10 February 2012
An early bus ride up from Tel Aviv after a morning run along the Mediterranean Sea. Into the parking lot at Ein Shemer where high school kids learn ecological principles, co-existence, and dream of powering the world with energy extracted from algae. You got a better idea? Lunch in the kibbutz cafeteria with students, locals, and elderly kibbutz members who have seem their world turned upside down for the past century. An indomitable spirit resides in those individuals who built a nation and now, in the proverbial twilight of their lives, are seen, heard, respected, and loved in their very community they created. Their vision of a socialist utopia may not have become what they thought it would; still, the caring remains. You got a better idea? Um al Fakhm. Its religious Muslim leaders have given virulently anti-Israel sermons, a large segment of the population sees itself as allied with the Palestinian struggle for independence, with occasionally violent demonstrations against the state, and yet, an artist with a vision of dealing with conflict and identity and national legitimization through Art soldiers on. He runs a gallery of local art there; he preserves a narrative; he seeks to build a museum (designed by Israeli Jewish architects)and believes that through Art, peace is possible. You got a better idea? The Kinneret Cemetery. At sundown. It's like the dead were waiting for us to remember. Rachel, Hess, Katznelson. Utopian thinkers, tragic writers, builders, visionaries. Taking leave of them felt like betraying a lover. So what do you but bow in humility and vow to return again. You got a better idea? Kibbutz breakfast at Gonen. A peacock banging against the wall of my cottage at sunrise and then lording over a porch down the path; labane with zatar and warm bread, arugula salad, salty olives, yogurt, granola and coffee. Then on the bus to the Hula Nature Reserve: fish and turtles, cormorants, king fishers, terns, igrets, and loons. Also, papyrus. Water buffalo meandering from here to there under a mid-winter sun. And then to the Banias, its pagan origins, a flour mill, falling water, anemones, almond trees in bloom. You got a better idea? Mt Bental. The proximity of war. The instability and inhumanity of the Syrian regime; the proxy status of Lebanon; the specter of Iran; and the absurd, fragile beauty of those almond trees again, with a cold wind warning of past and future sacrifices carved and layered into the volcanic sediment of these heights. A rush of chocolate, crafted "artisanally" (there's that word, as ubiquitous in my Brooklyn neighborhood as a dog on a leash) by an Argentinian Jew who sweetens in the tradition of her father and grandfather before they fled Central Europe. Jews who take their skills with them--just in case. You got a better idea? Wine. Oak casks, blah, blah. Tithing and waiting for the fourth year to harvest the vines and keeping Shabbat to earn kosher status, reasonable; forbidding Gentiles from serving it, not reasonable. Costanza moment: "We're living in a society!" Leaving the North in the morning. Closing out the trip in Jerusalem for Shabbat and then plowing into archaeology, history, identity, the perils of unrestrained nationalism, the dangers and blessings of lost memory, faith, faithlessness, politics, art, religion, roofs, walls, windows, rain, coffee, wine, bread, and trees. Almond trees. You got a better idea?