In the Golan: Steve and Joan Sterling, Deborah and Jon Eber in the Golan Heights

Over the years, people have said to me, “you must go to Israel”. I never really took that advice seriously. After all, there were the financial drains on us; the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, the summer camps, the college tuition, the kids’ trips to Israel, two weddings and a much needed new deck. Who could afford such a trip?

We decided to go even though our trip with our synagogue was cancelled. We decided to go while we have our legs, backs and knees that still serve us well. It was our time to journey forth.

After traveling to my spiritual homeland, I now count myself among those who say, “you must go to Israel”. The country envelops you, it surprises you, it gets into your soul. I was surprised by the diversity; in the topography (isn’t Israel just a desert?), in the variety of its citizens (we are all Jews, don’t we look alike?), in the distinctiveness of each locale we toured. We all make assumptions about places, and Israel proved to be much more than what you read about in the headlines or on travel shows.

You have to go to Israel to see that it is a small country, yet it was green and lush in the Galilee and in the Golan Heights, while in Masada you view the dry, pale beauty of the desert. It surprised me to see all the farms and kibbutzim, that grow an amazing assortment of vegetables and fruits that supplied our bountiful feasts each day. There was wine, better than I imagined. It was not the seder wine of my youth, it was lush, dark and spicy. I craved the moist fresh falafel, the crunch of the vegetables, the unending flavors of halavah and most of all, the plentiful pomegranates.

Everything from the earth is used for a purpose. Even the residue from making olive oils are reused to create cleansers and lotions. The mineral rich Dead Sea provides nutrients for the skin with healing properties. Alongside the Dead Sea are sulphur springs. I never imagined that something as vile smelling as a sulphur pool could make you feel so good. It was a miraculous experience to soak in the warm, muddy, pungent water. I stepped out feeling renewed yet relaxed. Could I take that home with me, please?

You have to go to Israel to see the diversity of its inhabitants. There were the religious, and among those there were many branches and degrees of Orthodoxy. There were secular Jews, who bonded with the nation by their history and devotion. We met Israeli Arabs who ply their trade and make a living servicing tourists and live side by side with their countrymates. We saw Jews of all skin tones, in all forms of dress, from an array of nations, speaking many languages, united by one common language, the language of prayer- Hebrew.

You have to go to Israel to experience a Shabbat where everyone in the restaurant is reciting the same blessings and songs we know from our congregations here in the US. You have to go to be filled up with spirit as people from all over the world come together to light candles on a Shabbat evening and sip wine and enjoy a moment of peace. You have to go to Israel to know as a Jew, we are entitled to this moment of peace, after the struggles of forming this nation. You have to go to Israel to see the many young families with children with the pure, lovely faces of tomorrow. You have to go to Israel to see the brave young people who don the uniforms of soldiers and carry the weapons that defend the nation. They look like our kids, they look like your kids, and you feel proud, and you worry for them.

You have to go to Israel, for it is an experience that will fill you up, make you proud, connect you with your ancestry, and it will surprise you. It will surprise you with the feelings it evokes in your soul, of being, of belonging, of believing in a place.

So forget buying the new carpet or obtaining the next greatest “thing” you have to have. Go to Israel to fill your soul and be amazed. It will change you and you will be more complete. It will fill you with undiscovered emotions. Go to see the beauty and to feel the centuries gone by, and go because others never got there, and go because you can.

By Deborah Eber , a newly retired teacher from West Bloomfield who enjoys writing, art and traveling.