Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Much Delayed Post About My Week in the West Bank

Let me first begin with a short introduction (self-reference). Shavuat Yehuda v'Shomron (Shavuat Yosh) was planned by Chuliat Yosh ("Yosh"=Judah and Samaria), an independent Chulia that arose for the purpose of planning the week. Somehow, Yosh managed to function as a dictator, and "stole" days from the week before it. While most weeks start on Sunday, Yosh hijacked Thursday, Friday, and Shabbat (it wasn't supposed to be a Shabbat that the Mechina spent together).

Thursday we were at the Mechina, and had three lecturers, and on Friday we already set out on the way to Kdumim, our first stop. Kdumim is a yishuv in Shomron, the northern "bubble" of the West Bank. It was there that we stayed for Shabbat, sent off in pairs or groups of three or four to differet families. Before the splitting, however, Daniella Weiss, ifluetial in the fouding of the yishuv, showed us around the area. To get to a nice lookout of Kdumim and Shchem, among other nearby cities, we climbed up a hill. It was a hike--a small one--but the climb up a mountain over rocky and winding paths is these people's back-yard! The most incredible thing was not the information she shared with us, but that she knew it all. He knows every single house on every single ridge on every single mountain that you can see from Givat Rashi.

After that, we split off into our Shabbat groups. Noa and I were at the Paz family--a family with 7 kids, although only 4 of them were home. In terms of religiosity, the Shabbat wasn't differet from anything I'm used to, although for Noa it was. Being part of her first observant Shabbat was actually really exciting; exciting to show her the page numbers in the siddur at shul for Kabbalat Shabbat and to explain some things that the family did... In the morning we got to shul in time for Kaddish at the end of shacharit, oh well. In terms of ideology, the Shabbat was different from almost everything I'm used to. They did't try to force their ideology on us, not at all, and they didn't initiate political conversations. In fact, they were very open to the fact that we would probably be coming from a very differet perspective than them, and welcomed our questions and tried to answer to the best of their ability. The mother, Lavia, was born in Ramat Gan, which I think actually makes her story more interesting; she chose to move to the West Bank. From that, and the way her girls were able to take us out back and point out every hill, explain what's going on in the lives of the people who used to live where the goverment has now frozen settlements, their connection to the land is very clear. The connection to the land itself, something that I know is a key tenet of the Druze, is somethign that I've had a very hard time uderstading, so listening to them show (show, not tell) the importace was especially interesting.

On Friday evening we had a shiur with Daniella again, although I can't remember all of it because I didn't write because it was Shabbat. An interesting point that I do remember, though, is that Kdumim is not surrounded by a fence (it is surrounded by Arab villages). The choice, made by Daniella and the community council, was a purposeful one. Their theory was that fence=fear=vulnerability, and by showing that they're not scared of the surrounding Arabs, the Arabs won't attack.

On Saturday night we met again with Daniella, and spoke with Shlomi Chazoni (uncle of a girl I'm going to be going to school with next year) and Rabbi Natan Cohen, who spoke about Breslever Chassidism and the origins of the who Rabbi Nachman movement. A question I still haven't been able to answer, though, is that the whole idea of Breslever Chassidim is a person's personal connection, individual conversation with God. But then why do they follow so strictly the halacha about the specific ways in which and times when you're supposed to pray? Especially when one of their biggest things is "pray for everything, even the smallest thing"--isn't that sort of devaluing the meaning of prayer?

Moshe Zar is very very very right wing. When you walk into his house, the first thing you see are books--every wall has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with books and books on top of those. There's an ancient chandelier that's probably covered with spider webs ad ablack wood cabinet with two lions of Judah o it. We sat on a red Persian-style carpet that I'm sure would have looked a lot differet if we were to have taken it outside and beaten the dust out. The chairs that we pushed to the sides of the room in order to sit o the floor are like thrones; deep, rich-colored wooden backs and arm rests with seats upholstered in crimson velvet. Behid me were four tarnished, yet embellished covers for daggers. Aboe them was a giat Chinese-style chandelier/lantern with two red cloth balloo holders for the lightbulbs. "This is a beautiful house," I said to Uri. He replied, "Yeah, too bad it's stolen." I think that's a good mood setter for what Moshe Zar told us. Summed up in one (translated) quote, it was basically, "I'm not against Arabs. I'm for Jews." But those don't have to be mutually exclusive! And why should he care if the Arabs in Natzeret Elit tear down their houses ad rebuild them "from edge to edge". So they don't wat a yard, why does that matter? It's not good or bad to not have a yard... it certainly doesn't make them bad people. Listening to Moshe Zar was very hard, and Galya and I kept sharing glances. What was interesting, though, was the feedback from Mechinistim afterwards; some found listening to him just as hard as I did, and others had fallen in love with him.

"I think this is the most beautiful place I've ever bee. I've ever said this word before, but this view is breathaking," said Tal of the view from Har Kabir, the moutain about Eilon Moreh (north of Shchem). It's a place that's described it he Bible, a place where they built an exact replica of the Temple, and among the first places settled in the Shomron. If it was a clear day, we'd have been able to see the Medditeranean Sea, the Jordan River, and Mt. Hermonn (three borders of Israel). "This tiny place is what the whole world is fighting about!?" said Benny Katzover, who showed us aroudn the mountain. We couldn't see any of those things, because a cloud of fog had settled getly over our 800m high moutain. Down to the bottom of this moutain, everythig was clear--just grass and big stoens. But right at the critical poit (ie: the middle of the valley) the view looks like the Claritin Commercial before the hand peels off the foggy layer. As the distance increases the view was more ad more smudged, like an oil-pasted drawing that the artist has purposely smudged to erase sharp lies; everything blends smoothly together. At the horizon there was a thicky gray cloud that lowered itself over the land for as many degrees as I ca see (with an occasional moutain-side poking through) which makes the ground appear as though it's o a patfrom because the sky above is blue blue with only an occasional cloud. Althgouh the phrase seems oxymoronic, I can best describe the visibility as a clear fog. It's very light--words like majestic come to mind. Somebody said the Garden of Eden. What Benny Katzover told us is that the archaeologist Adam Rosenthal did a dig there and found bones; lots and lots of animal bones. All the bones were from Kosher animals, ad 95% were from animals less than one year... descriptions of the sacrifices made during the time of the Temple.

That evening we drove to Kiryat Arba, where we slept at a school. Elyakim Ha'etzi (grandfather of someone from the Mechina) spoke with us. Some things I was thinking: What percetage of the non-settler Israeli Jewish population identifies as right/thinks that the West Bank should by settled by/under Israeli control. What percentage of the non-religious non-settler population?... Terminology makes such a differece--Elyakim did't hide his bias at all. The nuances are decisive if people don't kow the story, because they're hearing it from only one biased point of view, instead of multiple biases. His solution to the problem is to give the Arab population "autonomy"; basically, the name but none of the rights. Israel would have control of the water and skyways, and that the autonomous Palestinia state wouldn't have any rights to build a military or to have weapons, or to make international agreements. So what would would they be able to do? And would they every agree to those conditions? My asnwers are "nothing" and "no", respectively. Another thing he said "God forbid you think I have any sort of hate for the Arabs. But we're not talking about one person, we're talking about them in general." But that's the problem--you can't make generalizations like that. That's like saying, "I hate Jews but you... well, you're different. You're an okay Jew."

The next day we went to Hebron, to Ma'arat HaMachpelah (the cave that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are buried in.) There was so much security there--lots of soldiers ad two sets of metal detectors. We could see the Muslim section through barred windows from one of the Jewish areas, but we couldn't go in. The Muslim section, what I could see of it, was beautiful--colors and calligraphy. Listening to Noam's talk about the capture of Hebron in '67 and etc. we ca hear me singing "Shabchi Yerushalayim" from the room enxt door. They're siging with such intensity, such emotion. Listening to them actually brought tears to my eyes, although I know that if I was in the same room as them I wouldn't have had the same feeling because it would have bee the same old "watchig me pray" deal. But hearing them sing--snig as one voice, the tones rising and falling in unision, illustrates how song alone can be spiritual. The nusachim after they finish Shabchi Yerushalayim are mostly familiar, but eve the ones I don't know have similar structures to the oes I do. It's a comforting sound, too. Light and in the background, but back and pervasive, as all. There's also a over-voice, it sounds like a muted echoing hum. You can hear their belief.

Sitting in the yard outside of Maarat Hamachpela, I looked aroudn at the buildings. Across the street is an apartment made of thick, yellow, Jerusalem stone. On the roof is a Arab woman wearign a long, Cubby-blue dress, and a scarf tied on her head. She's strung two clothes lines ad is clipping wet laudry up to dry. It's a hot day, shouldn't take long. I'm certainly more used to the sight of hanging laundry now than when I first got here; but I still get excited every time. We walked through the ghost-like streets of Hebron, and I had trouble keeping up with the group because my eyes were stuck on the painted-over signs and the abandoned stores, the vacuum of citizens replaced with Israeli soldiers and their M-16s every meter or so. I had a hard time focusing on what our tour guide was telling us about what we were seeing, instead paying attention to visual clues. And small, trivial details: the repair man working on one of the synagogues was wearign construction-tzit tzit (made of denim)! Also, everything in Hebron is in memory of somethig--every buildig, every house. I lost track of the umber of houses I saw with doors painted in bright colors with "in memory of our son, who was killed...". Some other thoughts that I'd like to share as well, but there's simply too much more to write, and not much more time, and the blog is already so long.

A break from the political side of things, we also looked at some ancient sites in the West Bank; among them were Sussya and Herodion. I don't feel like writing about Sussya or Herodion really, for that matter. Except to say that the remains are incredible. Especially at Sussya, you can tell what a sophisticated society it was and what sophisticated engineering they had, even in the 4th century. Herodion (Herod's palace) is also incredible--they basically built the city and then covered it in a man-made mountain.

The final thing we did in the West Bank was go to the Sdeh Bar Farm. Basically an alternative home for kids who would otherwise have ended up in juvie. A really great idea, very impressive the way they've built the farm ad the community there, with having the kids join families as opposed to having "staff." It's in the West Bank not for ideological reasons; simply beacuse of the belief that in order to solve a problem you have to remove the person from the problem environment--and finding a lot of open land is Israel is really hard to do. We played with newborn goats and had fresh dolce con leche!

Because of the difficulty of preseting more left-leaning positions in the West Bank, we waited to hear those until returning to the Mechina. One of the most interesting lectures we heard back at the Mechina was "three states for two nations"(Eitan Keter Yaakov). He did a simulation with the tallit. He had Jews, Palestinias, the right, the left, the Americans, the whoever... each hold on. Everyone wants a part of it. But if we keep going, we're goinng to rip Israel apart. It's like King Solomon and the baby...maybe. His solution is somewhat complicated; if you really want to know I can explain it later. Don spoke about the religious left, which was iteresting, and about the connection to the land itself... the way the Arabs are connected to the land. Anyway, I really can't sum up everything all the speakers said, but if someone is interested I can write more later.

On Thursday we had a tour of the separation barrier/wall/fence in Jerusalem with an orgaization called Rabbis for Human writes, which is an apolitical organization. I'll just say two things: we went to Kever Rachel (where Rachel is bured)--I've see the burials of all the ancestors now. Also, there we saw hundreds of cookie-cutter boys: little Chassidic boys wearig sweaters and velvet kippot and payot. The other thing is that we went to Silwan, and Arab village where two Arab me spoke to us. At the end, one of them pulled out the key to the house his family left in 1948. The key is big--a skeleton key--strug on a thick white string. I thought that was just in the books, I didn't know people actually carried the key around with them.

I APOLOGIZE FOR SPELLING MISTAKES.... the n is elusive on this keyboard.

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