My husband and I have traveled a lot. We climbed onto the ruins of the Acropolis in Greece, got soaked under Niagara Falls, meditated in a tent in the Patagonian mountains, and chased pigeons in the Piazza S. Marco.

Of course, we never considered going to Israel. Coming as Russian Jewish immigrants 20 years ago to warm and sunny California, we did our best to leave the past behind us and embrace the sweet, luxurious lifestyle we had come to. Israel was not Beverly Hillish enough, not Hollywoodishly stylish enough for our newly Californian sensibilities.

Israel was not Beverly Hillish enough, not Hollywoodishly stylish enough for our newly Californian sensibilitiesBut family was calling. My elderly grandparents had settled in Jerusalem after leaving Russia, and we were long overdue for a visit. So, with some reluctance, we packed our bags and boarded a flight to Tel Aviv.

On the bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, lullabied by the rhythmic rocking and the soft purring of the motor, I doze off.

“We are here,” my husband tells me gently, and I open my eyes. Through the window, the Jerusalem stone is winking at me brightly.

Suddenly fully awake, I am overcome by an intense, unknown emotion and begin to cry. Not because I am sad how unclean and old the streets look, or how sorry I feel for the men and women dressed in black in the blazing heat, but because in every one of them I see myself.

Walking through the streets, my eyes dazzled by the sun breaking into millions of diamond shards on white stone, inhaling the delicious smells of ripe fruit and vegetables on the corner stands, I am possessed by the feeling of finally arriving home, to my land, to my people. And for the first time, there is no line of separation between them, so religious, and me, so not religious. There is only us, soulmates in G‑d’s creation.

Later, in the hotel unpacking, I gaze at the panoramic view of the Old City. Yes, we will walk and explore, learn its history and grasp with our minds what is already present in our souls. But right now all I want is to inhale my land’s vibration, to feel the pain and the sorrow of my people. I want to process it through me, to transform our struggle and suffering into joy and love of our Creator.

But I am scared, intimidated even to approach the grounds of the holy city, to appear before His glory so wrapped up in the layers of my egocentric pursuits, harmful habits and negative behaviors. I am old enough to know that before transcending darkness and evil in my land, I have to transform the darkness and evil in myself. But I want to, I am willing to. I just need Him to show me the way, and at this moment, like never before, I am willing to listen, to obey . . .

Our first stop is the Western Wall. Originally I had been indifferent to the idea of visiting the Wall—what was there to see except a bunch of people praying? But, of course, I couldn’t skip it. After all, here I was in Jerusalem.

I am possessed by the feeling of finally arriving home, to my land, to my peopleNow, however, I am eager to see this holy place and to join my people in prayer. I approach the wall, slowly, cautiously, patiently, waiting for my turn to touch . . . and I finally do.

An electric charge penetrates my body, shaking me to my bones. A silent scream erupts from the deepest caverns of my being; tears run down my checks, washing away my ego’s built walls of pretense. The designer mascara and foundation slips off my face, leaving me bare, vulnerable, stripped to my core.

A prayer, so intense, so sincere, comes directly from my soul. “Give me the strength to choose Your light, to guide my family and my children in the right path. There is nothing I crave more than Your Divine Presence. Make Your voice louder than the seductive whispers of my mind, and give me strength to keep choosing You, to fall into Your safety net of trust.”

And so I go on weeping, pleading, until there are no more tears, until my overwhelmed ego gives in, and there are no more excuses or distractions. I am a Jewish woman. I am a connective link through which His light pours onto all His creation. And it is my responsibility to stay connected and faithfully devoted . . .

I finally let go of the Wall, take a few steps back and sit down. My mind awakens, and I begin to translate my spiritual high into concrete, mundane thoughts: “All this means, my dear Katherine, that you are to give up your cool new trendy gel nails, and immerse yourself in the holy waters of the mikvah. Not because something is wrong and you are suddenly remembering G‑d in desperation, but because you are commanded to do so.

“You are to light the Friday night candles. Not because you happen to be home that night and the candles are conveniently nearby, but because you are commanded to. And you are to educate your children, not at a local public school with a free pickup bus, but in an expensive private Jewish school 30 miles away. And you are to trust in Him, your ultimate financial provider, to sustain you no matter how high the gas and tuition are.

I go on weeping, pleading, until there are no more tears, until my overwhelmed ego gives in, and there are no more excuses or distractions“Oh, and one more thing, sweet pea, stop using food to resolve every emotional turbulence. Even rich, creamy, soothing and sweet Israeli milk chocolate is no match for His comfort and salvation. Talk to Him, escape into Him, surrender your fears to Him.”

An older woman is praying next to me, and my eyes fall onto the open page in her prayerbook. “Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary” (Psalms 96:6).

Five days later, we walk into the airport in Tel Aviv. It’s 4:45 AM, and I immediately start for the coffee shop. Out of the corner of my eye I notice a portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and around it a group of smiling rabbis in the familiar Chabad uniforms, offering to put tefillin on passersby. “Wait!” my husband says, obeying a sudden impulse, as he later tells me. And changing direction, he heads toward the rabbis.

Just days ago, before Jerusalem, I would have been angry at the delay, but now my heart leaps with pride to see that we are partners in this new journey.

A couple of hours later the plane races along the runway and takes off, leaving my beloved land below the clouds. I feel a deep ache—I don’t want to leave. Wiping my tears, I curl up and cover myself with a blanket. “No need to grieve,” a soft voice speaks from my heart. “Jerusalem is forever inside you, no matter where you are. You will bring its pure, truthful light to every place you go.”

I exhale a deep breath of release, and recall the line I read on one of the souvenir posters in the Old City: Jerusalem, hills enfold it, and the L‑rd enfolds His people, now and forever. Psalms 125:2

And so, until we meet again . . .