Do you know why Jana called her tour company “Kesem”? That’s because Kesem means “magic” in Hebrew, and she wanted to set the Kavanah—the intention—for the trips to Israel to be magical. This has been my third trip to Israel with Jana, and each one has been more magical than the other.
There is one major reason why these trips are magical though: Jana herself. And here is why. Midway through our travels we had to change our bus driver. Moti, our Jewish driver, was called south to a different group but arranged for another driver to replace him. He arranged for someone he trusted deeply, a Bedouin Muslim driver named Nasour. Our first day with Nasour was wonderful. The group immediately befriended him. Jana told us that she had learned his father had an accident and was undergoing surgery the very evening he spent with us touring the Druze village. All of us offered prayers of healing to him and his father, chanting “El Na Refa Na La” at dinner, and Nasour was deeply touched by our gesture. But this couldn’t have taken place without Jana. In just a couple of hours of meeting Nasour, Jana had worked her magic and had made him part of our group, one of us. Even if you didn’t understand Hebrew to know what she and him were talking about as the bus took us from one spot to the next, the laughter and the joy that you could witness between them in the front seats told you the whole story.
This immediate connection and bonding that Jana facilitated between us all and Nasour, led to the most magical event—and probably one of the greatest highlights of the trip: Nasour invited us all for lunch in his village the next day. Now you might not “get” how amazing this is. Let’s put it this way; there is no organized tour of Israel that would ever include something like this. Furthermore, there is no Jewish Israeli citizen, that I know of, that ever gets to do something like this either. That a Jew in Israel could befriend a Muslim Bedouin is almost unheard of. But for anyone to be invited to the home of a Bedouin for lunch, that’s near impossible. At least it was until Jana. He didn’t just invite Jana or Marla (our guide) or me; he invited all 12 of us in the home of his cousin, in his village of upper Galilee. I am not telling you how fabulous the food was—it would be unfair—so I am just going to mention the baklava and other honey pastries we had for desert with the most delicious mint tea you’ve ever had.
This whole village of now sedentary Bedouins of several thousand residents, Nasour explained, is one large family, one large clan dating back thousands of years. We got to meet his wife and two grown boys, his cousin in who’s living room we were hosted, and his cousin’s daughter (soon to be married to Nasour’s son), as well as Nasour’s brother the dentist. The inhabitants of their village are completely integrated in Israel. They serve in the Israeli army, many of them are policemen, and if they are not working the beautiful land around their village, they have jobs in the many industries of Israel. Many are highly educated and work as doctors, dentists, teachers or other liberal professions. Besides having near-perfect teeth (we wondered how they did that after eating so many sweet deserts) many of them also had blue eyes, which caused us to ask of their tribal origins. Their nomadic clan, we learned, originated in Eastern Europe (perhaps as far as Russia) and traveled south several thousand years ago to the Arabic peninsula (today’s Saudi Arabia). How incredible is that!!
Like I wrote earlier, you cannot put a price tag on this experience, on this gift that our group was gifted. As I sit in my hotel room in Jerusalem, watching the rain fall outside my window on this Friday morning, December 21st, 2012, I am praying. I am praying that if today is the end of the world, that the world that is ending be the one that keeps us separated from one another; and that in the world about to be, in the world to come, we may find each other invited for lunch in each other’s living rooms. For on that day, like we say in the Aleynu, I believe with all my soul that “the Unity of Being shall be celebrated by all.”