Last night we continued our Adult Education study of some of the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, Israel’s greatest modern poet. Here is a video of the class and here is a link to the poems we have been studying.
One of the poems we looked at is called “Tourists.” I had the privilege of hearing Amichai read this poem in person when it was fairly recently published. I want to share with you the final stanza:
Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side.
A group of tourists was standing around their guide
and I became their target marker.
“You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head
There's an arch from the Roman period.
Just right of his head.”
“But he’s moving, he’s moving!”
I said to myself: redemption will come
Only if their guide tells them,
“You see that arch from the Roman period?
It’s not important:
But next to it,
Left and down a bit, there sits a man
Who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”
What strikes me about some of my favorite Amichai poems is the “everydayness” they contain. For many tourists, Israel is treated as a sort of Jewish Disneyland. They visit the historical sights and may even seek out exotic adventures like sleeping in a Bedouin tent and going on a camel trip, but don’t get much opportunity to interact with Israel as a regular, living society. Riding the city bus or the light rail, going to a supermarket or a movie theater, eating in a restaurant without an English menu -- being a part of the “normal” Israel that is not geared to either Jewish or Christian tourists.
After discussing last night the “everydayness” of Amichai’s poetry, this morning I read a tribute to the late Vivian Silver -- someone who I vaguely knew but not well. Vivian Silver made aliyah from Canada and was one of the founders of Kibbutz Gezer. The group that founded Gezer consisted of Americans and Canadians who were mostly about ten years older than I am, many of whom were involved in the Jewish counterculture. Some of them remained in Israel and some of them came back to North America and played significant roles in the American Jewish community.
In 1990 Vivian Silver and her husband left Gezer and moved to Kibbutz Be’eri near the Gaza border. The author of the tribute in the Forward, Bradley Burston, was also one of the founders of Gezer and is today a columnist for Ha’aretz. He wrote:
“A one-of-a -kind visionary, a hands-on driving force in a staggering array of projects to address and heal the wounds and injustices of the peoples of the Holy Land, she worked tirelessly to bring Arabs and Jews together, helping to forge ties and working relationships between Bedouin and Jewish Israelis in the Negev, fostering contacts between Israelis and Gazans, striving for a shared society for Arabs and Jews throughout Israel, co-founding the Women Wage Peace organization. At one time, she was in charge of construction on Be’eri, making sure that the conditions and wages for Gazans working on the kibbutz were fair and fully met.
Even after she retired, Vivian volunteered for the Road to Recovery project, driving several times a week to the Gaza border to take Palestinian cancer patients to Jerusalem for treatment.
At the funeral on Thursday, the some 1,500 mourners gathered on the lawn at Gezer were testimony to my cherished friend Vivian’s life and work. Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, urbanites and kibbutznikim, speaking a shared language of long hugs and clear respect. Vivian had taught us all, by example, that the only hope for this country, the only future for this country, is Arab-Jewish cooperation on the basis of equality.”
Until earlier this week it was believed that Vivian Silver was one of the hostages in Gaza, because she was missing. But she had, in fact, been murdered on that dark Shabbat of Oct. 7. Her body was so badly damaged that it took six weeks for the pathologists to identify her.
Burston writes: “We failed to do enough to build the world she imagined. We failed to build a Holy Land that was safe for people to carry out the herculean mission of just living out ordinary lives, lives of growth and sweetness and naches and the dependable horizon of a future.”
The herculean mission of just living out ordinary lives. This is the same kind of “everydayness” of which Amichai wrote and it still eludes both Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel’s war against Hamas is just, and there will never be “lives of growth and sweetness” and the rest as long as Hamas continues to pursue its commitment to eliminate Israel and kill Jews. But once Hamas is eliminated, Israelis and Palestinians must figure out a way to live together, side by side, each building its own society. There is no other way.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. There will be no drop-in hours next week due to Thanksgiving. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian