My family moved to Israel nearly 20 years ago from Cleveland because we believed we could lead a meaningful life as citizens of a Jewish country that was still taking shape. The inspiration hasn’t worn off, but t when I go about my daily life, I sometimes lose sight of the wonder of it all.
When I go to the gas station, it’s essentially the same experience I had at a BP station at Cedar and South Green roads. At such a time, I don’t think about building the Jewish homeland, although in a sense I am, because about half the price of gasoline in Israel is tax. I also don’t think about the Zionist dream at the supermarket in our Tel Aviv suburb.
But then there are times sometimes when I least expect that it hits me, almost giving me goosebumps. It happened on the first night of Passover. My family frequently does Passover in reverse. Instead of entering the Promised Land, we leave Israel to spend the holiday with my parents in the United States. This year, some of us went, but I couldn’t get away from work and stayed behind with one of our two daughters.
We had a small seder. We took out Passover food from an upscale Tel Aviv restaurant. It came with matzah ball soup, gourmet date-based charoset and the restaurant’s signature cheesecake – with a kosher for Passover crust. Because there is no public transportation in most of the country on holy days and Shabbat, before the seder, I set out by car for Tel Aviv to pick up a work colleague who was joining us and doesn’t have a car.
It was after sundown and I had thought most people would have already arrived at their seders, but when I saw how clogged the freeway into Tel Aviv was, I realized I would be in the car for a while. I discovered Israel’s public classical music station was broadcasting a recording from the 1960s of the recitation of the Haggadah, narrated in Hebrew with the most exquisite diction. Recorded at Kibbutz Yagur in the north, much of it was set to music performed by a combined chorus of choirs.
The combination of the music and the elegant recitation of the Hebrew text was spellbinding. As I crept along in traffic, guided not by some modern-day Moses, but by Waze, the Israeli navigation app purchased by Google for $1 billion, I was directed off the freeway and onto a bridge to bypass traffic. From the bridge, I saw the ever-expanding and striking Tel Aviv skyline and the Ayalon freeway below – with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The scene encapsulated the tremendous success of the Zionist enterprise. Zionism has created a modern society in every way, but one that on the first night of Passover reflected a scene that could only be witnessed in a Jewish state. The recitation of the Haggadah on the radio and thousands of cars filled with Hebrew-speaking Jews on their way to seders of their own.
This country still has a lot of issues, but what I witnessed from that freeway overpass on Passover eve reminded me how far the Jewish people have come and what promise, if we play things right, there is for the future.
Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel.