While attending a conference in Chicago last month entitled “Where Israel and Education Meet,” the news from Israel about the failed mission of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza started to fill my smartphone screen. Not only was the mission unsuccessful, but Lt. Colonel M was killed by Hamas in the fighting. As someone who has lived on the Gaza border for the past few years, I knew this event would not end easily for either side. I immediately began calling and texting my friends in Israel, seeking more information and making sure they were okay.
The situation was horrible. My community in Israel faced two days of fear and attacks, sleeping in bomb shelters, unable to send the kids to school or even go out of their homes. The number of missiles covering the sky in the southern region of Israel was unprecedented and unbearable. My friends and family were facing the reality of casualties,
destruction, loss and fear.
My heart and my mind were split. There I was, sitting in a very nice hotel in Chicago, surrounded by high level educators, talking about our Israel engagement toolkit and educational approach in a safe academic environment. And at home in Israel, my friends and family were in very real danger. That’s when I remembered Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s words:
My Heart Is In The East / By Yehuda HaLevi (Translated by A.Z. Foreman)
My heart is in the east, and the rest of me at the edge of the west.
How can I taste the food I eat? How can it give me pleasure?
How can I keep my promise now, or fulfill the vows I’ve made…
With pleasure I would leave behind all the good things of Spain,
If only I could gaze on the dust of our ruined Holy Place
Although this poem was written long ago, in the Middle Ages, I found its yearning for Israel so relevant in the moment. A ceasefire was thankfully signed and I headed back to D.C., straight to an event called “Nourish my Soul.” The event itself was an opportunity to inspire more engagement with Israel, something I found so meaningful in the moment. I know I am not alone in this, and seeing the wonderful work of our Greater Washington “shlichim” makes me proud to be part of this community.
Unfortunately, the circle of hate, the circle of terror is so profoundly rooted in our reality that it is sometimes difficult to see past it. I do try, and I do hope that reconciliation will dawn as a new reality in my home, my backyard. Until then I’ll be here, working to do my part in the struggle for peace. Though I know my heart will be in the East.
Tzachi Levy is a Jewish Agency for Israel shliach at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.