Haifa. What a place. Haifa is in the north western part of Israel, smack dab across the border from Lebanon and right along the Mediterranean Sea. It is a bustling city with old buildings and new innovations. And there are hills. Lots of hills. LOTS AND LOTS of hills. Did I mention the hills?
Anyhoo, Andy and I had the opportunity to see Haifa from a very different point of view than many of the tourists who pass through during its busy summers. We got to stay with a Russian, Messianic Jewish family for about a week, experience their tradition of Shabbat, and learn where to get the best hummus in town. We did not know this family before going to Israel, nor did we really speak the same language. But they opened their small apartment to us and provided us with a place to rest our heads while we attempted to plan the rest of our trip to Israel.
Now, I must say…. Sleeping in a stranger’s house is not something I am very familiar with. It is completely out of my comfort zone. I was grateful for the place to stay, but I felt like an intruder. Everything in me wanted to stay in a hotel room instead (just ask Andy). There we could just do our thing, coming and going as we pleased. Yet, none of the options we looked at seemed right. So we stayed.
By the end of the week with this gracious (and very patient) family, I learned something about traveling that has stuck with me ever since. Everything in me wanted to stay somewhere else because that was something I was familiar with. I wanted to experience Israel in a way that was comfortable and convenient for me. However, that misses much of the meaning behind why we travel in the first place. Yes, it is okay to feel comfort and to enjoy yourself while traveling, but it is also important to take risks and experience things unfamiliar to you. The conversations we had with that precious family in Haifa while sitting around their kitchen table mattered. Celebrating Shabbat and singing songs in Russian and Hebrew mattered. Finding the best places to get hummus in town definitely mattered. All of these things contributed to how I see Israel even now.
Now when I think of Haifa I do not just think of the old buildings, the new innovations, or even the hills. No, no. I think of that family who, without even knowing it, shattered my comfort zone and opened my heart to being comfortable with being uncomfortable.