Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Greetings from Ashkelon on Yom HaAtzma'ut

As Alan's post below tells in greater detail, we have arrived at the beautiful Ashkelon seashore on the first full day of our Hazon Israel Ride. Today I took the option of riding half the day and touring half the day. We visited a kibbutz that from 1945-1948 had a secret underground bullet factory. Workers entered through the laundry and the ventilation system used the chimneys on the laundry and the bakery nearby. Our tour guide, Yuval, was fantastic, combining a tour of the site with thought-provoking questions and his own reflections on what it meant for him --as an educator and a soldier-- that Yom HaZikaron/Memorial Day and Yom HaAtzma'ut/Independence Day were right next to each other. I'm proud of Alan for taking on the challenge of longer riding days, but I'm also very excited for the touring my shorter days leave room for.

Back in Boston, my rabbinical school community was also celebrating Yom HaAtzma'ut. Daniel (my study partner here in Israel) and I were asked to write reflections to be read at the morning prayer service in Boston. My words are included below. Tomorrow we head into the desert! It will be a very long day of riding for Alan and another half day for me plus a tour of a Bedouin village. We're also closing in on our fund-raising goal, but still need a final push. If you've got what to give, please visit our donation site by clicking here. AND, I got a write-up in the local Sag Harbor paper a couple of weeks ago; click here for the interview.

Reflection for יום העצמאות/Yom HaAtzma'ut 2009

I am a warmly welcomed guest in the home of an eccentric and beloved relative. She offers her riches openly, a well of generosity. Swaths of desert and seashore and forested hills, I gulp down landscapes of such variety and beauty that I want more and more. Cappuccino and burekas for breakfast, their tastes and smells layering and mixing like the many languages I hear in the streets.

She promises protection and safety, a place to call home. This home: musty, windswept, full of old secrets, constantly under renovation, full of ghosts and and booby traps and pregnant women and young men pushing baby strollers. She is the strongest person you have ever met and she weeps constantly, not only for the death of her children but with the overwhelming longing brought on by the smell of sun-heated pines.

And I am both enchanted and terrified. I walk on tiptoes but with deep curiosity. There is always a lump in my throat when I speak to her, and I do not know whether it's from the miracle of Hebrew coming out of my mouth or from pure and inescapable anxiety.

We are, to each other, both deeply family and deeply foreign. She is a well of generosity and just as generous with scrutiny and criticism. She shows me myself in her mirror; it is one-way glass.

I open myself to listen, her songs and poems and speeches and jokes come flooding in. My own voice is washed away. I know she wants me here, but then she doesn't really know me or see me as I am; she doesn't really need me and she has me doubting that God really needs me. I know she wants me, but I have to leave a lot of myself behind.

Yet I am no more fair to her: I need her to love me; I wish she would leave me alone. I am by turns proud of her and embarrassed to be seen together in public. I cannot wait to get away and I cannot wait to come back.

When I am not here, and when I speak of her, I want to remember her in the fullness in her nuances, with all of her tensions intact.It is the sharpness of these tensions that makes her unforgettable.

The more I know her, the more I want to know her. I want to know her all the way down to a depth where disillusionment is no impediment to loyalty, disappointment no obstacle to love.

Milk and honey
Well and good
But what sets me celebrating you
is this more specific mix:
זבל/zevel* and jasmine flowers

(*Zevel means "crap," literally poop/manure but also in a somewhat similar sense of the English slang. As I wrote about early in my year here, the combination of dog poop and flowers in Jerusalem sums up something important about my experience here.)

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