Being present in the noisy, crowded vortex of all things digital - whatever that truly means these days - can be cumbersome (can I get a hell yeah?). The stultifying homogeneity and overwhelming pressure to "create, create, create” is second only to
ignoring challenging disproving the aggressive opinions of a faceless, digital society that believes a travel-heavy career and a successful marriage are not able to thrive concurrently. Another time, another story. (But yes, it is possible. One more time for the people at the back! It IS possible.) Rant over. And yet, reflecting on the brief trip that Echo and I took to the Holy Land cuts through the noise and incites a quietness, spirituality and stillness absent from the majority of my travels. With it, remains a profound reminder of the significance of this small country, as fresh as it was when we first visited in August of this year. It is going to be difficult for this neophyte writer to aptly describe the intense, spiritual awakening Echo and I both experienced during our 72 hours in Israel but I’m attempting nonetheless.
Always one for seeking out and analysing the contrasts in cultures, those in Israel were the most apparent. You begin to get a sense of it only when driving through the country from one end to the other - a task that would take a mere eight hours to complete. As you enter Tel Aviv your tour guide will cheerfully inform you that you have now reached Start-Up Nation (Israel is considered the most important startup ecosystem in the world) before launching into conversation about King Herod’s fortress, built in 30 BC, in the same breath. It’s impossible to wrap your head around without aggressively taking notes (which I am currently reflecting upon) and asking to hear elucidations repeatedly. It’s also impossible to see Israel as its thriving self now without questioning the turbulent history and its many misconceptions. (Media, I’m looking at you.) I’ve suggested before that assimilation into different cultures should form part of the framework of school curriculums and I still believe that. Call me an optimist. The history of the Jewish people is incredible, overwhelming and so profound I will never truly comprehend its magnitude, even as an adult. For those of you who are interested in learning more; an evening spent watching The Gatekeeper’s Documentary or reading about missions like Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991) will be time well invested. Only after meeting with an Ethiopian Jew who, as a young child, was evacuated by Operation Moses back to their home, did I begin to truly understand how storied and unique Israel is.
I could fill this entire story with what little I know about Israel’s history and the 72 hours spent in long discussions with our guide Tamy barely scratch the surface. It's not even in the same room as the surface. There is, however, much more to discuss. There is the Kibbutz, a collectively owned and run community first founded on agriculture and Marxism. There is the delectable dessert that is Israeli Halva. There is the curious fruit that is the sabra and the markets you can find them in. There is the Sea of Galilee. Then, there is Jerusalem. As one of our hosts proudly declared; “In Tel Aviv you play, in Jerusalem you pray.” Contrasts, I’m telling you.
Where Tel Aviv boasts the best kosher eateries and urban vigour, Jerusalem has the biblical history and gravity. Projected onto the monolithic walls of the Citadel Echo and I watched a portion of it in awe via the largest light installation in the world. Phenomenal. There are those juxtapositions again.
Following our mirthful overconsumption of dates we visited the Western Wall; a vision and experience that stirred up an unforgettable spiritual awareness that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It will forever be carved in my memory, the fact that a single woman with her forehead pressed slightly against the wall, eyes closed, palms together is as distinct and intimate a memory as that of witnessing hundreds of people collectively doing so, intimately, seemingly in unison. Heads bowed, eyes closed, palms against the Wall; each individual the only one knowing their thoughts in that moment. And in peaceful synchronicity, one by one, they would raise their heads, their palms pressed gently against the wall in a final, tangible gesture of reflection before the rearward departure from the crowd in a silent closing display of respect. It was sincere, intimate, deeply profound and unforgettable. Despite the vitriolic, chaotic state of our world today moments like this encouraged hope and inspired perspective.
To mention Israel without mentioning the eerily calm waters of the Dead Sea would be like describing our archipelago without its islands and this waterbody is as redolent to Israel as our beaches are to the Philippines. 420m below the sea level rests the lowest point on earth and it is every bit as magnificent and evocative as you'd expect it to be. Muffled squealing and other questionable sounds could be heard from the backseat of our car driving past the salt flats. They belonged to me. There really is nothing quite like it. I remember doing the same thing driving through Tahoe's freshly fallen snow but this was different. The sun's heat stung your skin, the water was tepid and yes, you really float. Attempt an underwater handstand in the saline heavy waters and you'll find yourself extremely regretful. Despite our generation's unquenchable thirst to travel to locale's considered conventionally insta-worthy the atypical will often having you reap benefits far beyond a numerical gain.
Go on, go visit. For my Filipino compadres, it's visa-free.
Photography/Styling: Kim Jones
In partnership with Israel Ministry of Tourism
A special thank you to Anna Aban for providing us this opportunity and to the EPIC Tamy Halperin who patiently fed us, accompanied us, guided us, drove us and educated us on all things Israel.