Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The real Israel

Israel has certainly been much in the news, lately, which has led many people to think again about what Israel means to them and what the still-young nation's nature truly is.

I thought about this on Sunday as I looked out on the Jerusalem view above. At that moment, I felt filled with a love for Israel and for Jerusalem. It's a challenge for me to understand what this love is really all about. After all, this view is not one of Jerusalem's famous ones. It does not have the Old City, the Western Wall or the Mount of Olives in it. And, yet this fairly ordinary view of west Jerusalem -- from a park hillside not far from the Israel Museum and which I have walked across many times on my daily business -- speaks to me deeply.

My thoughts brought me to the Pesach seder meal – our yearly “Feast of Freedom”. We conclude with the words, “לשנה הבאה ביושלים/l-shanah haBa b-yerushalayim” -- next year in Jerusalem. Since the time – since the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 – that Jews in large numbers have come to be able to live in Jerusalem, some have changed those words slightly -- “לשנה הבאה ביושלים הבנויה/l-shanah haBa b-yerushalayim haBenuyah” -- next year in the [re]constructed Jerusalem.

It never leaves my thoughts when I'm in Israel that the very existence of this State – and the very fact that I, a Jewish person, am able to get on a plane and freely go there to visit – is a miracle. It is a miracle built on the incredible sweat, spirit and courage of the Israeli people over the decades of the 20th and now the 21st century.

Yesterday, I spent much of the day going through various airport security stations on my way back to the United States via London Heathrow. All of us who have gotten on an airplane since September 11, 2001 have gotten used to these kind of intense security procedures, procedures that are based on the fact that there are people out there who would just like to murder us, just because of who we are. Just to make a political point.

But, when we leave the airport here in the States, we leave all that behind – including that strange feeling that comes with the realization that some people want us dead. In Israel, however, that sense never leaves. For all the decades of its existence – and even for the Jews who lived in that land well before the State was formed – it has lived like the inside of an airline terminal. When school kids go out on trips, it is never without someone with a gun. To enter a shopping mall – or even to go into many cafes – you must pass a security checkpoint and have your bag examined.

To build and maintain a country like Israel takes incredible spirit, vigilance and courage. That is what I see when I look across that park valley at the hills of the neighborhoods beyond – I see the built Jerusalem. I see the evidence of all the blood, toil and sweat that the Israeli people have devoted to the project we call the State of Israel. And it is that which I feel the most love for and awe of – much more than for any of the great holy sites the city is famous for.

With a war in Gaza and with Hamas rockets falling daily on the cities of Israel, now is a particularly poignant time to reflect on the sacrifices it takes to maintain this State. I was very sad to have to leave Israel at such a time of crisis. As small a thing as it is compared to the sacrifices that Israel's soldiers and their families are making, just being there as a tourist or student is still an important way of showing support – of showing a willingness to join in the dangers and struggles that come from being a people that some would just like to murder, whether it be with rockets fired at random places in residential neighborhoods or with suicide bombers getting on a random rush hour bus. I will miss Israel, and especially Minna, who I left behind there to continue her studies in that Holy city.


I had ridden on Sunday by bicycle up to that hillside to meet Minna who was finishing up a class at Machon Schechter near the hilltop. We walked down a bit into the park and took pictures of each other on bicycles for our Hazon ride web page. This coming Spring Minna and I will be showing our support for Israel by participating in a charity ride to raise money for two organizations particularly dedicated to the task of maintaining Israel's threatened environment. You can help us by donating on my Hazon Irsrael ride page here! (http://arava.kintera.org/2009springride/abayye)

In the above pic, you can see a bit of an olive tree in the foreground on a right – olive groves are one of the most famous and beautiful parts of the Israeli landscape and it's a bit of a miracle to find them so close to the “built” Jerusalem of Wolfson Towers in the background. . . . . In addition to the people, what I love about Jerusalem and its surroundings is just the hills, so many of which have olive trees growing on terraces built into the hillsides. The site of those hills always takes my breath away.

Here is Minna also riding amid the olive trees with the “built” Jerusalem in the background.

Here she is again:

Minna's Hazon Israel ride donation page is here. (http://arava.kintera.org/2009springride/minna)

And here's our _team_ page.

[X-posted to abayye]

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