It gets me every single time. I'm going to ramble here, so prepare yourselves.
What gets me is seeing someone on the side of the road who's stopped his car and is davening because it's almost past Mincha time. Last week one morning, driving on a local road, I saw someone in tallit and tefillin standing next to his car davening. And I got this stupid goofy grin on my face. This is normal, this is what we do, it's no big deal. I know people do this in other countries, but here, no one driving by is wondering what that person is doing - everyone knows because it's routine, it's the norm. No big deal...
But it is such a big deal.
It's always the little things that do this to me, that still fill my heart with gratitude for having the opportunity to live here, to have come home.
I still gasp when I see the landscapes, and always, always, imagine ancient Jews walking towards Jerusalem over the hills. (Yes, I'll admit it, sometimes the ancient Jews look like Charleton Heston).
I am always thrilled to see the dig sites that pop up everywhere, and especially to see the one right in my neighborhood in Modiin - an ancient shul.
I grew up in America as a stranger. It was not my country in so many ways. The calendar revolved around someone else's holidays, someone else's customs. I had to work around my own holidays, explain explain explain, work overtime on some days to leave early on Friday, miss meetings and events because of Shabbat and Chag, etc. etc. etc.
I appreciate America and American life, but once you live here you realize deep down inside yourself what you've been missing, and it's shocking. That sense of deep connection to every single person on the street, the fact that the entire country revolves around Shabbat, chagim, Jewish historical events....The fact that you are home in a way you never even knew you could be.
Going to our local mall on Fridays fills my heart - religious and non-religious wishing each other Shabbat Shalom - whether they plan to stay home or go to the beach the next day, they mean it. The mall is set up like a shuk on Fridays, with vendors selling food, flowers, and gifts in preparation for Shabbat. Most people don't work on Fridays, so it literally is an entire day to get ready for Shabbat - mentally and physically. By Thursday afternoon, each and every week, the excitement begins to build and the sense of anticipation is palpable. This is what Shabbat is meant to be, this is how it is supposed to feel.
This week I went into Jerusalem to meet visiting family - imagine me telling my grandparents whose dream it was to even see this country, that I could walk around Jerusalem any time I wanted to.
I guess the overwhelming feeling is that everything I mentioned above is "normal" when you live here - it's just what you see every day. But it never feels routine - to me it's always thrilling. I can be doing the most mundane task - picking up the dry cleaning, getting gas - and I think to myself, "I am doing this in Israel - how cool is that?"
Pretty cool. Pretty cool.