HomeJune 2014At the Foot of the Mountain

At the Foot of the Mountain

I grew up in a home where Israel “lived.” From the blue-and-white Jewish National Fund charity boxes that graced our window sills to the annual Israel Day Parade and Film Festival, my father made little secret that we were living a “secondary” Jewish life by virtue of not living in Israel. The extended family mocked him behind his back (and sometimes to his face), but outside arguments held little sway. We had a state, and Jews should be living there. Case closed; the defense rested.
Utilizing 20-20 hindsight, my eyes still well up with tears as I consider his Zionist naiveté; every Israeli was a superior human being and falafel — even really rancid falafel — was manna from Heaven. To even suggest to my father that there were Israeli con artists, prostitutes and other assorted lowlifes was tantamount to holding a pep rally for the Third Reich. One just did not go there. He loved all Jews and sported an aura of shame that he did not suffer along with his brothers in the Inquisition, 1929 Hebron Riots or the Nazi war machine. An early defender of elderly Jews living in decaying neighborhoods, my father marched into tenements and escorted octogenarians to doctors’ offices and grocery stores, defiantly wearing faux-military gear and an iron-set jaw. His children cringed with embarrassment as our guerrilla-warfare Daddy ranted non-stop about the need to protect those in need of protection. And while he would have gone to the mat for any human being — Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Moslem, Hindu and Jain — who wished to observe his or her faith in peace, he believed that historically, Jews had gotten the rawest deal of all in the tolerance department.
Shavuot is the anniversary of when we received the Torah, and it always astounds me to think that our entire nation — regardless of lifestyle, background, ethnicity — stood shoulder-to-shoulder in silence, united by both the holiness and enormity of the gift we were about to receive. Like a magnificent multicolored, multi-textured tapestry, every one of us played a respective role in defining the perfection of “the whole.” I often reflect on what this means whether washing the dishes, folding laundry or performing some other solitary, mindless task. It takes “alone time” to let my imagination wander to a Woodstock place where we shared caring and hope as a united people. I must be alone to go there, because people — real flesh-and-blood people — get in the way of my “peace and love” reverie.
All too often, the reality of Israel interferes with my fantasy of this chosen homeland. Stereotypes can, sadly, become all too real. The frequent coarseness of our citizenry, the filth in the streets of certain neighborhoods, the intolerance between religious and non-religious and the daily terrorist threat can make us wring our hands in hopelessness. My husband and I just returned from visiting our respective children and grandchildren who live on different continents, and we occasionally found ourselves questioning our decision to remain in Israel, so far away from the hugs and love we yearn for. This soul-searching makes us closer and, ultimately, results in our redefining our Zionism and commitment to assuming active roles in the unfolding of Jewish history. Living in Israel allows us to do this while standing “center stage.”
Despite the aforementioned angst, there is no greater feeling than watching the streets of Jerusalem flood with people — young and old — walking to the Kotel (Western Wall) and back, throughout the night and wee hours of the morning. For many, it is the social event of the season, and the only rule seems to be that one wants to mingle with brethren. The closer one gets to the Old City, the denser the crowd; indeed, this swarm of Jewish humanity consists of Haredim in streimels, barefoot hippies, students in jeans, tourists encased in suits and ties, women with bare heads, women with scarves and wigs, Jews-by-choice, grandmas and grandpas and babies in strollers. These Jews are white, black and Asian, Eastern European and North African. Some are Torah observant, and others are not. But every one of them/us/you grabs the gift of Shavuot with both hands and declares with our presence, “I’m here.  Count me in.”
On a personal level, the challenge remains for me to take my unbridled love out of the private sphere and learn to apply it while being jostled in the shuk or trying to ignore boom boxes on the beach in Tel Aviv. After all, there would seem to be no greater gift than discovering an ability to stand at the foot of the mountain with others and feel that we are finally worthy to receive God’s Torah.
I know what that feeling is called. It’s called love.

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