Thursday, March 29, 2018

Unpacking Israel: The Surface Layer

Last night my husband had a business call at 8 and after that we were going to watch Survivor. (I love Survivor.) I fell asleep on the couch a few minutes before his phone call, and I thought, hey, I'll take a little nap while he's talking, and I'll be fine and dandy. Nope. Staggered off to bed before nine and slept so soundly. It was the exhaustion of Israel catching up to me.

Our trip was stuffed, just stuffed, and it will be a long time before I begin to understand all I've learned. I know the easy things--the surface level. I'll figure out the rest.

For a recap, I was traveling with a group of 19 other American and Canadian children's book authors, on a trip designed and sponsored by PJ Library and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to give us all story inspiration.

Best quote of the trip, though I don't remember who said it, regarding the compact powerhouse that is Gail Carson Levine: "Has anyone checked Gail's back for wings? Because I'm pretty sure she's actually a fairy." (If you understand that Gail writes fairy tales, this gets even better.)

Best funky coincidence: The mom of my host family for Shabbat dinner, graduated from my college the year behind me, and although we didn't know each other we waxed rhapsodic about our mutual favorite history professor.

Best moment of enlightenment: We went on a kayaking adventure in the Dead Sea; our large group had to be shuttled over rocks and sand in smaller groups from the tour bus. I was in the first group, about six people; five of us were standing at the edge of the sea, but Marla Frazee stripped to her swimsuit and started walking in. We told her we didn't think we were allowed to do that; also, our tour guide had said we might have time to swim in the Dead Sea later that afternoon. Marla said, "What if this is our only chance?" and kept walking. The rest of us thought for a moment, stripped to our suits, and went in. It was brilliant. (We did get another chance later on.)

Best made-up word: bunnyrat.

Best moment, ever: We were in the laboratory that's conserving and digitizing the Dead Sea Scrolls. We got to see actual scrolls from inches away--amazing, never to be repeated--but then the director of the lab pointed to a place on the scrolls, and one of our group who could read Hebrew read out the first line of a Psalm. It's a Psalm still sung in Jewish liturgy. Three-quarters of the group began to sing. That piece of parchment is over 2000 years old, and its words are still a known melody. Even thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

Best non-Jewish experience of Judaism: Mine. I've never been in a situation where every question I had was welcomed and answered. I came on this trip wanting to know some very specific things for a book I had in mind, and repeatedly, over the course of the week, people sat down with me and discussed what they thought might help me, and it did, but I also learned so much more. I will take the joy of Shabbat into my Catholic Easter; I will remember this always.

Best group catch-phrase: Dibs!

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