The taxi driver who took me to Ben Gurion said Israel needs advocates. He told me how he would often take tourists on free trips and show them around in his free time. People ask him, why. Because I have children, he answers. And how do I raise my four children to be good people? How do I tell them that their neigbours hate them?
On the bus to the base, a French Jew who barely spoke English asked me why I was here, not being Jewish. I said I had to stand up for the right thing. I can't stand by and do nothing any longer. Some people cannot afford to be pacifists. My whole live had changed when I understood that. It might be too late, but so what? At least we will all have done our best. Yes, it might be too late for Europe, he agreed. But why is this happening again? I don't know. I have no answers any longer, only questions and paradoxes. He told me I had to tell others. I had to show them smiling faces. I had to tell them about the people who love, who smile, who dance, who live.
And now I have come back to keep my promise. Everything that happened, happened for a reason, from the smallest details to the biggest events. It may take a lifetime to digest.
What are the odds of staying on a paratroopers base and walking into a swearing-in ceremony for the paratroopers on my first visit to the Western Wall? I asked a group of soldiers what this was all about, and they said the combat units are swearing allegiance to their country. Smiling, gentle, and obviously touched by what was going on around us, they were curious and showered me with questions about Israel and my favourite places in their country. I am in love with Israel, I said, and I am in love with Jerusalem. “So have you warmed up by now, after Norway? Norway is beautiful, yes?” Beautiful… We talk some more and they ask, “It is not very good to us, though, there is a lot of anti-semitism, right?” I sigh. Not every thing that the newspapers say is true, but this one is, unfortunately. One of them smiles, “It’s all right, I have been to Europe, I know what it is like…”. Listen, I say to them, listen, look at me, I am here. I am doing this program because I want you to know that we are not all the same. There are many, many people in Norway who love Israel, who stand up for Israel, who understand what is going on. Whatever happens, whatever goes on, please remember, I want you to remember that we are not all the same. Please remember this - we are not all the same...
I have been blessed to get to know the best people in the world. Every one of my fellow volunteers is worthy of a book.
Miki and Tamar, you were the best madrichot we could wish for. I feel so honored to have been taken care of by you. You made me feel important, loved, and appreciated. You have shared a wealth of knowledge on the history and culture of your country with me. Thank you so much for everything!
Jo Ann, you have been to me like a sister and friend in those two weeks I have been blessed to spend with you. You were so American, so direct, so sincere, taking the photos I never dared to take and understanding my unconventional sense of humor. I hope you get to move to the land of your ancestors and be a great contribution to it!
Erna, you were certainly the most talkative and versatile Norwegian lady I have ever met. You were also the most beautiful, with your tiny waist, your heels and your smile. I admire you. When I found out you were 75, I admired you even more. Erna, I agree with you, it is impossible to love Jesus and not to love his own flesh and blood. We stand on this together. My church has as many flaws as yours, you are right about that, too. It hurts, but it is true. May we both have the courage to stand up for what we love, no matter what.
Darrell, you are one of the wisest and most genuine people I have met. I have never met a Vietnam war veteran before, and I am honored to have been working alongside the man who has served his country so well. I have at times wondered whether that bucketful of bullets you had collected was going to explode... Working with you has been pure joy. You have always had a kind word, an encouraging line and a good advice for me. When I was trying to fill up the water bottle from the tap outside in those wild last days, you came up to me, and said: “If you hadn’t been so nervous, you would have actually managed to get some water into it.” Then you came closer, looked me in the eye and said quietly, “But I think you are doing very well. Remarkably well, under the circumstances”. Then I knew you understood what the texting exchange was all about. But I know you don’t need my explanations. Thank you for accepting people the way they are, unconditionally. Like you, I don't have any answers, only questions. May God continue blessing you!
Yukio, I sent the last money I had left to help your country in the hour of need. Just after the earthquake and tsunami. I wish I had more. And we prayed and we prayed at Whitland. You did not know about that. But on our last night on the base you stood up, went to receive your diploma of appreciation and said in your broken English, “I am not the Prime Minister of Japan. But I am the only Japanese here. And on behalf of my country, I want to thank all the countries that have helped us in our hour of need. Israel, and all the countries who have sent us so much help. Thank you. My country needs a program like Sar El. My country may be closed, and not well understood, but if you get to know us, you will like us. I don’t speak much English, but please don’t think that people in Japan are like me. If you come to Japan, you will meet a lot of people who speak very good English and will be able to help you. And if you don’t like me, don’t judge my country because of that. Don’t dislike my country because of me”. I love your country, Yukio.
Mike and Ray, Sar El 2011 would have never been the same without you. I will never forget your insane notes in our “evening entertainment” room, your even more insane pictures (some of which I think do not belong on Facebook...) and the insane idea to hide the car. I will miss you, guys. But in Israel, you don’t say good-bye. We said good-bye once, thinking we will never see each other again, and you were back the same night. Besides, I am not good at good-byes. So I will just say, see you. You made work fun.
Manfred, I will miss your loud smile and your big belly.
Hannu, you were one of the most hard-working people I have met. You have always been proper, never complained, never judged and wanted the best for everyone. It has been a great honor getting to know you.
Charles, thank you for your kind words and appreciation. I hope you enjoyed your stay at Tova’s. You worked so hard despite all your ailments, heat and exhaustion. You never complained and just kept on working, even when our backs were hurting and it felt the sun was going to wither us.
Bob, I did not get to know you much. I have a hunch you were not so fond of us, Catholics. I understand. I was like that before. I hope your love for Israel will help you appreciate that nothing is what it seems at first sight, and that you do not judge us on what others say about us. You don’t know the road unless you walk it. But at least we agreed on our love for Israel and our dislike for Obama. Isn’t it amazing how so many completely different people can agree on so many things?!
Andrea, I hope you enjoyed your Sar El experience and will come back. Your city is beautiful!
Timo, you are such a proper, decent and hard-working man. Thank you for your friendship.
I have been blessed to have spent three weeks with you. It has been my honor and privilege. At times I wondered whether we were all insane. Who in their right mind would want to spend their holidays loading packs in the baking sun? And then my friend’s roommate, Shulamit, said that it is the craziest ones who turn out to be the most normal of them all. And I knew deep in my heart that she was right. And that I have been granted the privilege to have worked alongside the best people in the world.
I have stood up for the truth, I have done what I had to do, I have tried to practice love in the mundane, in the heat, in the baking sun, in the dirt, with twenty types of ants and giant cockroaches, with unchanellable energy and the feeling that my love for God was more worthy of Oscar Wilde than a good Catholic at times (in the paradox of life, Oscar Wilde died a good Catholic, though…). I ran a good race, stood up for the good cause, and had the time of my life.
And tonight I can say with pure conviction and without fear: I stand with Israel. True love can not, and will not, hide. Nor am I able to hide my love. I stand with Israel.