Written by Rosalie Sellman, Edited by Bailey Jaworski
There is beauty in faith. For thousands of years people have devoted themselves to things they cannot see. We build connections with beliefs, with abstract ideas that we subject to meaning. However, you don’t have to believe anything to see the idea that a higher power has so much beauty. But, they say seeing is believing, so I put my own faith to the test with my trip to Israel this past summer.
I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with twelve of my family members for my younger cousin’s Bar Mitzvah, or Jewish coming of age. This was my grandmother’s dream. For years she had planned to take my family to Israel, and her dream finally came true. The way there was stationed with plane delays, flight transfers and countless “please holds” from travel agents who were fed up with my anxious family. We made some progress and ended up in Italy for a ten-hour layover. If anything, my family has perfected the “making lemonade” theory. That is, we take what life gives us, spin it and turn it into an experience. In this case, we decided to tour Rome. We hired a taxi driver for the day, exchanging a couple Euros for a private tour of the city. He took us to all the main attractions, including his favorite coffee shop and favorite pizza restaurant. He drove us past the Vatican, giving us a brief history, although he confessed that he was not a faithful man. Nonetheless, it is a spiritual center for people all around the world; It is old, it is sacred, and it is beautiful.
My family and I quickly boarded another flight. We were struck with wanderlust from our short visit to Rome and were ready to take on Israel. For me, I was waiting. Being Jewish, I grew up with the idea of Israel being this divine place. I assumed it would be life-changing in some way. I didn’t know how, or why, but I put my trust in this idea that I would come home feeling changed. Indeed, the things I experienced in Israel were incredible: I scaled waterfalls in the Black Canyons, I covered myself in mud while in the Dead Sea, I toured Jerusalem, at midnight on bike, taking in the nightlife of this incredible city. However, while in Israel, I was struck with one of the same feelings I had felt while in Rome.
Jerusalem, the Old City, is sectioned into four quarters: The Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Christian Quarter. I was awe inspired by the fact that in a so-called “Jewish State,” so many groups have found religious refuge. It’s settling and inspiring to see all of these people living peacefully together, contrasting what the media tends to highlight. These people respect each other and find peace in knowing Israel is a safe haven for all.
Walking through the Old City, I felt safe as well. I let my mind wander, appreciating the contrasts that the city had to offer; the sights and scents, the old versus the new. I recall watching a young boy skip to an old well in the Muslim Quarter. For hundreds or even thousands of years, this marble well has been used for water to drink and to clean, and even for rituals. I watched the boy, wondering if he will ever realize the same beauty that I found in this visual.
A week passed, and I was on my way home. I felt a sense of understanding from my time in Israel. I found beauty, peace, faith and hope in the people and places I had encountered. I loved what I had experienced. I bonded with my family and my grandma’s dream had finally come true. However, I did not feel the spiritual change that I had so hoped and expected to find. I did not find it, that is, until less than a week later.
Three days after I had returned home and my family had dispersed back to our own homes and own lives, we heard tragic news. My grandma was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. This lively, loving and incredibly spirited woman was someone who had always inspired me and continues to do so. It was unthought of that she would ever become ill. The other unbelievable part is that she was sick during the full duration of our trip, even long before that. With stage four cancer, it was strange that there were no earlier signs. However, she was well enough to live out her dream of taking my family to Israel. That’s when it hit me.
Suddenly everything made sense. For so many people throughout history, our faith is put in these higher powers. We have built monuments, churches, synagogues, mosques, museums and even whole cities under this idea that everything has a purpose, that things happen for a reason. This was finally the feeling I had been looking for. There was a reason my grandma got sick when she did. There was a reason my grandma, now fighting this terrible disease, was able to be so well for so long. I thank God for the experience I was able to have with my grandma during our time in Israel, a place she holds so close to her heart. I don’t know if she will ever be able to go back or if I will have any more amazing experiences that I will be able to share with her. She is still alive, however, and continues to inspire me and serve as a constant reminder that there is beauty in things we cannot see.