Have you ever been asked that question? More, have you ever been asked that question where you know the person is possibly not monotheistic, certainly doesn’t believe in YOUR God? In a place so different that you worry any word could offend and so you think, really think, before you speak.
India is an amazing land of amazing contrasts – the people, the land. You can, within minutes, go from such luxury to unimaginable poverty. In a single day, I met a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu. Someone from Europe, someone from Asia, someone from America.
The land is so different, the air, the smells. The smiles, the gestures and body language. So different that you find yourself amazed by the similarities while celebrating the unique. And you can see cows walking on highways as cars swerve around them, and monkeys sitting on the fences near a park. The dresses of the women are so colorful. India is a celebration of colors, blended in impossible combinations that break all the rules and dazzle the eyes. The people are so helpful, so kind.
And for once, for all my travels over the last few years, I am in a land that respects my country. Endlessly, I am told that Israel and India have a strong alliance; that the military strength of Israel is respected and honored here; that I am from a good land, a blessed one.
“Very good,” says one man after hearing I am from Israel.
“Israel. Strong country,” says another. Does he realize how tiny we are?
Mostly, I meet Hindus; sometimes, I meet Muslims. Everywhere, there are armed soldiers on alert; I thank them as I exit the airports and tourist sites. I do it at home; why would I not do it here?
I am on my way from Delhi to Bangalore. The flight I booked has a stopover in Ranchi. I have learned over the last few years that each country and perhaps each city has its own rules. In one country, they insist on stamping your passport, even when you are merely passing through. In India, they are very security-conscious and so when you get off the plane in this tiny airport, you walk in a big circle…down a flight of stairs, around and around on the first floor, through a security check, and back upstairs, soon to board the next plane through the very same gate I entered almost two hours before.
There is a line for men and a line for women. It is an interesting thing to be a woman in India, especially a white woman, though I have never really thought of myself as being white other than in India. I walk through the streets and the men stare, as do the children. There are about 150 – 200 people in this lounge, predominantly male, though there are some women. I am the only white woman here.
They look at my passport, wondering where I am from. I have chosen to travel on the Israeli passport, rather than on my American one. It is a statement I make to myself as much to others. I am confident that as an American, I will be accepted any place (though I’m happy not to have to discuss the American elections). But, as an Israeli – that is the challenge.
In Amsterdam, I was asked if I had another passport when I handed in my Israeli one. Why? I asked the man. He mumbled something about it being easier and no, it wasn’t really a problem. He wasn’t happy when I instructed him to use the Israeli one after having admitted that I did indeed possess an American passport.
In India, the Israeli passport is met with smiles, perhaps especially among the security forces. I walked through the line for women, where they have generously put up curtains to provide privacy and a female security guard to do the checking. She looked at the Israeli passport and said, “Israel?”
Yes, I answered.
“Are you Christian?” she asked. Strange question but easy enough for me to answer.
“No,” I answer, “Yehudi.” It continues to make me smile that the Indian word for Jew is the same as the Hebrew one. Yes, I am a Yehudi. I am a Jew.
“Yehudi,” she repeats. “Who is your God?”
I’ll tell you my answer in a moment; but first I’ll tell you that I asked her in return what her religion is. She is Muslim and her God is Allah.
My God has many names; each representing different attributes of God. There are names we never say; names we say only during prayer. There is the term we use in every day language, which refers not so much to a name, but simply means “the name” – My God is Hashem – The Name. Once, when introducing Himself, God referred to himself simply as “Ehiyeh sh’Ehiyeh ( or: I Am That I Am).
Who is your God? Over an hour later, I am still pondering that question and how I could have answered it. I avoided historical lessons that came to mind. I almost said that my God is the God of Abraham but didn’t. I almost started with the negatives – how unlike Allah (or at least the interpretation of Allah made by too many), my God does not ask for martyrdom, for suicide and terror.
I answered simply, “My God is Hashem, He is the God of the Yehudi.” He is the God of the Jew. She said again, “My God is Allah” and I smiled and said, “Many people think God is God, no matter what name you give him. Our God is Hashem.”
There was nothing else to say; I went to catch my flight.
It was such a simple question and it was, perhaps, the hardest one I have ever been asked. Who is your God?
My God is a God of honor, a God of love. My God protects my land and my children. My God travels thousands of kilometers (miles) so that He is here with me in this distant land. Or perhaps, it is better to say it differently. My God was there as my plane took off and left Israeli air space. He was there with me briefly when I had a layover in Turkey. He was here when I landed in New Delhi; here when I visited the tourist sites and met with different people.
Here with me on the plane as it flies to Bangalore, and I believe, with complete faith, He will be there waiting when I arrive.
Does it matter what name we give? What name we use? Who is your God?
My God is, quite simply, God. Elokim. He is a God of hope, of prayer. He is with me everywhere I travel, every moment of the day. I walk in a land of many gods. They are mounted in the taxis and on the walls. My God is One. My God is The Name. my God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob. I am a Yehudi.
Here in a distant land, the truest name is here – for who I am and for God. He is What He Is…what He has always been, and what He always will be. He is the God of Israel, forever loved and trusted to watch over His people.