Saturday, May 14, 2016

Israel 2016-- Now Featuring our Common Humanity


            Kibbutz Ginosar has been around for a long time. Though it’s changed over the years, it still has all the institutions of a traditional kibbutz. The kids’ cottages look out on an old, beat up building. Tonight we learned that this building used to be the Beit Yeladim, the children’s house, of the kibbutz. From birth until the age of 18 the children of Kibbutz Ginosar would live there, visiting with their parents each day from 4:45-8:30pm. I’m sharing this with you because I think we added a new chapter to the history of this kibbutz tonight by having our Havdallah service right in the middle of a beautiful playground overlooking the Kinneret.
            As we sang our way through the beautiful Havdallah service that officially concludes Shabbat, a young girl watched us from atop the playground. She listened as Mr. Michek shared the joy of holding the Kiddush cup and participating in his first Havdallah and first visit to Israel. She listened as Ms. Kendrick spoke of the spiritual and emotional rejuvenation of being in Israel, and as Mrs. London shared how moved she was to be welcomed to the trip at the last minute. Later we learned the girl's name: Shelley, and her age: 7. It wasn’t so long ago that these 8th graders were her age, and it won’t be too long before they’re our age. That’s why every Shabbat, every Havdallah, every day, every moment matters. And yes, we let them play on the playground as long as they followed the exact same rules as when they were 7. They gladly adhered. I hope that many years from now, when they are our age, they’ll remember Havdallah at the Ginosar playground and I wonder what Shelley will think the next time she goes there to play.
            Shabbat is supposed to be a day of rest. That’s because God rested. And if God rested, then who are we to pretend that we don’t need to rest a bit as well? I say “supposed to be” because today wasn’t particularly restful. Instead of resting we took up another of Shabbat's great themes-- connecting. Our Shabbat in the north was spent connecting to so much of the beauty and complexity of the 6 days of creation that clearly left God in need of a little shut-eye. 
            For at least 4,000 years, human beings have been drawn to the area in Northern Israel known as Tel Dan. It’s easy to see why. All you have to do is dip your toe into the freezing cold fresh running water—Israel’s rarest resource. Abraham spent time in Tel Dan. So did Samson. And for a short period of time Tel Dan was an unsanctioned rival to Jerusalem as a place for Israelite sacrifice and pilgrimage.  We saw the altar. And we also saw the Canaanite Gate—the oldest humanly constructed arch ever discovered (3,700 years old).
            Hanging out in an ancient place like Tel Dan makes you realize that, to borrow a phrase from yesterday’s post, human beings have been dancing around barbed wire for a long time. The call to fresh water. The desire to offer a pleasing sacrifice to God. The need for the king to sit at the gate of the city and collect taxes and demonstrate his power for all who would enter. The cry of the prophet only a few meters away declaiming the king for his greed and hypocrisy. Our connection to nature, our religious and spiritual yearning, our politics, and our truth speaking—this stuff runs deep.
            Rafting down the Jordan River reinforced the message that our common humanity runs deep. The grandeur of the Jordan doesn’t reside in the swiftness of the current, its width, or its rapids. The grandeur of the Jordan is that it flows through an otherwise arid land and has beckoned to pilgrims of all faiths and no faiths for thousands of years. It’s a temporal rather than physical grandeur. A spiritual rather than metric depth. 
            Take a moment to summon a mental image of yourself rafting down the Jordan. Got it? The minute your raft hits the water you find yourself headed toward a thicket of thorn bushes that lines the banks. Once you’re on track, you start to hear techno music in the distance. As you get closer you see Arab and Jewish Israelis lining the Jordan’s banks with stereos, portable grills, tables, chairs, hookahs, and various other gear. As you float by, a kind of mutual curiosity emerges. They wonder if they can get you to stand up in your raft and dance to the beat, and you wonder what on earth they’re doing. The whole thing is oddly playful and, in its own way, endearing. For all the strife and conflict that we read about in Israel and everywhere else in the world, the Jordan River seems to be a kind of balm. The somewhat dopey little river that occupies such a prominent place in human history and spirituality ends up being a place for people of all different backgrounds to gather for play both sacred and semi-profane. Does what I just described match up with your mental image? Add in the kids rafting in groups of 5-6 (with 1 chaperone per raft). Sometimes splashing one another, sometimes letting the current do what it will, sometimes chatting, sometimes listening to the music, sometimes dreaming, sometimes reminding themselves that they’re here and trying to be in the moment.
            Also on the relatively long list of timeless human experiences (and relatively close to the top of that list) is a delicious meal. That’s what awaited us after rafting. What makes the post-rafting meal so special is that it’s a familiar food prepared and served in a completely exotic way: pizza. Setting aside the allergy related issues (which were of course handled expertly), imagine boiling hot, burnt to a crisp pizzas appearing out of nowhere in near endless supply. Topped with things like corn, tuna, onions, tomato, and more. Then introduce the secret weapon: a spice blend unique to Israel which absolutely transforms the pizza from something edible to something little less than divine. Ask your kids about the spice packets. Big thumbs up. What’s special about the pizza meal is that it delights the kids with the possibility of being completely and utterly surprised. That’s a good thing for those of us who sometimes think we’ve seen the best that life has to offer! My personal pizza rankings go as follows: Pepes (New Haven), Modern Apizza (New Haven), Antico (Atlanta), John’s (NYC), the dude at the Jordan River (Israel).
            Another timeless feature of the human experience is the importance of occupying the high ground. Nothing makes that clearer than driving up the Golan Heights. For those kids that weren’t too scared to look out the window due to the steep cliffs, it became immediately apparent that Israel can never relinquish the Golan Heights. Before 1967, bored Syrian soldiers literally used to sit up there and launch shells at unsuspecting fisherman and other kibbutzniks down below. That all stopped when Israel took the Golan Heights. And it goes without saying that Israelis don’t do the same thing to Syrians now that the Golan Heights are under Israeli control.
            On the way to Mt. Bental we passed the military base where Yishay, one of our tour guides, was a tank commander. We saw a row of Merkava Tanks. I’ll say more about the tanks later because, as far as weapons go, their respect for the sanctity of life deserves annual recognition in this blog. As we climbed Mt. Bental we prepared the kids for the fact that they may see (2 miles in the distance) smoke coming from the Syrian side. Mt. Bental is a beautiful mountain- top in Israel that has been converted into a fully operational military bunker that overlooks what is quite literally hell on earth. If those same folks that were dancing on the Jordan’s banks lived in Syria they wouldn’t be dancing. Syria is only barbed wire at this point. There’s no looking into one another’s faces and finding common humanity. There are no rules, no securities, and for most of the millions of people there, no hope. Sadly, it’s not a new situation. It’s at least as old as the king and the prophet of Tel Dan. At Mt. Bental we had the honor of hearing Ben S. read something that he wrote a few months ago at school. I’ll share that at the end. Before leaving Bental we treated the kids to some Golan Heights grown cherries. On one side of the border cherry trees produce the sweetest fruit, on the other side, everything is burning to the ground. It’s literally that stark a contrast. And two United Nations police officers sit in a little lookout booth making sure that both sides adhere to the 1974 peace agreement between the two countries. One of them was Australian and the other Serbian.
            Returning to Ginosar we took a much- needed break from the 100+ degree weather. Then we walked down to the Kinneret for an evening cruise. We boarded a creaky old boat called “The King David” and set out for an hour long tour of the Sea. The kids danced the Hora, lifting one another on chairs, Cotton-Eyed Joe, and everything in between. Dancing, just like in the picture at Atlit. But forgetting for a moment about the barbed wire.
            Think about what Ben S. says in the words below. Think about what you want him and the rest of us over here in Israel to know. Think about what you want us to get out of this experience. Think about your hopes and prayers for us. And then, post a comment. If you do, then others may follow and our blog will become a chronicle of our shared thoughts and feelings.

I am in a Haven.
Am I in Heaven?
Kids with no food who are six and seven
People with no water or shelter
Those kids and people are in need of a Helper
You and I are lucky that we live with no strife
As we live and work through the safeness of our life
So be thankful and gracious for the place you are
Because there are much worse conditions near and afar.

--Ben S.

1 comment:

  1. I'll be first to share my thoughts. I feel like I'm there with y'all and am inspired to hear more stories of your journey and experiences. I think if I was lucky enough to go overseas during my middle school years, I would have been a better history student! There's nothing better than visiting the sites you have each learned about for so long and seeing the beauty or the smoke firsthand. I wish the Syrian children could be so fortunate to see their land from the other side of the fence. Sounds like everyone had a great first Shabbat in Israel. Our was nice too. While our youngest was doing the cotton-eyed Joe, the rest of the family planted flowers at my brothers house today. Savor each moment and say a prayer for peace and harmony in the Middle East for me. Its what the world needs now. #davis8isgreat