Sunday, May 22, 2011

1 Camel, 1 Kibbutz, 3 Museums, and Obama

Quite an eventful week in Israel--both for the Blooms and Israel itself.  We took a "tiyul," which is the Hebrew word for trip, though it usually means within Israel itself and often involves some hiking.  All true for us.

Camels in the Negev
We began with a drive to the Negev Camel Ranch at Mamshit (very far in the South of Israel) where we spent the night.  The boys and I had fun on our one hour camel ride, but man are those creatures uncomfortable.  However, the boys promised their friends they would ride camels in the desert, and since most of our activities in Israel are directed toward the adults, we thought this was an appropriate indulgence. The place was great.  The staff was spectacular, and the "Shepherd's Dinner" was delicious.  Micah and I also did a great hike to the top of a hill where we could see the nuclear reactor in Dimona on the other side of the mountain. The only problem was sleeping.  You have your own cabin (they call it a hut, but it's a cabin), and it even looks quite comfortable.  But the bugs and the sand made us so itchy that it was nearly impossible to sleep. We had a beautiful day, but a very rough night.

Careful there boys!
Enjoying tea in the desert
Kibbutz Gamal and Lag b'Omer
Our next stop was at Kibbutz Magal, which is the Kibbutz where our good friend Adi Schacker grew up. We were hosted by her marvelous parents, who heaped gobs of both hospitality and food upon us.  They have a gorgeous upstairs apartment, and they stocked it with food fit for an army.  Plus they fed us every meal--huge Shabbat meals of chicken, fish, rice, roasted vegetables, lentils, breads, pasta, and home-made techina.  The Kibbutz is stunningly beautiful.  The buildings are well-kept, the grounds are beautiful, the atmosphere is idyllic, and the feeling is marvelous. We ate avocados, loquats, and passionfruit grown right there.  They also have one of the most successful factories in Israel; it  makes the equipment for drip irrigation.  One thing I did not realize was how close it is to the West Bank. Talk about a stone's throw!  That is no exaggeration.  Kibbutz Gamal is one of several Kibbutzim along the border with the West Bank at the point where the border between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea is only a few miles wide.  Initially, these Kibbutzim were among the first lines of defense in pre-state and pre-1967 Israel.  You can clearly see the separation fence from the Kibbutz and realize its vital importance even today in preventing suicide bombers from crossing into populated Israeli areas.
David and Bahira Yaron, Marvelous Hosts
One of the most special things about our visit there was the celebration of Lag b'Omer.  Lag b'Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot.  Historically/spiritually, this period was a time of great anxiety for farmers and for the Jewish people, having been freed from Egypt but not yet having received the Torah.  Today, the period is marked by a certain solemnity--weddings are not held, hair is not cut, and, for some, other joyous celebrations and activities are not held.  But, on the 33rd day, there is a break, and these restrictions are suspended.  There are two explanations for this holiday.  The first is that during the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, a plague had spread among Rabbi Akiva's disciples, which, on the 33rd day of the Omer, was stopped.  The other is that Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai, who many believe was the first Jewish Kabbalist, died on that day.  Legend has it that before he died, he told his disciples not to mourn on the day of his death, but to celebrate life and God instead.  So this is what people do, only the celebration is not quite what you might expect.
Lag b'Omer Bonfire with roasting potatoes
Rabbi Akiva or William Tell?
Yes, hair is cut, weddings are held, and people have parties.  Mostly, though, Israelis have giant bonfires, where they roast marshmallows and potatoes.  Children make their own bows and arrows out of sticks (our guys did it, as you can see), and they practice makeshift archery as if they were part of the Bar Kochba rebels.  The Kibbutz really did the celebration up right, and we had a ball.

3 Museums--Latrun, History of the IDF, and the Yitzchak Rabin Center
Each museum we visit seems more spectacular than the one that preceded it.  This weekend's theme was understanding the Israeli military.

We began with the Armored Corps Museum at Latrun.  Latrun is situated between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and played a key role in the 1948 War of Independence.  One could not get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem without passing through Latrun, and it was controlled by Arab armies.  Jerusalem was besieged and unable to get supplies.  The Haganah (the precursor to the Israeli Defense Forces) regularly sent convoys of trucks to bring them supplies, but they were regularly ambushed at Latrun.  Eventually, they built their own bypass road (called the Burma Road), but not until after many lives had been heroically lost trying to relieve Jerusalem.  For years, tanks and armored cars that had been casualties of these ambushes were simply left on the side of the road as a testament to these battles.  Today, they have been formalized into a museum with dozens of tanks, which Micah and Jonah enjoyed climbing on.
Our next museum was the History of the IDF Museum in Tel Aviv.  It is divided into 19 stations devoted to different aspects of the Israeli Military (communications, uniforms, Ministers of Defense, tanks, rifles, and several more).  The amount of artifacts and facts is overwhelming.  I had never been to this museum, nor is it a regular stop of any of the many tours I have been on, but it was really, really fascinating.
Finally, we went to the brand new Yitzchak Rabin Center, which is really two parallel museums in one.  One is a history of the State of Israel and the other the life story of Yitzchak Rabin, undoubtedly one of the great heroes of our time.  The museum is in a spiral format, and the audio-visual displays are mesmerizing.  This was one museum where we did not have to use any tricks or bribery to capture our children's attention.  Rabin was not only one of the great Israeli soldiers from pre-state Israel on, but he served as Prime Minister at two very different times in Israel's history.  He is best known for the Oslo Accords and being assassinated by a right wing, extremist Jew in 1995, when it seemed Israel and the Palestinians were on the very cusp of making peace.  I'm not entirely sure it would have happened even had he remained alive, but he remains one of the greatest heroes in Israel's history.  We were moved to tears at several points during our visit to this incredible museum.
Rabin receiving the Nobel Peace
Prize with Peretz and Arafat
Part of the spiral shape of the museum
and story of Rabin's life.
Service of the Week
Because we were not in Jerusalem, we had to drive to synagogue this Shabbat, and we drove to TBA's sister synagogue in Israel, a Masorti/Conservative synagogue called Hod v'Hadar in K'far Saba.  It was nice to be able to sit together as a family, and even nicer that Karen got the Aliyah instead of me this week.  There was a Bar Mitzvah there, but an Israeli Bar Mitzvah is incredibly informal, really just a small part of the service.  The kid was sweet and adorable.  The place felt like home to us, very similar to a TBA service and atmosphere, and the degrees of separation in the game of Jewish geography were very small there.  We ran into both a former Cantor of Torat Yisrael in Rhode Island, where I used to work, a man named Shimon Gevirtz (we were there 20  years apart so we knew each other only by name), and a woman who was married at TBA many years ago named Beverly Shulster, who had none other than the Pencovic's sign her Ketuba!  It was a lovely Shabbat.

The Obama Bombshell
Against this backdrop, enjoying today's Israel, Obama increased the anxiety of many an Israeli's view about tomorrow's Israel.  Many people have asked me "what did Israelis think of the speech?"  That's a bit like asking "what do  people think about gefilte fish?"  Opinions are usually strong, and they run the gamut.  That said, most Israelis I talked to were very, very disappointed.  Their expectations are low; they believe that the rest of the world always places the onus for everything on Israel alone, from negotiations about land for peace to the need for self-defense to the very right to exist.  So they were not terribly surprised that Obama's remarks about future borders being based on 1967 with landswaps certainly appeared unfriendly to Israel. What he actually said was not fundamentally different from traditional U.S. policy regarding Israel's borders. The way he said it, however, was significant.  As a student of Aristotelian rhetoric, I am one who believes firmly that words matter. See my sermon on "The Rhetoric of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."   You have to scroll down to find it, but it explains a lot about how I view all this.  And using the words "future borders" and  "based on 1967" together was potentially very damaging to Israel.  Abba Eban called the 1967 borders "suicide" borders.  Israel will never go back to them, for no matter how great Israel's military superiority is, the borders are indefensible for the civilian population.  Obama knows that, and, in point of fact, everyone knows a land-for-peace deal will be somewhat similar to the 1967 borders.  To Obama and in practical terms, the "land swaps" he mentioned are of the utmost significance here, but all too many will focus on the 1967 part of the statement he appeared to emphasize.  Obama clarified this point in speaking to AIPAC, when he said:

"That is what I said. Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means. By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides."  
Had he said that in the first place, such furor would not have erupted.  But he did, and from this point forward, the rest of the world and, especially, the Palestinians, will take that as a given in any negotiations. They have actually refused to negotiate for almost a year now.  But why should they?  They can do nothing, and the world seems to negotiate for them.

I do not believe Obama is anti-Semitic or even anti-Israel.  I just think he naively believes that he can "carrot" the Palestinians back to the table.  The problem is that not only will it not bring them to the table, but it sets up Israel to take even more of the blame than they already receive.

The road to peace and Jewish law, literally.
That's about all for my soapbox today.  Hopefully, I can get back to enjoying the reality of Israel rather than defending it based on the ideality of the world's unrealistic expectations.  One day, as this fabulous road sign says, peace and halacha (Jewish Law).  We can dream, right?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rabbi Bloom, Shona Tova.

    Did you misplace the "M" for the "g" for Kibbutz Magal? I found your blog looking for info on the Arab Horse program and Therapeutic Riding Centre at Kibbutz Magal. My work is in equine assisted growth and learning ( I am looking for a contact about this at Magal. Let me know whether or not you would be able to help me find one.

    All best, Rob Pliskin, M.S. Ed
    Cleveland Ohio USA