19 April 2010

Omer 20: "It is No Dream"

Omer Day Twenty
Yom HaZikaron

We made our own ceremony last night before dinner, each child lighting a memorial candle for those who gave their lives in battles for Israel. But since the kids have only lived in Israel for five weeks that past three summers, they've yet to really have direct experience with loss (thank God) and so each child chose to remember experiences they've had in Israel for which they're grateful.

One child expressed an annual feeling of fear and excitement--incredible anticipation with a deep concern in the back of her mind if *this* is going to be the visit to Israel in which "something bad happens." Another child talked about the Emek Refaim Pool in Jerusalem, and in her particular her profound gratitude for a seemingly endless supply of chips. A third talked about her early confusion--is Israel her first home or her second home? She eventually worked it out, she told us, by declaring it her second home with a stern warning to her father--"We live in Brooklyn, Dad. Don't get any ideas."

I do have ideas, alas.

After they shared, I told them a brief story of Independence Day--the UN vote granting partition, the declaration in Tel Aviv, war and eventual statehood. This rehearsal of facts seems increasingly important, as times moves on and distances are created between those who built the state and those who show up, 62 years later, to visit and eat chips by the pool.

This spontaneous ceremony before dinner had me thinking about the varieties of pedagogic relationships that our children have with the "myth" of Israel--its creation, it's battles for survival, its existential struggles with faith and history.

We have come quite some distance from the time in which a Blue Box stood in homes and the seemingly clear-eyed principle of building a state with pennies was a child's relationship to the Land of Israel.

Sixty two years later we have children attempting to grasp Israel's myths and complexities in summer camps, Hebrew schools, community programs, news online, family trips, and peer adventures. A complex world of experience and education and rhetorical lines of defense have been erected to deal not with the singular task of building but with the radical complexity of living and governing.

I'm so grateful for our last three summers in Israel primarily because away from the *curricula* of being Jewish we are able to immerse ourselves in another reality of being Jewish that is just similar enough but still completely different from the reality of Jewishness that the kids know here at home, in Brooklyn.

The music, the food, the radio, the geography, the immediate and ancient layers of history, the fatalism, the faith, the danger, the promise. The quickened pulse of identity.

More than a century ago, some early Zionist thinkers were aware that besides building a nation, they were also building a laboratory for diaspora Jews to travel to and be built up in their Jewish identities through meaningful, albeit temporary visits to the land. Away from the impassioned and often self-righteous fires of every genius who knows how to solve the conflict, today is a day to merely give thanks for Israel's miraculous existence, for another reality of Jewish life and history that it represents for world Jewry, and for the sacrifices made by those fallen in its wars and terror attacks in defense of one of the most important ideas of the last two thousand years.

In a world of increasing fundamentalism, it's important to remember that there's a difference between fundamentalism and a determined, optimistic idealism. Today, we honor those who really did dare to dream, sacrifice and build.


Amanda said...

Thank you for your blog today and thank you for sharing your love for Israel with my kids on their first trip to Israel. The country does have a profound effect on people and I love how that is playing out with my kids. It is most apparent in Justin, who since returning from that trip has written one term paper on Herzl and is now writing another on the major Israeli wars (both topics of his own choosing). He is also counting the days until he goes to Israel this summer and is contemplating a gap year in Israel.

hwilensk said...

Thank you for reminding of a story about the blue boxes. In 1974 I participated in the annual "Teen Trip to Israel" by Dallas area congregations. On our way home, we stopped in the Netherlands for a few days. In a small touristy town call Maarken, a number of citizens wore traditional dress and lived and worked in traditional homes and craft shops. We stopped to talk to an elderly woman. Through the top of her Dutch door we saw a blue box on the table. We asked her if she was Jewish. She said no. So we asked why she had a blue box. With a very sad expression, she said, "Because they need the money more than I do."