Israel visit 2012

El Al to Israel
Fifty Irish faithful fill the flight,
diluting orthodoxy with a soft lilt,
raising the average age with silver hair
and dreams of nearby redemption.

The journey’s quick, the tail wind’s strong
and soon we land in a spiritual home.
The pilot jokes, it’s London weather,
just twenty eight degrees, cloudless and still.

Night bus to Jerusalem
It’s very different now.
Highways criss-cross in massive intersections
until Shar Ha Gai marks the ascent
through Judaean Hills to the Golden City.
Ancient armoured cars are arranged
to remind us of how the road was kept open.
Then it was dusty, dangerous, assaulted,
preserved by soldiers’ blood, a tenuous link
between a divided city and a fertile land,
from which it drew strength that paid for
spiritual uplift. Today, it’s all ours

Western Wall
Down, through crowded Arab souk,
crammed with worthless tourist trinkets,
unpriced to trap naïve travellers into
thinking they’ve got great deals.

We snaked right and left,
wandering through ancient passages
until a burst of open light
announced the Wall.

Hundreds of black-garbed devotees
bent and bobbed, accentuating ardour,
repeating age-old confirmations of
God’s supreme glory.

Aunt Aliza
Then the young sister of an adventurous mother,
now the matriarch and survivor of a generation
That saw wars and extermination.

Rooted in a land that has flowered
as it last did two thousand years ago.
You are why we’re here and why we’ll return.

The crowded cable car rises rapidly
to a tourist-crammed summit of final, futile heroism,
rebuilt to reflect a Roman heritage that
destroyed so much.

Far below, the drying Dead Sea
glows blue, white-shored, tucked
under the mountains of Moab,
peaceful at last, at least on the surface.

Dead Sea
Painful pebbles, so I quickly lean back and
bob strangely, arms high, still floating,
neck aching from a strange posture.
A few minutes are enough, so we get out,
shower off the sticky salt,
watch black mud-daubed tourists
marvel at their ethnic transformation,
then sit in the open in the fierce blast
of an air-conditioning fan
while we wait for the coach.

Christian trail
Holy sites, clogged with tourists.
Some say a Messiah trod here,
wrought miracles, lived and died,
reborn to save the world.
This world is secular, when Sabbath
causes Jews to stream to Arab towns to shop
and Christian pilgrims in Nazareth dodge the cars
to save their lives, just as the Jews rejected new ideas,
developing their own religion,
more moderate and rational
than the Old Testament’s bloodthirsty laws,
when failing God led to annihilation.
But they returned to this way, for survival.

Orthodox family on the flight home
Dark-dressed, package-laden, tension high,
last daughter still with them, unmarried still.
She’s simple – even the matchmaker failed.
As they board, excitable calls to the world,
flicking from Yiddish, to Hebrew, to English and back,
All in one call, then hiding the mobile
When it rings on take-off.
They fly back and forth from London to the Holy City,
A life oblivious of secularity, certain of the right way.
It’s theirs.