I have a lot of questions. These are not new questions; in fact, I’m sure they have been asked in every possible permutation, in every possible language. They are almost as common as ‘מה נשמע’? I’m talking about the questions like ‘What does it mean to be Jewish?’ ‘Where does Israel fit in the life of a Diaspora Jew?’
These questions don’t have simple answers. If they did, they could be taught, like physics; tested, like chemistry. Instead, every single person undergoes their own inculcation of meaning through the repeated call-and-response we experience as part of our daily lives. “Why are you in Israel” is no longer a simple question. For me, “to learn about permaculture design” is only a half-truth; I certainly am here for that, but the more important question I’m here to answer is “to learn about ‘Why Israel?’”
I didn’t start exploring my sense of Jewishness until about 2 years ago. I had known I was a Jew since I was 12, but it was just a word. I knew my family was Russian, had a famous cantor, a matriarch deeply invested in Beth Israel. I called myself Jewish, and it seemed to fit; but fit like a thrift-store blazer. I promised myself I would talk to a Rabbi about all these questions at University. I promised myself every so often over a period of two years. The question itched, but never quite enough to spur me to action.
I had heard about Birthright ever since I turned 18. About what an experience it is. About how special the people are. About how, if nothing else, it is a nice, free ten-day party bus. I signed up for my Stanford-Santa Cruz Hillel bus group and off to Israel I was shipped, a camp-sized group of 40.
In spite of, or perhaps due to, my impartial nature to Israel, I start falling left and right for things. The sea outside Akko. The desert mountains of Judea. Yael, my fabulous guide, helping me beyond Birthright. I got Bar Mitzvah’d, at the age of 21. I finally made the promise to the Hebrews that so many make without thinking. In a way, it scared me.
I never want to live in Israel. I never have, and in a lot of ways, I hope I never will. Does this mean I’m less of a Jew? What if I’ve never read the Torah, never atoned for my sins, never understood the language? How can I possibly keep the promises I made? Is there some sort of psychical investment that I’m missing?
A dear friend of mine is traipsing through the mountains of Bolivia right now. She muses on the pieces of herself, being deposited in that foreign soil – how can we possibly recover from that loss? It’s funny she mentioned leaving pieces of herself, and feeling some sort of loss. I intend to leave pieces of myself all over Israel. If I leave enough of myself here, perhaps I’ll give myself permission to take pieces of Israel back with me.
I must be doing SOMETHING of that sort, because no matter how much I leave behind, I feel more and more full up; almost ready to burst. How could that be, if those pieces are left and our selves not repaired?
Maybe that sort of thing isn’t linear. Maybe I’m taking the same bit of Israel that my ancestors did, or what my children may. Maybe I’m taking the same bit that Tari, or Matt, or Becca will. Perhaps they take a bit of Me that I’ve left, and think it’s Israel. These little bits and bytes, perhaps paralleled in our written binary, are shared, combined, recombined, composed and laid down in new growth every moment of every day.
We so often think of things with Trajectories. With Origins, Destinations, Midpoints. We think of Accomplishment.
Yet one of the most important lessons we learn in Permaculture is to close the cycle. Linear cannot exist. Flat, in a way, also does not exist.
The same friend talked about her own trajectories, feeling lost by standing still in those mountains. I talked about her trajectories like this: Right now, it seems like they’re vertical – searching both up and down, in a single location. I wonder if there is more to be found above and below any situation, versus around it.
In Hebrew, the three-letter root of a word creates families. Like, to make aliya is to Ascend to Israel. To go up. It has the same root as La’alot, to go up. Maybe looking up, looking down, both take you to a higher place. It’s just like Kedem and Kadima – you can’t go forward without knowing the past.
Movement through space is only one kind of movement, and it seems it has been traded not for static, but for a new dynamic. I’ve become tired of horizontal motion myself; that’s why I’m trying to explore Israel, even by literally digging down.
Tonight, I pulled up onions for dinner. I dug down to what once grew up. All around us, I notice there is more going up and down than out and around. Cycles are never in two dimensions, are they?
Right now, that is my answer to “Why Israel” – circles on a page. Fennel growing up, in all it’s bifurcated glory. Beets growing down, in all their meaty tuberosity. Pretty soon, we’ll be planting squash, and I think those will be an apt metaphor as well, come summer. I could also say I’m Garlic – the seed was planted months and months ago, and soon, very very soon, it will be ready for harvest.
Until then, I’m going to think of a better ‘Hello.’