A reconstruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Messianic Period. Today, what remains is the “Wailing Wall” on the other side, and on the Temple Mount, the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Haaretz, a Matter of the Heart

My love affair with began long ago when we first met in June of 1978. Our meeting was arranged at birth. Just like all good Jewish boys are at 13, I was well-prepared by the Jewish community in the years leading up to my rendezvous with her when I was 28 years old.

Twice each year in synagogue on and at the end of the Passover meal I joined with the congregation in reciting the call “Next Year In Jerusalem.” And so in 1978 I fulfilled my promise and flew from Los Angeles International Airport to London, and from Heathrow International Airport on El Al Airlines to the Middle East to meet her.

I don’t remember the exact date, but my memory of the day I first laid I eyes on her is clear. My first few hours in , the Land of Israel, landing at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, Israel was not the warm experience I expected. Ben Gurion is not a pretty airport. And at that time in late spring, Tel Aviv, built on desert sand, is very, very hot. The lines through the customs inspection are very, very long. I reached the front of the line, answered some questions by the poker-faced customs officer, and finally exited the terminal. Just outside was a crowd of sweaty taxi drivers hustling me to enter their cabs. Welcome to the Middle East.

Strictly religious Jews kiss the ground after they land in . I was too tired to think of anything but to catch a bus to downtown as fast as I could and find my hotel. I would have plenty of time to explore the Land I had heard so much about my whole life. My return plane ticket was open for a year.

You may have a strong image of Israel and the Middle East in your mind from countless and constant news accounts of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But if you want to know the truth, try to let go of any ideas you may have, especially based on politics. The truth lies in the personal.

The story of or the Holy Land is linked to its past. I was soon to discover evidence of this in the antiquities, mostly remains of Roman architecture scattered all around the country, dramatically evident in the remaining structures of ancient cities such as Caesaria, Akko and the old city in Jerusalem. But more than anything else, the Holy Land is an idea, a vision, an aspiration, an experiment, a romantic movement, emotionally moving and sacred. And complex: the Israel narrative is complicated by another by the Arab People, a tribe just as passionate and tied to the same Land with a parallel story in deep conflict with the other.

An archaelogist sweeping away debris covering a newly discovered Roman mosaic discovered in Caesaria, Israel, from the Byzantine Period (from 395 A.D.) when Rome absorbed Christianity.

Sayings and proverbs…

Land of milk and honey

People of the Book

The wisest is the man who can forgive.

Birds of a feather flock together.

Off the beaten track

To hit the road

Quotations from Middle East peacemakers

“Peace is much ore precious than a piece of land… Let there be no more wars.” — Anwar Sadat

“Let’s give it to the Palistinians (Gaza and the West Bank) as long as there is security for us. No more occupying another People.” — Yitzhak Rabin

Questions for discussion

Have you been to Israel or another country in the Middle East?

If so, what was your experience? What was your favorite thing? Not so good?

If you haven’t been to the Middle East, would you ever go? What have you read about it that you might like to see?

Have you ever read any books about people, countries and cultures in the Middle East. What is your impression?

Do you like Middle Eastern food? What dishes do you like?

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Journalist and memoir writer: I like to think of myself as an early Baby Boomer still coming of age.

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Marcu Forester

Journalist and memoir writer: I like to think of myself as an early Baby Boomer still coming of age.