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Our Israel trip is winding down. We have one more day in Jerusalem and, after dinner tonight, we will all drive back to Ben Gurion airport to catch our Seattle-bound flights. We spent the last two days in Jerusalem already, beginning with Yad Vashem—the Holocaust Museum—on our first morning and ending with the holy sites of the Old City yesterday afternoon and evening. These are the kind of days that no words can convey, the kind of experiences that mere sentences cannot contain, express or even reflect.

What stands out for me is the gift that Jana, in her masterful organizing of these trips, allows all of us to receive; the gift to meet the people of the land. We met her Israeli friend Miki on our first dinner in Tel Aviv. Then it was Dudu, the next morning, who owns this most amazing middle-eastern home-style-cooking restaurant in her neighborhood, and the “spice guy” in the Tel Aviv shuk. We met a Druze family in the Galilee, shared in the most incredible lunch there, and got to listen to the stories and history of this unique people. In Jerusalem we walked through the different quarters of the Old City. We spent time in the Arab shuk, ate at one of my favorite hummus places, and had baklavas with mint tea in a little coffee shop. We shopped in different places, listened to the most amazing stories from the shop keepers and overall got a real sense of the life of the people of Jerusalem.

All these experiences are priceless. It made me think that, tough we certainly learn about a country from its unique sites, from its unique foods, we learn most of all from interacting with its unique people. So what would it be like for us to meet the American people back home? Do we really know America or do we only know the America that looks like us, talks like us, eats like us? Sure, we share the same sites “from sea to shining sea,” but are the external aspects of the land we visit truly reflective of its diverse people? Would we learn more about America by visiting Mount Rushmore or Ellis Island? Walking down 5th Avenue or eating at a taqueria in East L.A.? I remember living in Israel when Israelis would ask me—picking-up on my French accent—where in Paris I lived? I often had to reply that there was more to France than just Paris, and that Parisians do not stand-in for all French people. Those of us from the south of France did not resemble our northern fellow citizens. We didn’t eat the same foods, lead the same kind of life, and we spoke with a markedly different accent. How much more so would this be the case in America, or in Israel, when so many people come from so many different countries or come from so many different backgrounds!

That is why I believe it to have been a real gift for all of us to get to meet so many local people, to listen to so many personal stories! Jana doesn’t brag about it because it is normal for her, part of her life, part of what she enjoys sharing, what she loves, and doesn’t think twice about. So I am bragging about it for her. I am so thrilled that, without any of us noticing, both on this year’s trip and last year’s, we were blessed with having face to face, presence to presence, encounters with the people who make the land of Israel in all its beautiful and crazy-making infinite complexities. I, for one, am deeply grateful.

Home we go.