless bliss, and joy. Not only was it a realization that I deserved to be happy, but more importantly—I chose to be.

As soon as I discovered that my happiness depends only on myself, I found peace.

Maybe this lesson came from that moment on the mountaintop, or maybe from the spirit of the people in Israel who fight for their life everyday. A community of people who stand for a true sense of pride and bravery, who are a testament of living life to the fullest amidst crises, and war. They allow the holiness of Israel, and God’s grace to enable them.

These people are a stellar example of what it is like to not give up, no matter the trials and tribulations in life.

Or maybe it was the moment in Tzfat when shopping for jewelry that I told the man I feel Hashem here and he replied, “Hashem is everywhere,” while tying a red Kabbalah bracelet around my wrist to bring blessings my way.

I think the greatest gift can be attributed to the soldier I met at a bar who told me he is sick of fighting and doesn’t understand why there is terror. Everyday he prays for love, and instead he wakes up to war. Despite my rampant questions which touched on a very sensitive subject, at the end of the night this soldier thanked me for my company. He had forgotten what it was like to have female companionship. So much so that being able to share his story with someone new was more significant than enjoying his beer.

So although I’ve left Israel, I have not left its spirit.

As I venture out, ready to open the next chapter of my life, I peacefully part with all that is left behind.

I can now move forward with a deep sense of gratitude and ease.

I am grateful to be alive and that my fingers found the keyboard to share this journey.

I hope that it will inspire others to travel or even just find themselves in the quietest and most unexpected place.

I am no longer where I’ve been. But I am not yet where I want to be. I am at the in-between; no longer the caterpillar but not yet the butterfly. 

This is where the change happens and where bravery begins.

There will come a time when you truly learn how to love yourself, not just through words that elicit false hope but with your actions of selfless loving care—and then and only then—will you receive the abundance that life has to offer. And as soon as you learn what is best for yourself, you become unwilling to settle for anything less.

Some people travel to find love, others go to find themselves. I was blessed to find both.

Peace & Gratitude soldiers.


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Apprentice Editor: Lauryn DeGrado/Editor: Emily

Photo: Author’s Own

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Shari Tischler