Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why I'm Not Excited To Be Going To Israel

By Susan Esther Barnes

A week from Monday, about a week and a half from now, I’m scheduled to board a plane for my first visit to Israel. A lot of people know about it, because it’s a synagogue trip, so it’s been in the synagogue’s weekly emails and the rabbi who’s leading the excursion keeps mentioning it.

People keep asking me, “Are you excited?” clearly expecting me to say, “Yes!” but the honest answer is, “No, I’m not. At all.” It’s hard for me to say this, though, because people want to know what I mean by that. They want to know what’s wrong.

Is it because I’m afraid of terrorism? Is it that I don’t like airplanes or long trips? Does it have something to do with the flotilla, or Gaza, or the Middle East conflict in general? No, it is none of those things. The simple answer is, it’s because I spend most of my life living in the present.

Some people spend much of their time dwelling over events in the past, reliving moments gone by, trying to figure out how they could have done things better. Although I do try to learn from my mistakes (as well as from my successes), I don’t spend much time thinking about what has already happened.

When something that happens particularly strikes me, I will think about it, sometimes maybe even obsess about it, as I pick the words I’m going to use to write it down. But once I’ve gotten it onto paper, especially once I’ve posted it on my blog, I usually let it go and don’t think about it much any more.

Similarly, some people spend much of their time thinking about the future. These people are great planners. If they were going on a trip to Israel they might read books about where they’re going, maybe watch some Israeli movies, or look at maps or other information online.

For people who like to spend time in the future, planning for the trip and anticipating what it might be like in advance is half the fun. I am not one of these people. I’d rather just show up and see what happens when I get there. I’d be perfectly happy not even seeing an itinerary in advance. This is especially easy to do when going with a tour group like the one the synagogue arranged.

Of course, this tendency not to plan for the future has its drawbacks. Sometimes I walk into a meeting and suddenly think, “Oops, I should have brought such-and-such with me.” It also means when someone asks me in a job interview, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” my honest answer of, “I have no idea; I’d like to see how things unfold,” generally is not what they’re hoping to hear.

Yes, I am a creature of the present. This state of being has some definite advantages. I believe one of the reasons I’m good at helping out at the synagogue is I spend most of my time paying attention to what is happening in the moment. Therefore, I’m more likely than some others to notice if a congregant needs a prayer book or a tissue, or the rabbi needs a cup of water, or a visitor is searching for the restroom; so I’m in a position to help get them what they require.

It can also lead to some degree of frustration. When I was studying for my Master’s degree I was in a cohort of people who preferred to spend most of their time in the future. For instance, if the professor mentioned a paper that would be due at the end of the semester, they would ask endless questions about what should be in the paper, how it should be formatted, how long it should be, etc. The whole time I would sit there thinking, “That paper isn’t due for a long time yet. I’m not concerned about that right now. Can we just get on with the class at hand?”

It can also lead to confusion. I’m supposed to be going to Israel in a week and a half, for the first time. I very much want to go. So how can I not be excited? People react as if there’s something wrong with me.

So here it is, all you future folk: I’m not excited because it’s still a week and a half out. I have a lot of things in the present to take up my time and to get excited about between then and now, including two Shabbats, which are almost always the highlight of my week.

If you want to see me being excited about Israel, talk to me when I’m on the plane, or as I step onto the soil of the holy land. I can assure you, when the time comes, I’ll be bouncing off the walls. But right now I’m not excited about the trip. At all. And that’s okay, because all it means is I’m being me.


  1. such an interesting post and so, so very reflective! i think i do a lot of the past-and-future dwelling that you describe and it sounds sort of freeing to do things your way! i'm glad it works for you and thanks for the glimpse into your thoughts!

  2. Most of the time it works for me. But for big events or long trips like this one it's a little stressful because I fully expect to get there and think, "Oh no, I wish I had only thought to bring such and such."

    On the other hand, as long as I have my passport and a credit card I expect I'll be able to get anything I need. No matter what I forget, it can't be worse than the time I flew into New York for a wedding and all my luggage was stolen.