28 July 2011

Toward Hope

from rothschild protests.  sign reads, "where's the hope?"
There are times when the morning prayers, the shape and texture of the Hebrew language, printed on the page, black ink on thin white paper, needs more than the work of the eyes.  There are days when the full articulation of the spoken language, sculpted by mouth, teeth and tongue, into instruments of devotion like vessels from clay, take precedence.  What you say.  What you do.  And the fortuitous combination thereof.

Some days I imagine I'm a kid on a slide, in the backyard, under a tree, so free and easy is the vocalization of the written word.  Joyous, even playful.  The comfortable respite in the cool shade of a hot day.  Other days, I am climbing over hard and forbidding rocks, risking injury, stronger for having made it to the top but seriously questioning my sanity along the way.  At moments I am radically alone; sometimes with others in a similar harrowing predicament, whose own unique formations of the word are like ropes, hooks, pulleys and pick-axes, a shared, trusted and tenuous scaffolding for our own meager aspirations.

"God spoke and the world came into being."  These quiet, introspective meditations, at the end of the day, just don't cut it.  "What's that, son?  Speak up!"  That kind of thing.

Coming off the Dolphinarium Beach yesterday in Tel Aviv, walking past the disco where in 2001 a Hamas suicide bomber killed 21 teenagers, I chose silence rather than explain to my 8 year old the memorial to the kids who died there.  "All my life I grew up among the Sages and never heard anything better than silence."  There the names were already remembered--sculpted--into stone.

As we shook sand from our feet and heads, off in the distance we saw an elderly man working through his Tai Chi exercises, moving arms and torso along with the wind off the Mediterranean.  From a distance, I imitated his movements.  I thought of him this morning, as I climbed words in my prayerbook.  His age, his wisdom, his peace by the Sea.  "Pharaoh's chariots and his host God has thrown into the Sea..the deep covers them; they went down into the depths like a stone."  That's what his hands were doing, I thought--throwing Pharoahs into Seas:  Hatred.  War.  Poverty.  Greed.  Depression.  Despair.  Drowned and gone, ground into sand from stone.  Good imagery.

We walked up through Neve Tzedek and over to Rothschild, to visit the protesters and share with our daughter a civics lesson in protest and dissent, engaging puppets, musicians, students and the elderly, all of whom were there, to leave a mark on the direction of the State.  (I still hold out hope that in whatever revolution takes place, better attention is paid to Independence Hall and the area outside of it--what a damn mess!)  Though still amorphously young and in search of a crystal clear set of demands, their refusal to leave has generated more strength across the country and could likely keep developing into a much broader social movement that has the potential to form another iteration of this young nation, particularly if the movement spreads beyond housing to include a broader economic, political and security agenda.  Here, everything is connected.  "How fair are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel."

On Rothschild we ran into Ohad Naharin, the brilliant Israeli choreographer.  He stopped to chat as his wife and child pressed ahead into the crowd.  He heard about the Fellows Gaga class, we talked about the protests, and then about his trip to New York next spring.  He told us he just came from a class where he taught 125 dancers from all over the world who are studying with him here in Tel Aviv.  More than one hundred years ago, Ahad Ha'am posits that the land of Israel can be a place from which emanate ideas and movements that have the potential to empower forces that build a better world.  It is actually not ridiculous to see this as one small shot across the bow of redemption.  In his poem "Tourists," Yehuda Amichai sublimates grand vision into the simple act of a man providing for his family.  Of a tour guide showing ruins to a group in the Old City of Jerusalem, Amichai wrote,  "I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, 'You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family.'"

There went one, moving into the Sea of Protest, to find his wife and child.  From this perspective, the nation's texture, its perceived hardened positions, yielding an as yet undetermined horizon but one clearly positioned toward a place worthy of prayer, toward hope.

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