As I take my eyes off pictures of the amazing circus of the Met Gala red carpet event on my PC, I hear the siren going off for Remembrance Day, just in time not to get too materialistic and involved in the various insane Valentino and Versace gowwns on display for this year’s gala and wondering why I still have not be invited, the long siren brings me back to the harsh reality.
Much more harsh than real at this point.
I run to the window and from my 13th floor I can see the small moving cars slowing down and what looks like little people getting out and standing solemnly in silence in the middle of the road.
Ah, my poor country, always in pain, always in the middle of the world, always wondering if we’re wrong or if we’re right and if peace is by our side and if peace is really what we need.
I make myself a hot coffee and close my eyes, inhaling the aroma and wanting to go back in time to just two weeks ago when I was with the whole family in beautiful Portofino, Italy, for Passover.
My head is full of information, images, sounds and pieces of conversation that have not yet been elaborated carefully by my brain, because everything has been happening too quickly.
From the beginning of Passover when you carefully plan your exit to exile to Independence Day, it’s a continuous ascension of celebrations, remembrance, family moments and fun all entwined into one another.
Now is the time to slowly unwrap my brain and put some order in my heart and mind.
Let’s go in order.
We left for the Passover vacation as if we literally left Egypt, in a hurry, excited and scared at the same time, wondering what we would find at Ben-Gurion Airport. The first serious exodus since the pandemic began.
Once we make it through check-in and pay every pound of extra overweight we are finally wandering with the millions of other passengers in the duty-free area, which for Israelis is like a religion, you cannot fly if you don’t buy.
We board the plane already exhausted and our trip has just begun. I close my eyes on the hard seat of those low-cost airlines, which are now ruling the world – it feels more like sitting on a bus than on a plane. It’s all in the name of a new free world, where everyone can fly anywhere for a little bit of cash.
That’s the price you pay. But it’s not in cash, it’s your nervous system that pays the price.
Our arrival in the small town of Portofino near Genoa was a slow ascension of surprises from the airport, which eventually came to full glory when we reached the Hotel Imperiale and were astonished by its beauty. We sat on the gorgeous terrazza for a much-needed cappuccino.
I feel all my senses coming to life, I smell the air and see the beauty that surrounds me, the bay with the boats in front of me, the mountains behind me, the majestic hand-painted ceiling inside the halls of the hotel and I can only bless Hashem for having created such beauty. Even my children, who have been fighting, laughing and kicking for the past 15 hours, are speechless in front of the view.
For eight days we are “forced” to be here, served and spoiled as we feast on matzot and haute cuisine totally flour free. We meet and mix with guests from all over the world, some we like some we don’t but one of the highlights of our stay is that feeling at a certain point that we are all somehow related, we all are connected no matter who we are and where we are from.
By the time Passover is over we have become one big family. The guest of honor was none other than Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who was flown in with his wife from Israel and spoke during Hol Hamoed to an enchanted crowd, which listened to his stories from the Shoah, putting things into perspective as they sat in their fancy chairs sipping tea after a lavish dinner.
A casual stroll in Portofino with the chief rabbi and his wife in his black coat and Jerusalem hat made everyone turn and stare at him, but the funniest moment was when we met a group of Israelis who were visiting the small town and found themselves staring at Rabbi Lau standing in front of them. They had to check twice and then asked: “Rabbi Lau, is this you, in real life? What are you doing in Portofino?”
The end of Passover and our return home to Israel is still a blur. It went by so fast that looking back now I cannot believe that it was really me there, my mind was so light and free there, I felt I could park myself there on that terrazza with my computer and just write for a month straight. I understand now why so many Italian poets, songwriters and painters have come and found their muse in this area where Portofino is, called Costa Ligure. Known also for its famous guests who have come with their yachts throughout the years from Jacqueline Onassis to Silvio Berlusconi, who owns a home here and comes often, to the setting of the new Walt Disney animated film Luca, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 94th Academy Awards.
Portofino is magic.
Overwhelmed by messages, appointments, a visit to the dentist, cleaning, laundry and real life upon my return and the simple fact that in the morning I am not met by Daniel, my waiter, who would magically appear as I made my way to my table with my three favorites morning drinks, reality slowly sets in.
The first punch of reality is the ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day when I see President Isaac Herzog solemnly talking about love and respect for the dead and a promise of a better world and a better Israel for all. Somehow he doesn’t convince me, and sadly this year, I am not convinced at all if I should fly my flag high.
Am I a prouder Italian or a hardcore Israeli?
Have I been betrayed this year by a government I didn’t vote for? Why do we become united and feel holy when we talk and remember the dead, are we really doing the best for my country?
I get up, frustrated, and as sparks of Portofino flash in front of my eyes, I believe that Israel may not be as beautiful as the Costa Ligure but still, it’s mine, it has my name here, yet I never felt it so far and distant from me as today.
As I gather my energy in preparation for Independence Day, I am still uncomfortable in planning a celebration for there is nothing to celebrate after a disastrous year in my eyes for us Israelis.
Still, I am a believer, a daughter of believers, as the saying goes here, maybe I am more of a dreamer, a daughter of parents who believed and rejoiced when I married a soldier and told them I am moving to Israel, to their joy and pride.
Keep focused and be positive, Hadassah, I say to myself. We started this intense period when we left for Passover and a few days later we started counting the Omer. Every day has its own strengths and magic, we shall count to 49, and then on Shavuot, we are ready to renew our promise to Hashem and strengthen our bond as we have been chosen as a preferred nation over all other nations.
Let’s be proud and make Hashem proud to have chosen us and send us Moshiach now.
End of my focus.
Time to do carpool.
Welcome back to life, routine, annoying drivers and lunch bags thrown in the back of the car.■
The writer is from Italy, lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four kids, and heads HadassahChen Productions. She also hosts a weekly talk show on Arutz7.