As this academic year ends, many pro-Israel activists are again seeking the secret recipe for fighting delegitimization, for combating the anti-Israel obsession, which has become the signal flag for too many campus leftists. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with rage, shocked by the injustice, disgusted by the Red-Green alliance, the bizarre coalition uniting radicals and Islamists that requires the irrational pixie dust of anti-Semitism to blind them to all their internal contradictions. Instead, we must be proactive not reactive. Amid all the theorizing and strategizing, all the coalition-building and lobbying, don’t forget that the best way to become an Israel advocate is to become an Israel lover. And the best way to fall in love with Israel is to visit Israel.
If it’s too late for this summer, start planning next summer’s vacation – or this winter’s break. Follow the sage advice of Yoram Taharlev, a great Israeli lyricist whose last name means pure of heart. In the 1980s, his instant classic Kum v’hitalech ba’aretz resounded, with its inviting, inspiring chorus, “Come and walk the Land/ with a backpack and walking stick you’ll never fail/ inevitably along the way/ you’ll encounter and rediscover the Land of Israel.” Taharlev was challenging Israelis to rediscover their land, but the invitation applies more broadly.
You can start in the north, in the Carmel Mountains, where Taharlev was born on Kibbutz Yagur, not far from Haifa in 1938. Soak up the lush green landscape, the rolling hills of Elijah the Prophet, or, further east, the majestic mountains of Deborah the Prophetess. Drift south toward Taharlev’s current hometown, hustling, bustling Tel Aviv, the Hebrew city, the city with the energy of New York, the work ethic of Toronto, the flair of Montreal, the outdoorsiness of Vancouver, the beach culture of Miami, combined with its own Jewish-Zionist spirit. Make that pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish People, the old-new city of Theodor Herzl’s Altneuland, where high-tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists invent tomorrow not far from the medieval walls and the ancient site of King Solomon’s Holy Temple. Wander the desert outside Jerusalem and further south, contemplating the vastness and emptiness whose natural awesomeness inspired some of history’s greatest thinkers and grandest souls, Abraham and Moses, Hillel and Jesus – Jews need not agree with everything taught about him while respecting his gospel of goodness, with its worldwide resonance.
You can float in the Dead Sea, jump waves in the Mediterranean, while swimming in history, soaking in Jewish values, being immersed in the powerful, redemptive Zionist story of renewing our people through rebuilding the Land and now re-imagining the Jewish future – and the world’s. Read the Bible, which echoes in so many corners of this land, learning that the Jews are a people, a nation with a shared destiny and ties to a specific land, not just a community of faith believing in Judaism. Study Israel’s Declaration of Independence to see how Israel offers equal rights to all its inhabitants while democratically celebrating its majority Jewish culture, flourishing as a democratic Jewish state, only because the Jews are a people, meaning a Jewish state is a state of that people not a theocracy. And taste the food – there’s a lot more than hummus and falafel – although their appeal persists. Drink the wine – our palate has grown far more sophisticated than syrupy Carmel goop – although that remains my libation of choice after Friday-night Kiddush.
Of course, these days especially, pilgrims coming to Israel are not alone. An estimated 3.3 million visitors arrived in 2014. This month, Taglit-Birthright Israel welcomed its 500,000th participant. And in a country this vibrant, this resonant, this humming with history, passion, ideas, inspiration, spirituality, even when you are by yourself, you are never, ever alone.