If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert.

Two years ago I boarded that first plane to Israel and heard my best friend’s voice, “Be strong and be brave.”

Fast-forward two years later, and here I was, ready to take my next spiritual journey to the beautiful holy land of Israel. The odds seemed against me when this ticket was booked. My dad had just battled cancer; my grandmother’s congestive heart failure had advanced. How could I possibly take this time for my own inner journey? Wasn’t it selfish of me to leave?

Everything and everyone around me was crumbling and I felt that was the moment I needed to muster the courage to seek answers in searching for my path in life. As Max DePree said, “We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.”

Israel was a perfect place to find my identity, authenticity and a true sense of wholeness.

My journey through the holy land began in the north of Israel, where I visited Tzfat, the city of Kabbalah. In Judaism, Kabbalah means, "to be able to receive”. It is in this mystical city which represents the four basic elements: earth, fire, air and water. This is where I learned how to tap into my spiritual self, connecting to something bigger than myself.

Israel was a perfect place to find my identity, authenticity and a true sense of wholeness. It is a place that teaches you the real art of letting it go, especially for someone like myself who has struggled with fear her entire life. Israel allowed me to just be, to take that deep breath and just let it go. As that great quote by Hafiz goes, “Now that all your worry has proved such an unlucrative business, why not find a better job?”

And so I did: the power of prayer.

My journey continued to one of the most prominent tombs in all of Israel – Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. At this tomb I learned the true gift of giving and sacrifice. It is said that when Rachel died, her husband Jacob and their family were just a short distance from Bethlehem, yet he did not bring his beloved home to be with him to Hebron. Instead, he buried her in the middle of nowhere, on the side of a road.

Why? Because Jacob foresaw the future, following the destruction of the First Temple. He knew the Jews would be driven away from their homes and forced into exile in Babylon, and on their march, they would pass this very road. It is a place that allows the Jewish people, and all those who pray at her tomb, to find solace in despair from her very presence. The story of Rachel taught me that without pain, and without great sacrifice, there is nothing.

In Israel, there are tombs that carry a divine presence, breathtaking sunsets, delicious meals, and a warm and welcoming culture that sum up the true heart of this nation But for me, the true heart has and will always reside at the Western Wall.

It is here that people come from all walks of life to pray, to talk to God, to listen, and to trust in the divine energy that you feel when you take those first steps toward that wall, and allow it to move something within you. This wall is one of the busiest and most prominent holy sites in the world, yet it feels like the quietest place I've ever been.

One day prior to my experience at the wall, a lovely woman at a yeshiva told me, “God is your trainer, and His job is to push you beyond your limits. But He never gives you more than you can carry.” At the Kotel I expressed my gratitude for everything God has allowed me to carry, always coming out the other side, better than I was when I walked in.

I also received the gift of understanding unconditional love from a man who found home in the middle of the desert in a Bedouin tent. He told me the best thing about his life is serving others, because when you give, God always gives back. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of them all: live from a place of abundance, but never forget to give off from the top.

“If you don’t know what you’re living for, you haven’t yet lived.” Israel has given me the gift of life.

Perhaps the greatest gift that I can attribute this journey to is the scared, freaked-out, inner critic of an individual known as myself. The woman who said she would never get on a plane to travel overseas because life is just that scary, and she has now returned to Israel for the second time. The one who told herself before she left that she felt unmotivated to do anything and who had now climbed Mount Arbel in Tiberias just to challenge herself because of that little voice which whispered you can.

I’ve learned to be present in the moment and to cherish it. When our inner negative voices try to get us to falter, this is the time to move forward in search of our truth. When we have the willingness to be open to the messages of selfless love, courage, and faith, we can begin to move to a higher level of being. To get quiet and pause, and listen to our own souls for whatever it’s calling out for us to do the most.

As Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory, often said, “If you don’t know what you’re living for, you haven’t yet lived.” Israel has given me the gift of life.