Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Here and there

So far in these few days in Israel, I am enjoying all the things I expected to enjoy: the smell of the jasmine, the papery magenta glory of bouganvillea, the nervous-making challenge of speaking Hebrew and, of course, eating bourekas and drinking cafe hafuch! There are also tangible things I don't quite know how to put into words: the pungent smell of an unidentified plant that rises into the nostrils as the sun heats the soil on the many gravelly paths around Jerusalem, the odd slickness of the paving stones under my sandaled feet.

But one thing that's very present for me on this short-but-sweet trip is that there are lots of things I could do to connect with Israel (and especially with its Hebrew-language culture) from anywhere but find myself not doing. For example, from a technical perspective, there's nothing that stops me from reading Israeli newspapers online from Boston or Reading or one of the many wifi-enabled rest stops between the two. In particular, Ha'aretz has a book review section on Wednesdays that I know I find an especially enjoyable challenge. But, sitting here in Tmol Shilshom (a bookstore, cafe, happening spot here in the center of Jerusalem that I never know how to get to except by wandering around til I find it), drinking espresso, enjoying the other tourists and regulars, I find myself actually poring over a book review in Hebrew for the first time in months.

It's interesting to me that all the technological advantages of being alive today still can't compete with the phenomenon of "out of sight, out of mind." Connecting with Israel and its people still requires the work of setting a kavannah (intention) and also of setting a priority in terms of how I structure my time. For that matter, I could do a better job of keeping in touch with people here. So, the question I leave open for myself is this: Given that --even in the States-- I am much better at paying attention to the people and the tasks that are right in front of me than I am at remembering who and what else exists in the world, how best to find ways to set Israel and Hebrew before me consistently enough that the thread is not entirely broken in the months (and probably years) away?

Can I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone and that Jews who live far from here have often worried about the tendency to forget? When the psalmist writes: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy" (Psalm 137), I hear not only longing, but a real concern about forgetfulness. Knowing my own tendencies, I don't dare make any such vows. But I do want to leave this potential for forgetting open as a place for further inquiry.

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