We started out from our (very lovely) kibbutz hotel, and headed up to the Golan Heights. I've been up there many times, but it never, ever fails to take my breath away. There's something about the terrain - the hard, rocky land, covered in brush; the rolling hills; the gorgeous valley, visible end-to-end - which leaves me near tears, every time. Plus, there's no better way to understand what security is really all about -- looking down on the valley, seeing how narrow, how fragile, how in-reach it is, really drives home how scary life in Israel can be.
We went to a couple of different locations, and so we got a couple of points of view (literally). When you can easily see Lebanon and Syria, pretty much at the same time, well...
I think that contrast - the natural beauty tied to the existential fear - is part of what I find so powerful up here.
Then, we got to do something really special - something I've never done before. The other Rabbis on this trip, Rabbis Flip and Laurie Rice, have a connection to "Friends of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces)," an organization dedicated to supporting the Israeli soldiers. They arranged a meeting with a tank squad. We got to see the tanks up close, got to see a tank driving by (pretty impressive!), got to talk with the soldiers (all of whom seemed, to these old eyes, to be about 12 years old. Except the commander - he must have been a least 14), and we even got to get into a tank (pictures to come, of course). It was fun, but it was a strange kind of fun. We were tourists. They were taking a break from preparing for the ever-present reality of war.
Again - it's that contrast of reality. Were these kids American, most of them would be thinking about college. Instead, they're all toting around M-16s and teaching gawking Americans about the difference between this shell, which is normal, and this shell, which is armor-piercing. There's so much more I want to say about that, but I really don't know how to begin. But, I hope you understand what I'm trying to say.
And then, we got to go to Tz'fat (or Sefat, or Safed, or however you want to spell it). It was, in a way, the hardest and most disappointing part of the trip for me. Don't get me wrong - it was still wonderful. But, we had to be in and out in a couple of hours. We got to see the synagogue of the Ari - the Rabbi who created Kabbalah. We got to see the artists shops in the Old City. We got to see the sun set. But, it was like only having an hour to spend with a long-lost friend -- there was so much more, and I longed for it. But, my biggest worry was that what we saw wouldn't be enough for the people on the trip, that they'd be disappointed. I shouldn't have worried -- they were all wowed by one of my favorite places on earth, so I felt great about that.
After a long day, and another delicious dinner, we gathered for some debriefing -- a chance to share, in just a few words, a thought or impression from the trip, so far. People talked of feeling connected to the land. Of being amazed at how complicated it is. How beautiful it is. About how moved they were by the kids from yesterday's youth village, or today's soldiers. About how amazed they were that artillery shells could fall in this country (which they did earlier today), and life could just continue -- about how much courage and love of country that must take. And, something someone said reminded me of a poem I love. Through the magic of Google and Wi-Fi, I managed to find it on the spot.
I read it first in Rabbinical School, but I don't know that I've read it, or at least really thought about it, since having a son. Like everything in life, it meant so much more this time:
An Arab Shepherd Is Searching For His Goat On Mount Zion
An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
The Sultan's Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the "Had Gadya" machine.
Afterward we found them among the bushes,
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying.
Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.
-- Yehuda Amichai