While in Israel, our bus driver dropped us off at an Israeli family’s home to celebrate Shabbat. As each family member said something about themselves, we learned that the mother was a music therapist, and that music and the arts were a priority and passion for each of them. We also met their daughter, Shira, who wore a rose-pink dress and braids and ducked behind her dad when introductions were being made. At the end of dinner, the family lit up as they taught us (or did their best to teach us) song after song, filling the house with their rich voices. Our Passages Fellow told the bus driver to come back later, since we clearly weren’t leaving anytime soon.

Our brief trip to a Kibbutz near the Gaza border that day had shown us the uncertainty of a life lived so close to the border. At first it seemed crazy to me that people would risk the lives of their families to live there. Why would they not move? The love our tour guide had for her son was clear, yet she chose to raise him in the Kibbutz. She vividly recounted a moment she looked into her son’s eyes, the sirens blaring and rockets whistling closer than ever before. She firmly believed that they were both going to die that day. Thankfully, they survived, and in spite of the trauma, still chose to stay in the place they call home.

It was not until Shabbat dinner that I came to see these Israelis’ determination as bravery, not insanity; carefully thought-through sacrifice, not recklessness. Entering the home of our host family for Shabbat, I noticed the many breakables, beautiful decorations and mementos displayed in their home. How could they place figurines around their fireplace or hang the priceless watercolors that their grandmother painted, when we had just met a family that in eight seconds could have their house destroyed by rockets?

It was because of such families who refused to move back from the border that our host family could live without constant threat. When a country is as small as Israel, the sacrifices of those living along the border and refusing to give up their home can make all the difference.

My sister, Hannah, has a rose-pink dress. She’s 11 and gets both excited and shy whenever company comes for dinner. While she loves to leave her hair down, I pull it into two tight braids when she dresses up.

My family shares the same passion for music and the arts that we experienced at our Shabbat host family’s home. When someone comes over for dinner at our house, a similar scene plays out: dinner ends, the guest makes the mistake of asking to hear someone play, and next thing they know, they’re trapped in the music room as each of us vies for the next performance spot.

Before coming to Israel, I had an incredibly flawed understanding of what to expect. I expected a war-torn country filled with people in a constant state of fear, living in a desert and never settling into a routine because their lives were in complete upheaval. I never expected that in a country as small as Israel, with so much animosity on all sides, that there could exist families so like mine.

by Colleen Trainor