Ten hours after leaving the United States, we landed at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv and, as always, the plane eruped in spontaneous applause. I immediately felt the same spiritual peace that I have felt on previous trips, but this time my heart and mind are troubled by the recent fighting in Gaza and the 2006 War in Lebanon. William Kristol wrote in the New York Times:
“Even though the security of Israel is very much at risk, the good news is that, unlike in the 1930s, the Jews are able to defend themselves, and the United States is willing to fight for freedom. Americans grasp that Israel’s very existence to some degree embodies the defeat and repudiation of the genocidal totalitarianism of the 20th century. They understand that its defense today is the front line of resistance to the jihadist terror, and the suicidal nihilism, that threaten to deform the 21st.”
This is my fifth trip to the Holy Land – the one place outside of the United States I most feel at home. Although I am not Jewish, Israel is nonetheless the birthplace of my Savior, who was. I can relate to my Jewish cousins, past and present, who long for the land of their inheritance. Away from Israel, the words of a Twelfth Century Spanish Jew beckon:
My Heart Is In the East, By Yehuda Halevi (c. 1141)
My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west--
How can I find savour in food? How shall it be sweet to me?
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet
Zion lieth beneath the fetter of Edom, and I in Arab chains?
A light thing would it seem to me to leave all the good things of Spain --
Seeing how precious in mine eyes to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.
This return marks thirty years after my original pilgrimage and six-month long Christian “coming of age.” The sanctuary is desolate no longer but has blossomed as the rose (physically, culturally and democratically,) and we are here to learn, and learn we must, for the words of Eric Hoffer forty years ago seem even more true today: “I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel, so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the holocaust will be upon us.”
The 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence ends with this phrase that has a double meaning: "With faith in the God of Israel," or alternatively "From the strength of Israel."