Monday, April 20, 2015

The Holy Land

Esteemed Concelebrants,

Yes, yes, I know -- almost a month.  Just when you thought Spiritual Guidance was out of your sensitive lives forever -- it's back.  There are, of course, excuses, not least of which is the fact that we were on a two-week trip to Israel, subject to the iron regimen of a travel service designated OAT -- Overseas Adventure Travel.  This blitzkrieg tour of Israel was skillfully if exhaustingly micromanaged, with most days, most meals, all travel accommodations clicking by with Teutonic efficiency.  Tiring, but an amazing engorgement of immediate experience.

Primary to the pitch of OAT is the concept that you will not only view the monuments and historical sites and and sacred landscape but you will also meet the people.  This was arranged through a series of home visits, native dinners, unlikely hospitality from specimens as unlikely as Ultraorthodox Jews, Christian Arabs, and a spokeswoman for the PLO.  Just when you thought you were beginning to understand the place, another take threw a lot into question.

I start with our guide, Rotem.  Rotem Litov, whose forebears fled the prevailing Ukrainian anti-Semitism a couple of generations ago, is a towering extrovert in an Australian bushhunter's hat, by his own admission incurably ADHD, who shepherded the fifteen or so of us -- three couples and the rest adventurous, uncomplaining women-- on and off the bus as we scoured the ancient overlays of civilization.  I came to understand that the ever-attentive Rotem, like his generation of Israelis, lived a double life,  Married, working hard to pay for the cinderblock residence going up beside his olive orchard in one of the villages, Rotem is simultaneously a tank commander in an Israeli armored division, who has taken leave of his civilian life repeatedly during the last ten years to take his tank into battle throughout the prevailing war.  The fierce battle over for the moment, dust settling, Rotem can return to his family and his olive orchard and the next delegation of jumpy Americans for whom he must steel himself.  Like most Israeli men these days a robust, resilient fellow, clearly worried underneath, Rothem incarnates the dream of Israel for his generation.

We made so many scenes, which to elaborate?  We started and ended in Tel Aviv, a bustling, beachside commercial center reminiscent of the Lower East Side of Manhattan fifty years ago, a welter of half painted buildings, many daubed with graffiti, and motorcycles and mopeds.  Adjacent Jaffa seems calmer -- we tour a private museum a painter has opened for tourists and were treated to lunch at the home of a very soignee -- and busty -- Christian Arab, a spread of the usual mushy chipped-pea-based hummus followed by superb baklava.  Coffee exporters, the family was clearly doing very well in today's Israel.

The next evening we were the guests in a slum of the wife of an Ultraorthodox rabbi.  This variety of Judaism was utterly startling to me.  Forswearing all material comforts, these throwbacks to the ghetto  devote themselves to the study of the scriptures and the propagation of enormous families.  We ate whatever there was on a blotched paper tablecloth protected by a wrinkled sheet of clear plastic.

The Ultraorthodox comprise a surprisingly large percentage of the Israeli electorate, and can coerce the politicians into policies otherwise anathema in this bustling state,  For instance, since it is forbidden for a female to touch a male, even incidentally, in passing, except in marriage, the chance that such a contact might occur in the military appears to justify the exemption of all Ultraorthodox children of age, male or female, from the prevailing draft.  All the other Israelis resent this -- even the Druze Arabs serve in the Israeli regiments these days --  and a major fight is brewing in the Knessett.

No single blog can begin to incorporate the many impressions this trip has left.  For more -- keep posted .


Burton Hersh

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