Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage is available in paperback and on kindle and is being reprinted on Catholic News Agency with author’s permission. Cheryl’s non-fiction book is called Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with Her Past.Chapter Twenty-Seven
I will live for the Lord; my descendants will serve you. Psalm 22:31
The last two days of Elizabeth’s trip were wonderful. On Tuesday, all four women spent their last day together in the beautiful hills and valleys by the Sea of Galilee. It was in Northern Israel and filled with man-made and natural wonders. One of their stops was in the city of Safed. Rachel explained that during the middle ages it became a haven for Spanish Jews as a result of the Inquisition. “Many people consider this to be the most peaceful of settings that exist in the world.”
Beth had to agree with Rachel, as did Miriam and Sipporah. The mountaintop city and view was breathtaking. Everywhere they looked were streams running through the mountains, determinedly making their way to the sea.
“The Jews of Galilee used Mt. Arbel as a stronghold during their fighting with the Romans in the first century. But let’s not think of these things today!” Sipporah said, wanting to steer their last day together in a completely different direction than the endless fighting that seemed to be part of man’s inherent nature. “Let’s rent a kayak and ride down the Jordan River!”
Beth almost fell over at Sipporah’s suggestion. She had never been fond of boats and the only images she could conjure up regarding kayaking or rafting had to do with turbulent whitewater waves throwing all occupants into a rabid stream just waiting to plunge everyone to their death. Beth remained quiet to better hear all the other protests. To her dismay, everyone thought rafting or kayaking was a great idea and they were apparently on their way to some undisclosed kayak rental place with Beth trailing behind. Wouldn’t that be something if this was how I lost my life? Beth murmured to herself. Of all of Luke’s concerns, both spoken and not, Beth could bet on the fact that Luke never considered Beth would step foot in a kayak.
Within minutes they were gearing up for a boat ride and Beth felt that the whole thing had been planned. She knew she was right as Sipporah spoke, “I hope you won’t find us too pushy but we wanted to spend our last day together doing something a bit out of the ordinary so that when you thought of the Holy Land you thought of the times of Christ but also of today. Of all the things He has done for you, He has also brought you to us and made us feel as if we have always known you.”
Beth began crying and all four women hugged in one of those big, dramatic group hugs that are so often made fun of on television. But nothing was more appropriate, more fitting, than for these four friends to create a circle and laugh and cry for a few precious minutes.
“Ladies, let me just check your gear and you can get into the quad-kayak,” instructed their guide. Beth was relieved that they weren’t being left to their own devices and was the second to board. The boat was bigger than she had imagined. She looked around and saw assorted kayaks and canoes, all holding multiple occupants. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and she decided to have fun as well.
She shared a bench with Rachel. They looked at each other and giggled. Beth asked, “Have you done this before?”
“Many times. It is truly a fun experience. One you will never forget. We have all done this together, quite a few times. Now, we will always be able to remember you as part of our kayaking stories!”
Once they were in, the guide instructed them on the proper principles of leaning and ducking but mostly stressed that he would be able to handle what was ahead and that they should all enjoy the ride. Beth was relieved because by the time he gave the third instruction she had already forgotten what the first one was. Apparently even time in the Holy Land couldn’t erase the symptoms of menopause! She laughed and Miriam asked her what was so funny. “Just an inside joke,” was Beth’s response and the girls nodded in agreement, apparently all understanding that inside jokes were best left, well, inside. They smiled as the kayak took its place in the river.
The trip down the Jordan River was just one more highlight in a vacation filled with unforgettable experiences. Beth got soaked on more than one occasion and could not stop laughing. Soon, all four women were laughing at nothing in particular. If a feeling, a moment in time, could be a magical elixir, then Beth and Miriam and Rachel and Sipporah had their fair share that afternoon. And if laugher truly is good medicine, then each woman stood up from the kayak healthier than when she entered.
They made their way back to the car and began their trip home. The smiles on their faces reflecting the beauty of their day together. Driving home they each simply took in the sights of men and women and children busy with their life’s activities.
Dropping off Sipporah, Beth got out of the car to give her a hug. “Thank you for all your time. Please keep me informed about your life and your studies and I will do the same.”
Hugging Beth, Sipporah responded in kind. Then they pulled away from each other and smiled. Beth got back into Rachel’s car and they drove away. As much as Beth wanted to look back, she actually couldn’t. Her throat ached with the tears that seemed to be erupting. Looking back at Sipporah would have unleashed emotions that Beth was afraid were far bigger than just their good-byes.
Rachel parked her car in the street in front of the apartment complex. They had eaten a late lunch and all had agreed that dinner was of no interest. Miriam, Beth, and Rachel would be spending Wednesday together. Thursday, Beth was returning home. Her short trip was coming to an end. And yet, in a very wonderful way, Beth felt as if she had been in Israel for months. She loved the familiar sights and sounds and realized that in her two brief weeks she had known the tragedy and triumph that made up the Holy Land.
Closing the car door, Beth said to Rachel, “Okay. We’ll see you tomorrow morning?”
“Around ten?” Rachel asked in agreement.
“Perfect,” responded Miriam. They had all found that mid-morning gave everyone a chance to get their day off without a rush and thus enjoy it more fully.
Rachel pulled the car out into traffic with the requisite honking and maneuvering. Beth and Miriam headed up the stairs in silence. They always alternated between the elevator and stairs, somehow remaining in sync with their steps, whichever route they were taking. Miriam broke the silence when she asked Beth, “Do you want to stop by to say good-bye to David?”
Beth had not anticipated leaving Israel to be an emotional venture and yet that was exactly what it had developed into. She had come to dearly care for the Goldfarbs and Rachel and Sipporah and now had to say good-bye, not knowing if she would ever see them again. It was an odd feeling, reminiscent of when she was a young girl and her father would be in town on business. He would take Beth to dinner and then drive her home. Inevitably he was catching a plane to some other city, some other state, forever building his business for himself and his wife and their daughters. But never Beth. She was never a priority. She saw him now and again and each time was like ripping the scar off her heart, only to have her build it back up again.
Her father would drop her off and she would walk to her front door. The same ache that she had in her throat when saying good-bye to Sipporah was the ache in her throat back then, making it almost impossible for her to swallow. She would never forget the physical pain she would feel as her heart raced and her tears became suffocating. She never knew if she would see her father again. Would he be back or would he be gone forever? If it wasn’t for his business in town, she now knew she never would have seen him. Period. Would that have been better? She would never know.
As it was, each time she saw him she went through the same pain. It was really too much for a young girl to bear and, now as a mother, she would never be able to stand the idea that her own children would be subjected to such emotional turmoil.
“Yes, I would like to say good-bye to David,” was Beth’s quiet reply.
Miriam opened the door to her apartment and Beth walked inside. Was it just a dozen days ago that I walked in here for the first time? Beth couldn’t believe how much two weeks could hold. She had been living in such a way that it seemed like her life held nothing new and here she was, two weeks in Israel, and she had more experiences than the past five years of her life.
“Please, sit down. I’ll put on a pot of tea. It will be nice to have some fruit and cheese and visit together.”
Beth agreed and made her way to the couch. The window was open and the breeze was refreshing. David walked into the room from the small hallway and smiled as he saw Beth. “Shalom! What a pleasant surprise.”
Beth returned David’s warm smile and imagined all the families he would counsel, guide, and know as a rabbi. Although most rabbis agree that their decision is one of great contemplation and prayer, that they are not “called” in the way that most Christians consider their pastors or priests “called” to the religious life, there had to be something along those lines nonetheless. Beth figured that the reality for both was probably somewhere in the middle. God did a little calling and the recipient did a little praying, and before long they came to an understanding of how to best glorify God’s kingdom here on earth.
“Do you want any help, Miriam?” David called towards the kitchen.
“No, I’m fine. Where’s abba?”
“He went out with some friends. I believe they are visiting and enjoying one another’s company.”
David explained to Beth that after Shivah it was a responsibility of someone close to the family to encourage them to take up the things of life: going out again and so on. Beth knew that Meir would have been surrounded by such people who cared for his well being and could easily say that Ayala would have wanted him to enjoy his days as well. She was truly special.
Beth stayed for about an hour during which time she and Miriam and David exchanged pleasantries. It was an easy conversation with Beth recounting their day’s kayaking experience. David laughed heartily as Miriam pantomimed the four women doing their best to help the guide keep the kayak upright.
All in all, David admitted, it seemed to have been a perfect ending for Beth’s vacation. At his words, her heart leapt with the knowledge that when she arrived, David had a mother and now that she was departing, he did not. She shook her head in dismay and David asked what she was thinking about. In all honesty she replied, “Your mother.”
David and Miriam exchanged glances and Miriam spoke up, “Beth, my father and David and I have something we would like you to have.”
Beth looked from Miriam’s face to David’s and then back to Miriam’s. David left the room and returned with a container the size of an old-fashioned hat box. He handed it to Beth who reached up her arms to receive it.
She placed it on her lap and looked at them again. “I don’t know what to say. This is very kind and, of course, I have nothing to give you but my gratitude for your graciousness, kindness, and friendship.” Tears welled up in Beth’s eyes as she lifted the lid. Inside, packed in blue and white tissue paper was a ceramic tea set. Beth recognized it immediately. It was the tea service with which Ayala had served Beth on Beth’s first night in Israel. It’s porcelain exterior beautifully decorated with roses and vines, hand painted, Ayala had said when Beth originally complimented it.
When Beth looked at David and Miriam, they, too, were crying. David spoke in such a soft voice that Beth had to strain to hear him, “Beth, as you know, my mother was a wonderful woman. She loved everyone and did her best to make all people feel welcome in her home. She was especially fond of you, Beth, and would have wanted you to have this set.”
Beth started to object but David raised his hand to quiet her concerns before he continued, “The interesting thing about this, Beth, was that my mother knew right away she wanted you to have the set. That was why she was going to purchase a new set. She had already told us she wanted you to have this one.”
Beth could not breathe upon hearing those words. She looked at Miriam and David and realized that they could have, and Beth would never, ever have blamed them, hated her. Groaning, Beth apologized profusely and both the Goldfarb children hugged her.
David comforted her, once again, with his words. “Beth, my father and I have already gone to the home of the Arab merchant who was also killed in the blast. He left behind a wife and four children. Like my mother, his wife is a loving, caring woman who holds no hatred in her heart. We hugged one another because in these deaths, we are more alike than different. Each of our families will somehow go on but will be very different than they were.
Our world is filled with much hate and bloodshed and my mother would never want someone else’s hatred to infiltrate her family. And so Beth and I want you to know that you will always be very special to us and that we could never harbor ill feelings towards you because nothing you did was wrong. You brought out our mother’s love. How could we hate that?”
Miriam’s silence was as powerful as David’s words, each contributing to Beth’s overwhelming understanding of love and forgiveness.
“We’ve packed the set in a way that it would probably survive the trip but thought it might be better if we shipped it separately. What do you think?” Miriam asked Beth.
Beth surveyed the tea set and knew that it was as fragile as life itself. “Please, let’s ship it separately and pack it with a bit more padding.”
“Okay, I’ll take this to the postal service tomorrow and you should be getting it in two or three weeks,” David said.
Hugging David, Beth said her good-byes and walked across the hall to her apartment. Standing in the Goldfarb doorway, Miriam called out, “I’ll see you tomorrow around ten. Sleep well.”
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