Thursday, April 26, 2012

Friendship journey to Israel - Apr. 26, 2012

Our guide, Julian Resnick, is a transplanted South African Jew. He became involved in the Socialist Zionist movement in South Africa (he says that socialism is not a dirty word for him), and moved to Israel in response to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. We like to give Julian a hard time because everything is "complicated" and "extraordinary" and every place or situation "asks a question." But that's Julian. He is a man of wide learning and strong passions.

On our way down to Tel Aviv from the Galilee, we went first to Yemin Ord, a community that works with children from difficult backgrounds. Our guide there was Raquel, an Ethiopian Jew who speaks 3 languages - Amharic (her native tongue), Hebrew, and English. She told us of the covert operation that Israel undertook to remove hundreds of Jews from Ethiopia and transfer them to Israel. It has not been an easy transition, because most of them had never seen a toilet, much less an airplane.

Next we went to Caesaria, the seaport that Herod the Great built to honor the Roman emperor Augustus. The Israelis have renovated a large theatre there that overlooks the Mediterranean. A member of our group was thrilled when we asked her to go up on the stage and sing so that we could check out the acoustics.

In the evening we went to Julian's own community, Kibbutz Tzora, for dinner and conversation with some of the young people. It was also the eve of Israel's "Memorial Day", a time for remembering those who have been killed in Israel's wars. The simple outdoor ceremony was moving, especially the singing of Israel's national anthem, "Ha Tikvah".

The next day we went first to a museum containing the works of Reuven Rubin, an Israeli artist from the early part of the 20th century. We were all intrigued by his painting, "First Seder in Jerusalem", which depicts Jesus sitting at a table with a group of Israelis, including the painter Rubin himself.

I went off on my own after that to visit a music library and museum dedicated to the pianist Felicia Blumenthal.

In the evening we celebrated the beginning of Israeli's Independence Day at the "Punchline", a restaurant/club/bar. I can say confidently that Israelis know how to have a good time. They can even get a middle aged Episcopal priest up and on his feet to dance to "Hava Nagila."

Today we went to Joppa and I talked briefly about Peter's vision of clean and unclean food and the heavenly voice telling him to give up the dietary restrictions and divisions between Christians and Jews. I also talked about Paul's insistence in Philippians that he was Jewish.

Last night after dinner several of us took a taxi back to the hotel. I walked up the beach for a hundred yards or so. The moon was a slender reddish crescent hanging just above the sea, and Venus was a brilliant point of light about 5 degrees to the right. I looked out at the "wine dark" water of the Mediterranean and thought about all the warriors and explorers who have crossed it - Achilles, Ulysses, Alexander the Great, the Romans, Jews fleeing the Holocaust, and so on.

The modern state of Israel is only 64 years old, but is built on an ancient foundation. Israelis have built a state where there is real political freedom and diversity, although (like every nation) it has flaws. As we sing in the U.S., so may it be for Israel: May God "mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law."