My first impression of Israel came on a family trip back in 1967, just after the Six-Day War and three months before my bar mitzvah in the spring of 1968. I was struck by how different the country was from America: IDF soldiers hitchhiking everywhere, the ability to get from one end of Israel to the other in a short period of time, and, of course, Jerusalem and the newly opened access to the Western Wall.
As a 12-year-old, it took a while to get used to eating cucumbers, tomatoes and hummus for breakfast.
I have returned to Israel many times since then on business and with family. I feel like every trip brings something new to my understanding of the Jewish people and the importance of Israel to our past, present and future. I am struck by the opportunity and the importance for every Jew and non-Jew to build a personal and meaningful relationship with Israel. That relationship can be grounded in subjects like politics, history, arts, religion, music, charitable work, commerce, and, yes, even food.
The success of Israel at 70 is inspirational to many who live there and to those who visit. Its very existence speaks to the determination of the Jewish people to fulfill their covenant with G-d and to be a light unto the nations. As Jews living in the Diaspora, we are blessed that we have an Israel to visit during our particular time on Earth — an Israel to study, to immerse ourselves in, and to build a relationship with on whatever level we choose. We all truly can be “next year in Jerusalem.”