I never believed in God before I met Lod. Those who know me would be absolutely, positively shocked to know that I identified as an Athiest (albeit, a confused one) for the last several years of my life. A spiritual atheist, I proclaimed, yet an atheist nonetheless. Decidedly. And then this land and I reacquainted. Internal waves shifted, and shifted again. They’re calm now. Open, yet calm.
Sometimes life shocks you into faith. My first shock arrived when I somehow landed on the ever-complexifying, ever-evolving, ever-holy land of Israel Palestine in the late evening of the 22nd of October in middle of the pandemic. I am a current undergraduate student with one more year of university. In an effort to deepen my relationship to service, to this land and its complexities, to myself, to community, I made the decision to apply to the Yahel Social Change Fellowship. As our date of arrival drew near, cases spiked in-country. The country and airport locked down. This lockdown was then extended not once but three times. With each delay, our cohort grew collectively more despondent. And yet, as a dear friend shared with me, the sweeter the treat, the more focused the desire, the more challenging it is to come. After three delays, I was finally in an airport, KN-95 squarely secured on the face in the middle of the raging pandemic. Being there, against all odds, was a miracle. A sweet one. In the words of Astarius in “Spirit Rap,” “Life is a continuous stream of miracles.”
As we landed, I felt inconceivably awe-struck at finding myself in travel and at the privilege of arriving in this land — this land, so simultaneously fraught with complexities and so full of light. This land, desperately hungry for shifts toward collective and expansive freedom. This land my ancestors have prayed toward for thousands of years. This land that is in constant ethnic, racial, political, religious, social, economic struggle and tension. This land that flows with milk and dates (and now, vaccines!). Continuous truths, potentially incompatible at first glance, yet not in opposition. I am coming to find deep wisdom in holding them all with openness and allowing them to be there, in pursuit of reconciliation and in faith that it will come.
I used to work around identifying as having “faith”. I said I believed not that things happened for a reason, but that things happened, and we must take the things that happen with grace and see and live the good from them. Now I see differently. Faith means that I trust that everything that comes my way is already a manifestation of goodness. If that goodness is unclear, then I trust that the goodness is merely more acutely disguised, covered by shells, by layers. Perhaps it is just covered by thick light rather than that clear light that I trust lies beneath, in the words of a friend of a friend at a Tu B’shevat Seder several weeks ago. Call it ending Suffering for all beings, call it manifesting God’s glory in the world, call it Earth or Universe or Mother, call it living in pursuit of Love, or Truth, or Being, or Light, or Goodness. I have come to feel in these months that it is our deepest life’s commitment to manifest this light. I strive to take this on every day.
My experience as a Yahel Social Change Fellow has been precisely this: to receive light, to view it, to peel away layers until light shines through clear as day. My wise director asked me the other week what my purpose is this year in Lod. I continuously ask myself this question. The answers are becoming clearer, however—and I am learning to trust them. I am in Lod to serve, to form connections with my service sites. I work four mornings a week at a farm in Lod, a true Garden of Eden, a home to Arabs, Jews, the religious, the secular. Students come from across the municipality to work on the land to learn about plants and earth. I am here in Lod to give love to these kids, to see them and to listen, to ensure that they know they are capable of achieving anything they can dream, and beyond that, too. Their faces positively shine as they pull potatoes out of the ground or chew on a fresh, slightly-dirt-covered carrot. They glow sprinting through the farm with wheelbarrows nearly the size of their 9-year-old bodies, pelting each other with flowers. I am here to tutor my neighbors, to sit, laugh, drink beer, and learn English. I am here to develop deep bonds with my one-on-one English students, to see them in their entirety, to understand their struggles and their hopes, and to meet them where they are. I am in Lod to work at an afternoon program with the community of Enosh, a large national NGO for those struggling with various forms of mental illness. There, I am here to get to know the intricacies of Polina’s taste in music, to laugh with Aron as he shows off his polished magician’s tricks, to play basketball and talk about life in New York with Avi from when he lived there many years ago. I am here to integrate within this community.
I am here to live in community and to be grounded within it. I find this in deep connection with my cohort mates. Beginning and ending within the Earth, we make life-affirming, sustainable, and delicious food together and nurturing plants within our home. We eat in conjunction and relish in it. My cohort mates are thoughtful, deeply kind, ever-striving human beings, of tremendous depth and goodness. I learn from and with them each and every day. We are together listening, engaging, exploring the nuances of social change in Israel, in Lod, and responding in a collective. With them, I am learning what it means to be held in community and accountable to one another, too. My roommates and I have formed a special microcosm community—a deep and loving family—of our own.
I am here to connect with ancestry and land while holding nuance and complexity. The other week, I sat overlooking the hills of Jerusalem with two of my cohort mates from Rishon LeTzion right after candle lighting on Shabbat evening. My body stilled, while my gaze remained alternatingly yet steadily fixed between the ancient walls of the Kotel and the golden, luminous Dome of the Rock. I sat in meditation, striving and failing to internalize and hold the thousands of years of history embedded in the stones, in the halls, in the roots of the land. Shabbat songs announcing the opening of Shabbat burst through the valley. These danced through the air and into my open ears, a call to faith, the songs of my people. I felt called to Shabbat, to the holiness, a Shabbat that I keep, a Shabbat that grants me--demands of me, even when I am resistant-- the infinite, undying rest of the days when we might all rest without suffering and in love. As I breathed in the magical sounds of Shabbat, the call to prayer soared through the air and into our open ears. Allah hu Akbar. I felt called again, to Universe, to Faith, to the feeling I feel each time I hear the call to prayer in Lod-- a call, to wake up-- to my host-family in Senegal where I lived for a year and the holiness of the call to prayer sounding there. And then: bells from a monastery in the Christian quarter burst into being, ringing, singing. We sat in awe, without words, transfixed, held in ineffability. A symphony of faith, a synchronicity of sounds, a perfectly harmonious chorus. Unified. One.
Faith lies in trusting every inch of my purpose here, its multiplicity, its simplicity. I am here to love and to be loved, to give and to receive, to find the Unity within the complexity. I relish in every inch.