My Happy Place


I’m home again
…in Israel 

We all have our happy places. You know what I mean…those spots that bring joy, comfort, and a sense of wholeness. It may be a favorite couch or wrapped up in that quilt our grandmother made a generation ago. It may be a beach we walked on, a mountain we climbed, or a special vacation spot.

One of my “happy places” is Israel. And after 17 hours of travel from Kansas City, I am home…again.

At the same instant, it is both easy and difficult to articulate why it is such a nurturing place for me.

My formative years were Israel’s, as well. I grew up believing that Israel’s existence was a miracle. My home had framed the certificate that a grove of trees were planted in Israel by JNF in memory of my grandfather. In 1967, when I became a Bar Mitzvah, Israel expanded her territory by 300% in the Six Day War – which, at the time, was seen as a modern miracle. And one of the happiest years of my life was spent in Jerusalem, while studying to become a rabbi. As I have studied our traditions and history, the personal meaning Israel has held over me has grown stronger. Over the years, my connections deepened through the friendships I formed, the places that became familiar, and the deep family roots in the land that discovered.


That’s the easy part.

It’s difficult because I know a lot about Israel…both its blessings and its curses. For just like any person or place, Israel is not perfect. There are aspects that are so troubling: The way in which Israel deals with its own internal struggle of what defines “legitimate” Judaism; the way in which the country approaches its own citizens and discriminates against those who are Arab; the way in which Israel has approached the question of land-for-peace and its passive-aggresive stance on settlements; the way it has dealt with aspects of its society’s underbelly – migrant workers, sex trafficking, black immigration, etc. When I view Israel’s warts I ask: Why am I in love with this place? Why does it bring joy to my heart when my head aches with these challenges? 

And that’s when I realize what it means to be in love, to find real happiness, for something to be a true “happy place.”

Being in love – whether with a person or a place – means to know both its beauty and its warts. I have a few “happy places” in my life. None of them is perfect. Each is flawed. But it is in knowing them, being intimate with the sounds, smells, and nuances that makes them so special. And – if you substitute “person” for “place,” it is the same. Why do we love someone deeply? Because we know all there is to know about that person…their beauty and their warts.

So…as I come home to Israel for a week (I am participating in the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Conference), I will relish my moments…and as with those whom we love…I will both struggle and embrace my “happy place.”