A journey through place

I’d always wanted to live in Israel. When I was in second grade at a private Jewish school in San Francisco, one of my Hebrew teachers told me that Haifa was a lot like my hometown. I decided then that when I grew up, I’d live there. The first time I visited Israel, I was 17 years old, and the experience confirmed in my head that I had to live there. Somehow, I just belonged to that place.

When I was 27 I moved there. People would ask me why. I’d joke that it was my Hebrew School brainwashing. “They told me that this is my Home, and I believed it too much!” They’d laugh or shake their heads with pity. What I didn’t tell them is how the Place made me feel.

Carmel Beach, Haifa

I’d lived in other places before: El Salvador, Guatemala, Alberta, Texas. Even my hometown in California didn’t feel like this. In Israel I feel roots that reach down from the center of my body, wrap around my legs and grab hold of the soil under my feet. So strange. So comforting.

And why not? There’s nowhere else on the planet where the Jewish holidays line up so perfectly with the cycles of the seasons and the weather they bring. It rains when you are supposed to pray for rain. The crops ripen when you are supposed to hold a harvest festival. If you strip away Medieval commentary and religious rulings to just go back to the earliest traditions you can find, you suddenly realize that the Israelites practiced an Earth-based religion, and under all those clothes the religion still is!

Then, in 2000 I had to move again for a job in England. I found myself, so soon after the epiphany that my Judaism was more Pagan than Jewish, trying to process this idea in a completely different land. But this land, unlike Israel, actually has biological roots for me. My father’s paternal grandparents had come to the US from England. Soon after I settled in, I discovered that the local graveyard had many headstones with my family name on them. Were these ancestors? I don’t know.

What I do know is that, having heard the voices of a God and a Goddess in the waves at the beach in Israel, I was ready to listen very closely to the voices in this new land. I lived about an hour’s walk from work. After five minutes of city walk, the rest went through fields, the green yards of large homes and a park. I would walk and listen to everything. I opened my eyes and noticed raindrops that clung to leaves. I opened my heart and felt the souls of entities I’d never talked to before.

I believe that the Spirits of the Place, the same ones I was listening to and watching for, are the ones who arranged for me to learn about Druidry. It showed up to answer my burning question at the time, “If Judaism is an Earth-based religion inside of Israel, what practice would I consider authentic outside of Israel?” I began to study with friends in the British Druid Order. I went to rituals at Avebury. I was initiated.

During that time I struggled to find a place for my Jewish experiences and my Druid experiences to live in peace. They were both valid. For other people these two things were mutually exclusive, but for me, the two sides brought insight and meaning to each other. Understanding the cycles of the Jewish calendar helped me contemplate the Wheel of the Year in Druidry. Knowing that the Druids believed that writing down the Law and History would kill it and fossilize it, added meaning to what happened when transcribers of the Talmud broke the law against writing down the oral traditions of Judaism in their hopes of preserving it.

And then I moved again. And again. And again.

In Washington, California and Idaho I asked the same questions I had before. “What is an authentic practice in this place?” I found that Druidry had a flexibility to it that helped me process my relationship to each place. Sometimes the community of Druids and other Pagans helps me sort things out. Other times I have to dream a new ritual, listen closely to the land and ask it for guidance because there are no humans around pointing the way.

For now I’m in Scotland. I wonder if this place will open up to me, and what it will teach me.

About Sterling

When Sterling was 3 years old, her parents packed everything they owned into storage, put a roof rack on their ‘66 VW Bug and spent three months driving with her across the US and Canada. She’s been a nomad ever since. She’s lived in El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada, England, Scotland, Israel and several states in the US. Every place is a new spirit to get acquainted with, fall in love with, or struggle with. Her path within Druidry is a spiritual dance of learning the relationships of all the people, human and otherwise, in the context of place. She has a collection of short stories, The Imaginary City and Other Places, which you can read on Kindle or in paperback.

  • http://www.anewadventureeveryday.com/ Elinor Predota

    If it’s not too incestuous to be commenting on our own blog…

    Other times I have to dream a new ritual, listen closely to the land and ask it for guidance because there are no humans around pointing the way.

    Oh, I love this! So much yes.

  • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

    I think that it’s a very common experience you describe among Jews who go to Israel- even for a visit and not necessarily to make aliyah. I never lived there in any formal sense; I did, however, spend several months living on kibbutzim in the summers of 2000 and 2001, mostly participating in archaeological digs through my university. It is a heady experience being in Israel; even a decade later- and having left Judaism behind and coming to Paganism- I still look back on my experiences there very fondly. I think that- particularly coming from the US- the sense of history there is startling. There’s also a lot of places in Israel that would be of interest to Pagans to visit. One summer I participated in the dig at Sepphoris, a thoroughly Greco-Roman city, where there is a famous intact mosaic depicting the events in the life of Dionysos. There is also Banias, at the headwaters of the Jordan river in the Golan Heights, which was a sacred place to the god Pan in antiquity and had a temple to him. Those are just two examples I can think of off the top of my head.

    • Sterling

      My youngest son has self-identified as a Hellenist Pagan since he was about 8 years old. He thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Roman ruins throughout Israel while we lived there.

  • http://moon-in-libra.blogspot.com/ Jean Murphy

    Sterling, I’m intrigued by something you wrote, “Somehow, I just belonged to that place.” I use the same preposition when I describe my connection to Israel. I’m not certain what I mean. Would you, if you can, tell me why you feel you belong *to* Israel?

    • http://www.alwayssababa.com/ lishevita

      There are a lot of different sensations that make up that feeling of belonging *to* Israel. From the first moment I arrived in Israel when I was 17, when I got off the plane in the old terminal at Ben Gurion, stepping down off the stairs onto the tarmac outside, I felt a physical connection instantly. Like a connection to a mother, it was a sense of belonging and knowing. There are other lands where I feel a strong sense of welcoming, even the sense that it could be an adopted home, but nothing like Israel. Most dramatically, every time I’ve ever left the country, even for short visits away, I’ve been overcome by a sense of deep sadness a day or two before. I have found myself crying as if I were mourning a day before getting on the plane for a summer trip to the States.

      I’ve tried to understand the reasons. Is it because of childhood “brainwashing” in a private Jewish school? Is it because of something inherent in Israel? Are ancestral connections to place that strong, living as some sort of ancestral memory in our cells? Is it some past life connection to the place, a memory of living there and being exiled? I don’t know. I just know how it feels.

      • http://moon-in-libra.blogspot.com/ Jean Murphy

        Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think it may be something inherent in us and the Land. Do you think it’s odd that instead of saying that we belong there, we say that we belong *to* Israel.

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