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After my last blog entry regarding aliyah, I received an email from a couple who live in the Golan. I thought it would be of interest to you to see what they have discovered after leaving the Exile and coming home. See their email to me below, and then what they write of their experiences. Dear Tamar,
The Way of the Stork: A Rosh Hashanah Greeting
Living now in The Golan, we really have the opportunity to think. It’s quiet in a very deep and healthy way, and there is abundant opportunity to reflect on life in The Jewish World as it filters down to us through the internet, newspapers, conversations, and events. I haven’t really been writing all that much – next to nothing, actually. In truth I’ve been taking a lot in and trying to get a better perspective on things. I find myself asking a lot more questions, particularly from Israelis or others with more of a history and more of a Torah background in an attempt to better understand the roots of what we seem to be witnesses at this particular junction of world history.
I’ll ask things like how can someone with over traffic 200 violations still be on the road? Or why would they give-up land of strategic importance? And questions like these can often sound like complaints or criticisms, but, for me, it’s an attempt to better understand Israeli culture, Jewish thought, and Jewish history. Not that I don’t complain or criticize!
As Rosh Hashana fast approaches I thought it might be a good time to share a few things. Bear with me and eventually we’ll make it to the stork in the title of this piece:
Our sages tell us that the very air of Eretz Yisrael can make one wise. And there really IS a certain sense of clarity to be had here despite the fact that people drive like maniacs, call each other hideous names, chomp at the bit to give away land to our sworn enemies, release terrorists, and give the label “moderate” a hitherto unknown meaning (as in “compared to Hamas anyone’s a moderate”). Our leaders proclaim that Jewish blood is not cheap and then they act as though it were as cheap as it can get. Ask the people from Gush Katif and Sderot.
Ignoring thousands of years of history and recurring warnings by our prophets we still persist in playing to the wrong audience. We repeatedly turn to diplomacy and foreign alliances and act as though Israel and The Jewish People are really being governed by the same set of rules as the rest of the world (a non-Torah perspective). And this faulty view of how things really work in the universe is incredibly resistant to change. As a result we continually feel misunderstood, unappreciated, rejected, resentful and hurt. To us, at least, it seems clear that nobody has given-up more and still been so persona non-grata amongst the nations of the world. We rack our brains for explanations and figure that we need much better “PR”, but, ironically enough, whenever anyone else in the rest of world is looking for better PR they often look to hire a Jew.
We also criticize our leaders even if, at some level, we understand that we, The Jewish People, always get the leaders we deserve.
Rabin vilified the settlers and involved himself in secret alliances and wound-up getting assassinated. Sharon told us that we would be facing very difficult and painful decisions and now finds himself suspended between two worlds and not deciding much of anything. Olmert is willing to talk to anyone anytime and is open to giving away lands of strategic importance, not for the sake of a dubious peace, but rather for the sake of staying in power. This would be a questionable approach for a revered and respected leader but for someone with a popularity rating of 5% (with a 6% margin of error) this is really unsettling.
As awful and agitating as this may feel on a day to day basis, I’m starting to sense some opportunity in all this, but it takes a lot of work and a lot of emunah to keep a positive perspective. In truth, the good news is that this entire cast of characters is part of a cosmic puppet show and they are really not as powerful as they or we would like to think they are. And, rather than being at their mercy, in truth, they are just consequences or reflections of how well we are doing as individuals and how are we doing as a people.
Maybe, in a strange sort of a way, we are actually getting just we need. It’s difficult to appreciate that Hashem wants to be depended-on. And what better way to bring this about than by giving us one undependable leader after another. Philosophies and “Isms” haven’t been doing all that well either these days. We seem to be running-out of options to depend on and eventually we might even figure out the tshuvah might actually pay-off.
And maybe the best thing we can do with all the so-called news that rams its way into our consciousness is to improve our learning and davening.
Maybe people like Olmert and the little goofball from Iran can best be used as an impetus to improve the things we do have some control over – like our learning, davening, and behavior.
I recently heard a story that may fit here:
An Israeli rabbi passes away and goes up to heaven where he sees an Egged bus driver with a much nicer living quarters. The rabbi is mystified as to how this bus driver was, seemingly, given a much greater heavenly reward, and he just had to find-out.
The bus driver explained to him that. During his life, when the rabbi spoke, he put a lot of people to sleep, but when the driver drove his Egged bus it caused a lot of people to daven.
So maybe we need to focus less on our leaders and what they seem to be lacking and more on ourselves and just how well we are doing, individually and collectively? How well are we doing in terms of kindness, justice, learning, and the like? How will The Shepherd view us as we prepare to pass under his crook on Rosh Hashanah?. Will we continue to play for The Yankees or will be reassigned to another plane of existence where there is no baseball?
So, for me anyway, I’m beginning to appreciate what Olmert and other failed leaders may offer us. It may be grasping for something one can control, but I really do believe that whatever happens to The Golan Heights, for example, will be more a reflection of our merit or lack of merit as a people and not just an ill-conceived political ploy by politicians wholeheartedly focusing on their survival. Story lines are everywhere, but the real ones can be hard to spot.
And, speaking of The Golan, we’re extremely happy to be living here. We love our community and our home. Our house is fantastic and much more than we ever expected. And, perhaps most importantly, there is a sense of relief that we did the right thing and settled here. We went-out on some real intuitive limbs here, and, so far so good.
The Sherr house, when it was being built one year ago. "The house is now completed and fantastic. We've been in it for five months."
And, after breathing the air of Eretz Yisrael, I have come to better understand what doing the right thing really means. I now think of it to mean doing what we were supposed to do no matter what the consequences may prove to be. We could be nuked tomorrow or become a suburb of Damascus next month, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t do the right thing. We took a chance, left our comfort zone far behind, and built our lives here – surrounded by like-minded neighbors most of whom we can’t communicate with. But we fit-in and we fit-in miraculously well. So far so good.
On Rosh Hashana another thing that gets scrutinized is “achdut”, our degree of togetherness and connectedness as a people. Historically it always seems to be a major problem for us. The more time we spend living in Eretz Yisrael, the more it strikes me as an amazingly stratified and fractionalized society. Beyond the secular-religious divide we have a myriad of subsets within the Orthodox camp itself. It’s horrifying, but instead of emphasizing what we have in common in terms of ethics, beliefs, and practice, we seem to be magnifying our differences with an alarming degree of friction between groups that actually have a great deal in common.
For many of us, it’s hard to know who we fit-in with or who will be the last group standing at The End of Days. Over the last few years I’ve come to believe that I’m a Religious Zionist with Hasidic and Secular overtones who still likes to shop at Marshalls. I marvel in horror when religious Jews of any persuasion think they have a monopoly on the truth. But I’m pretty sure that’s a red flag and we need to do more to bridge these divides within the religious camps and between the religious and the secular.
My latest strategy with all this is to appreciate that every group may really be screwing-up in its own way. There are probably enough dropped balls to fill McCovey Cove.
It may seem like a simple theory but it seems to help. Shortly after coming to this realization my theory was enhanced by a rabbi who added that if my theory was correct that really means that each group is also doing something right. And that sat even better. In any event it seems like a good idea to remind ourselves that we, The Jewish People, are a single organism, and we need to feel more appreciative of our collective parts.
Oh yeah. I forgot to talk about the stork. (photo: smoggy Los Angeles)
As background I should mention that it’s always interesting and sometimes stressful when we visit California and people ask me how things are in Israel and how it is living in The Golan. Maybe I’m paranoid but it feels like they’re not real convinced about our sanity. Sometimes I’ll ask them if they’re nervous about living in L.A. since it’s such a dangerous place and all. And they think I’m kidding but I’m not.
In truth we are one organism and One People and if Jews in the Golan seem in danger or Jews in Israel seem in danger, it could mean that we are all in danger. Why, we might ask ourselves, would G-d make things more hazardous for Jews who have chosen to live with Him in His Land and taken Him up on what is described as a gift and a great gift at that. And why would He make it any less hazardous for individuals who feel more secure and more attached to lands that are not our own? Adding the overlay of massive assimilation it’s hard to imagine how secure we can really feel these days in Chutsl’aretz.
On the other hand, there do seem to be real dangers here in Eretz Yisrael. People get killed. There are wars. There is mushrooming Anti-Semitism and vilification of Israel. The Iranians are up to no good and we do seem to be surrounded by hostile terrorists who are hard at work in the nefarious plans.
So, yes, it probably is dangerous here but it may also be the right place for us to be. As I said before, sometimes you have to do the right thing and don’t be overly concerned as to how it might play-out, even if it is an understandable worry.
And that brings us to the stork.
Shortly after moving into our new house in Hispin I was startled to see what looked to be a pterodactyl flying by our balcony. Turns out it was a stork – spectacular yet cartoon-like in appearance.
We discovered that there are quite a few storks in the region including a family that was living atop a high voltage tower around the corner from our house. They had (and have) a rather large nest and they always seem to be flying-in with a few more twigs or supplies. Their chicks must have been getting enough food as they were some of the most zaftig chicks one can imagine. It was awesome to watch them go about their business every day.
Turns-out that storks are monogamous and are really good parents. Given that they were also industrious and hard-working I thought they really had some excellent middos – (character traits) particularly for birds.
The one thing I kept puzzling about, however, was how they didn’t electrocute themselves. The electric tower was pretty menacing and warning signs were posted in three languages – Hebrew, Arabic and English. The warning included the phrase “Danger of Death” and I believed it.
But as far as I know storks can’t read. And if they had learned to avoid electrocution by trial and error there would probably be one error and then exit stage left. So how did they know to avoid the high voltage wires?
As time went on I never got a great answer to that question. And I also found myself wondering why I was pondering that question to such an extent. It then occurred to me that the stork family had a lot in common with us.
We too were living in a very dangerous place and yet we too built a house and we too went about our business in a fairly normal way. There certainly seemed to be similarities.
Steve and Marianne Sherr - Bird watching at the Hula Valley
So I decided to catch-up with Mr. Stork and ask him how they all managed to avoid getting killed and were able to carry-on business as usual in such a seemingly normal manner?
His answer was struck me as utterly true.
“All you have to do”, he said, “is to make sure you fly high enough and everything will be O.K.”
He had a lot of wisdom for a stork and it seemed like a good message for the rest of us.
Let us all strive to elevate our actions and focus on what we need to do – in terms of our own growth and character development. Let’s make sure we fly high enough to avoid danger, and, hopefully, things will work-out for the best.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a Good Year – a year of “Good” Steve and Marianne Sherr