Sunday, July 13, 2014

Goodbye to the Desert, Hello Tel Aviv

Ancient roots and Modern commitment:

One of the most important archaeological sites in Israel is Tel Arad, outside of the Negev city, Arad, where we have spent Shabbat in the warm hospitality of the city and our sister congregation Shira Hadasha.

Tel Arad:

This enormous site spans centuries of human habitation.  In the valleys and caves of the region, early bronze age habitation is clear. By the 10th-8th centuries before the common area, during the early Israelite monarchies, the city of Arad is large and fortified.  Within one finds a temple structure with Canaanite relics as well as the earliest example of the "House of God" terms using the unique Hebrew name for God Y-H-V-H. Was this site a mix of theological beliefs, representing an early time before monotheism had completed its ascendancy in Israelite society? One thing is certain: Israelites, believers in Y-H-V-H, echoing the early temple in Jerusalem, lived here for several centuries during Biblical times.

This is not a surprise, as the Torah's memory of its earliest history is down south: in and around Beer Sheva. Here Abraham and Sarah settled, Isaac and Rebecca married, and Jacob returned to dwell with his wives Rachel and Leah.  All lived in the south of modern Israel, not Jerusalem, nor the North. 


While in the isolated and comfortable parking lot of Tel Arad, we talked about the missiles being fired by the dozen daily at Israel in the south and along the coast.  We were about to turn west towards Beer Sheva and for the next four days we would be certain to hear the air raid warning sirens, and need to move to safe places and bomb shelters.  This is an important part of being in Israel and loving Israel.  This is simply what we must do, and I am so proud of my congregation for facing it without fear or hesitation.  We learned how to be safe, and had a practice drill for leaving a bus in an open area, and remaining calmly on the ground for the time necessary to let the danger pass.

Perfect practice drill!! Way to go, folks.

Ne'ot Kedumim:

We said Good-bye to the desert and turned north, to Neot Kedumim outside of Modin, along the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem highway.  Here we enjoyed a picnic lunch under the shade of an enormous carob tree, surrounded by the biblical plants and spices of our land.




  Fruit of the vine

And of course, we participated in a prayer for God's blessing on the land and a symbolic tree planting ceremony thanks to the Jewish National Fund.




Tel Aviv:

We travelled on to Tel Aviv, and checked into our hotel. I had not been in my room 5 minutes when we heard the sirens blow.  Calmly we went to the bomb shelter, as I marked the time on my watch.  In Tel Aviv you have 90 seconds to get to safety - quite a long time, really.

At 65 seconds we found our way into the shelter, sat down, and talked about our day.  5 minutes later the all clear sounded, and we returned to our room.  Turning on the news, we learned that two missiles fell in the streets of Ashkelon to our south and two others headed to Tel Aviv were destroyed by the Iron Dome anti-missile system which the Obama administration has always supported aggressively. No one was hurt. Just as we practiced, and done without surprise or anxiety.

Iron dome anti-missile system in action over Tel Aviv.

After a seaside swim in the pool, we had a wonderful dinner out together, enjoying Israeli appetizers, chicken skewers and shared thoughts about Arad, Israel and our own community.  Israel trips are magical in how they change people's attitudes and understanding of both Israel and our own relationships. To watch the new friendships and respect grow between members of B'nai Shalom who didn't know each other just a few short months ago is intensely gratifying for a rabbi. As we enter our last few days here, I know that my hopes are already fulfilled for each of them.

Tomorrow we return to the past in Ceasaria, Atlit and Zikhron Ya'akov, among other stops. We will see the story of the first modern Jewish settlement of Israel, and return to our question of Zionism.  What is Zionism at all, and what is it in our day? At a time when terrorists daily shoot missiles at our cities, we must know who and what we are if we are to face them.  Only from a deep understanding of our place in the Zionist dream, and its worth, can we know for sure that the sacrifices are small compared to the achievements that we are privileged to see happening every day in this remarkable country.

...more tomorrow...

Rabbi Robert L. Tobin

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