My Visceral Israel


The High Holidays are a visceral time-- a time dictated by our hearts, felt through the senses, known through the gut, and created by overwhelming feelings. Jews everywhere-- from the totally secular to the Ultra-Orthodox-- to go synagogue, lovingly known to many as shul, for the High Holidays. They go out of a deep-rooted adherence to and respect for tradition (if not observance)-- a tradition generally founded upon a visceral connection to Judaism: the tremor at hearing the shofar, the giddiness at smelling Bubby’s honey cake, the pain at crying together with old, old men with the long, long beards.

Tradition, particularly for the non-observant, holds an inexplicable sensory appeal that allows to connect to religion in a way that ordinarily wouldn’t. It allows us, every year, to relive experiences that are inextricable from heart-wrenching emotions. We are devoted slaves to our tradition. It ruled Tevye then; it impacts us now. Tradition gives us feelings that fulfill us-- feelings that we cannot find anywhere else.

This attachment is visceral. Attachment to the ways of old, or, in the cases of some, a fundamental part of everyday life. We cannot escape it. The feelings tradition gives us are too precious to forsake: joy, pain, empathy, security.

For many Jews, the ultimate High Holiday experiences lies in Israel. Partially because it is the Holy Land we’ve been praying about these past few Days of Awe; partially because of our innate Jewish attachment to it.  

Maybe I’m alone on this one, but much of my attachment to Israel has been dictated by my gut, or as my family calls it, my kishke.

Israel is the flutter in my stomach when I get a text from a certain Israeli someone. Israel is the smell of zaatar in my shakshooka. Israel is the sound of a live Idan Raichel concert. Israel is the feel of euphoric blood pumping through my veins at a rally. Israel is the taste of the falafel made by the Moroccan-Israeli Jew at my favorite restaurant in Montreal. It’s a gut thing-- a kishke thing. I can’t explain it. That’s why Israel-- just like the High Holidays-- appeals to Jews of all colors, observances and languages.

This holiday season signals the time of the strongest bond between Israel and the Jewish people. We are spending hours with God, in shul, with other Jews, praying and crying for its survival. Our prayer for Israel has also become a tradition, one which unites our people, and, thus, gives us an incredible feeling that we can’t get anywhere else.

To build a stronger Jewish people, we would ideally create more High Holidays. But the visceral love of Rosh HaShana stems from a tradition built over hundreds of years of shofars and honey cakes and old, old men with long, long beards.

Instead, we can create a sensory connection to Israel. We can make our love of Israel into something we feel. Something that becomes a part of us.

Not everyone has Israeli zaatar, and not everyone has a wonderful Israeli crush. Not everyone can create a logical, rational love (or, perhaps, appreciation) for Israel. But most can create an attachment to Israel they same way they create an attachment to the High Holidays: by loving the feeling it gives you, and coming back for more. By making your love of Israel into a tradition.

You can learn to love Israel by brightening your day with Israeli pop music. You can learn to love Israel by cooking together with your Israeli friends. You can learn to love Israel by praying with a complete stranger for its safety. You can learn to love Israel by attaching yourself to the little parts of the land that make you happy or sad or joyful or reflective. You can love Israel by never letting go of the feelings it gives you.


I hope you all had a meaningful holiday season. Please feel free to connect with me on Facebook at Leora Noor Eisenberg or on Twitter at @LeoraEisenberg.