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Friday, August 8, 2014

Dirt

Yesterday ended our tour, and perhaps the cease fire,  but I don't know.  I'm in the blank world of transit. 

Yesterday was a day of much talking and meeting with everyone jockeying for position.  Our one outing took us to Har Hertzl, Israel's military cemetery.  

Our guide put his heart into the visit, which he based on the army's role.  Israel has a citizen army so every story of sacrifice is perceived as the loss of intimate member of society.   Of course, this is true in much of the free world, yet it has a outsized dynamic power in Israel.  Among the graves we visited was one of a new immigrant to Israel who served in the army without a local family.  Each Friday his best army buddy comes to the cemetery and brews coffee for the two to share, just as they used to do on the buddy's apartment porch each week.

Finally, we came to the new graves of a few of the fallen in this most recent war.  It's powerful to stand next to a grave of someone so recently alive and well who died in your defense. 

The graves were being prepared for the built up grave makers used at Har Hertzl.   A worker was actually removing a few inches of dirt to allow the stones to be set.  I watched for a while moving lightly in thought.  The smell of something pulled me back.  It was the smell of the dirt being removed.

Dirt is wonderful, both dead and alive, both dust and rebirth.  As in all things, it is what we do with it and how we live our precious lives in its company.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A More Appetizing Post

Today was filled with activities not to my liking,  though I take responsibility for my dislike.   We handed out flowers to elderly Russians, who were gathered back to the shelters in which they had slept during the war.  Then we gave out presents to preschool children.   Later we also did real work, moving insulation from one side of a building site to the other.  Seriously, my issues.
But lunch was perfection.  Our group's leader met an Iraqi immigrant many years earlier when the their kids were in high school.  The friend, Gidon, lives in S'derot, the town with a hilltop view of Gaza and a museum collection of rockets to prove it.  For years now S'derot has been under rocket attack.
Gidon took us to a simple Iraqi restaurant with barely room for our group of ten.  The table was already covered in salads.  Tomatoes with cilantro.   Beets with cumin.   Plates upon plates.  Then came the (pastry) cigars stuffed with potato.   And then the spiced meatballs and the grilled curry chicken and the ground lamb kabobs.  
And what's good food without worthy conversation.   [I once went to a fabulous restaurant where every table was discussing how fabulous the food was.]   Gidon shared his story.  He essentially walked from Iraq to Israel.  He became a nurse serving S'derot a town with a doctor half a day a week.  Gidon wooed his wife through letters he has saved.  They raised four children and educated them to be professionals.  He built a life and a future.  And said just like the other Isrealis we met he called the Hamas a gang of terrorists.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A no brainer; just the heart.

A video referenced below:
http://youtu.be/MctJ6DIGWaI

Tonight we joined in a post 9th of Av celebration and concert in Modi'in.   It began with songs of prayer for the soldiers of Israel,  and the wounded on both sides, and the dead.  

The leaders of the evening said at one point that our prayers and hearts needed to extend to  other side of the battle.   This was a sentiment shared in the room.  Then a woman shouted out, "but not Hamas."  Under normal circumstances in such an Israeli gathering an argument might have ensued.   Tonight, the combination of shared pain and shared opinion lead to reflective silence.  Then we said Kaddish with our hearts.

I feel justified with my analysis of what happened because of events earlier in the day.  We met with an Israeli general, a recent immigrant from Long Island working in a food rescue program,  the Rabbi and a few congregants of a Reform congregation and finally the former Deputy Mayor of Ashkelon.   Four very different people with one clear shared message. 

They said: The war was necessary.   The loss of life is shocking.  The rockets and tunnels needed to be stopped.  Hamas is evil but is a player.  Thank God for Iron Dome.   But now perhaps there is hope.  I [they all separately said] am optimistic.   We can do better.

Here is the real complxity.  There is a terrible feeling of real necessity in regard to this war.  And a real feeling of loss for the soldiers dead and wounded.  And a real feeling of shame for the great loss and suffering of the people of Gaza.  And a real sense of gratitude for the Iron Dome that saved Israel from outrageous attacks on her cities.  And real hatred for Hamas.  And real hope.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Changing Gears

Today I joined my group of rabbis, a cantor and assorted lay leaders.  Out of some desire for separation I walked, a suitcase in tow, from the North Port to the deep south end of Tel Aviv in the mid-day sun.  Like in a steamroom, which Tel Aviv resembles, I sweated out the past to ready myself for this solidarity mission.

A good plan, as it turned out.  Yesterday, I was enjoying sitting in a park despite the rocket fire.  Today,  the talk is of the wounded and the orphan, of the struggle and the larger realities.  Then we were off to Beit Daniel, Tel Aviv's leading Reform synagogue, for the reading of the very sad Book of Lamintations.   Tonight begins the 9th of Av,  saddest day of the year, as it marks the sacking of Jerusalem.   Lamintations is the poetry observing the event.

The mood is set for us and perhaps the nation as well.  Most Israelis care little for the 9th of Av.  But this year, the calloused brutality of Hamas, has a bit of the feel of destruction of Jerusalem 2,500 years ago.

The Rabbi tonight called for a time when silence will speak.   From her mouth to the ear that always understands the silent prayer.

Real Hopes

Yesterday I was sitting, eating shwarma, at an outdoor restaurant on Bazel Street.  The street food eatery "Bazel Congress" and the street itself cememorate the first Zionist Congress that united a very diverse Jewish Europe in the quest for Jewish statehood.  But the restaurant and street were less about politics than an acknowledgement of history.

A couple of the staff had pinned 3 by 5 cards to their shirts that said, "nigmar???" or loosely translated, "is it over?"  They were marking the news that Israel had begun to pull back from their forward positions in Gaza.   This too was less politics than the hope that the battle might be ending.

After lunch, a friend and I walked over to the Yarkon park on the banks of the Yarkon river.  A lush spot indeed considering it, like all of Tel Aviv,  is built on sand.  Sitting on a park bench, enjoying the world, the dreaded siren went off.  I watched parents and children scurry for cover.  Then, after some seemingly long passage of time, the sound of a fired Iron Dome rocket and a short time later the boom of rocket on rocket explosion.  This was an even mix of politics and military strength.

I walked home in the late afternoon.   Put on a swimsuit,  decidedly not Israeli in style, as in not a speedo, and rode Mediterranean waves into the dusk.  The water was delightful but even this was tinged with politics.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Land that Eats it's Inhabitants

I borrowed a bicycle from the hotel this morning and road north on a lovely bike bath toward Herzliya and beyond.  Then I ran into, or rather over, a collection of thorns, sharper and bigger than whatever.  Both tires went flat and I and the bicycle walked home.

When Moses sent in scouts to explore Israel, they reported that it was a place of giant vegetation.    But giant thorns with bases to aim the points up from the ground?   The spies said that the land is good but eats its Inhabitants.  And their tires.

The inhabitants.  The war has been quiet here in Tel Aviv since I arrived.   But the people are also quiet.  When I arrived the main highway into town had traffic but it should have jammed.   The beach had people but should have been crowded.  Brave face or not, the situation is taking its toll.  No taste for a party and a grim resolve that Hamas needs to be destroyed or at least set back. 

A consensus has been reached, it seems to me, that Hamas is not anyone's partner; that their only goal is Jewish death even at the cost of Palestinian suffering. And when someone wants that badly to kill you your choices are limited to a return of force. 

The latest news, later corrected,  that an Israeli soldier had been kidnapped, only grimmed the grim.  This is not a skermish, someone told me, but a war against someone whose hate is boundless.  People smile and do their work, but patience is thin and tempers are short. 

On the other hand,  I had dinner last night with a young congregant who is living here in Tel Aviv this year.  She is finding her place in this land.  This is our place, our land.  It will not consume us.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Midway, but fully engaged.

My traveling companion from Detroit to Frankfurt was my daughter who was on her way to Ethiopia for a year of research after college.  I felt like the dad of a young school girl walking her half way to school on the first day, pointing her in the right direction and watching her make her way into a new adventure.  She is a child of great sweetness.

Then I went to the special security gate designed for the Tel Aviv flight.  When they announced the order of boarding,  families with young children followed by first class and so on, everyone simply got up, regardless of special status, and pushed toward the gate.

Then we had an incident when a passenger went to the toilet, while we were moving down the runway for takeoff. 

It feels like home.  The Israel adventure begins.

[Just landed.  OK, I was a bit nervous.]

Friday, August 1, 2014

Still Here. Worries Arrive.

Friday,  August 1, 11:00 am

I am sitting at my messy desk.  In five hours I fly, via Frankfurt, to Tel Aviv.  And I am starting to get a bit nervous.  The news sounded better last night with a 72 hour cease fire declared.  It lasted four hours and ended in part with the dreaded kidnapping of an Israeli soldier.  I still want and intend to go, but would not be surprised if those with higher level decision power, the trip organizers and the airline managers, altered my plans.  Or maybe this is just my nerves speaking.

On the other hand, Amir, a dear friend and cycling buddy, is coming, with his family, to Ben Gurion to pick me up.  And later in the day I have dinner plans with a young congregant.  Half of me expects to find a veneer of normality over the obvious crisis and half of me expects to see the crisis, plain.

Like World War I, only on a smaller scale, the common understanding among Israelis was that the war would be short with normality quickly restored.  Having uncovered the web of tunnels and the vast array of missiles, Israel is in no position to stop.  Yet, death is the final truth of life and as the causalities mount the call to stop needs to be heeded.  A no win situation has become a nobody wins tragedy.

And I guess that is, in part, why I am going.  I want to experience the cruel sadness, not the bravado that distance lends.  How do we balance the needs of Zionist survival against the deaths of Zionists and the deaths of those whom Zionists kill.  I am a Zionist and I don't know.