We’re marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel with a year-long celebration! Keep an eye out for “Memphis Celebrates Israel at 70” branding at your synagogue, at events around town, and online. In this My Israel Story series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell?
Rabbi Cantor David Julian is the spiritual leader at Or Chadash Conservative Synagogue.
Israel is Ours, Israel is Yours, Israel is Real
Claire and I have just returned from a nice long visit to HaAretz (Israel; literally “The Land”). We visited friends, family, and some traditional tourist sites; daily hiked along trails – from the arid (but blooming) Negev to the Golan in the north with its lush mountain forests, rushing rivers and glorious waterfalls – massive and dramatic after a winter and spring blessed with sorely needed abundant rains; enjoyed spelunking in several cave sites, some of which rival Carlsbad; and engaged in a mildly terrifying cliff-hugging, stone-gripping, white-knuckle hike down (and then up!) hundreds of feet through the narrow gorge aptly named Red Canyon, just west of Eilat along the Egyptian border.
In the Negev, specifically in the Biblically important region of Paran (where you can look eastward and see Petra nestled on the hills of Jordan), we had the pleasure of touring my cousin Nir’s pepper farm: a seemingly endless expanse of greenhouses where he grows red and yellow bell peppers, mostly for export throughout the world, including the United States. The truly zaftig and startlingly delicious peppers – on which we snacked during our stroll – are sorted by massive, hi-tech machinery, routed by conveyor belts and workers to varied packaging and boxes, and carefully labeled to please the sensitivities of the recipient population (from time to time his label appears on the multicolored packs of peppers at Costco).
On one such visit I asked Nir about the apparent ease with which he is able to drip-irrigate his massive farm, considering the arid surrounding land. That inspired a smile and a fifteen-minute gentle hike up a path to a hilltop on the edge of his farmland. As if transported to another realm, upon cresting the hill, our eyes beheld a modern-day miracle: there, right in front of us, was a spectacular placid lake that extended for several kilometers to the south and east. He grinned at our shock and awe, and explained that “the American group Hadassah decided to help us make the desert bloom, and paid for this reservoir …” using modern technology to catch runoff, and pipe in water in cooperation with Jordan – who also benefits from the lake.
In every visit we do our best to visit and hike top to bottom, side to side, all the while rejoicing in the extraordinary miracle that our people has created against impossible odds and so-called insurmountable obstacles. But we perceived that there is annoying frustration with the oft repeated accusation that Israel is an “apartheid” state, an irritation that is palpably annoying to the citizenry.
Wherever we went, on sidewalks and in shopping sites, banks and post offices, mountain trails, tourist sites – even on the Temple Mount – people of all hues and dress mixed and mingled with not a hint of either friction or concern. On our visit to a series of glorious waterfalls, which required up-and-down, round-trip hikes on narrow trails and bridges along the rushing Iyyun River, busloads of high school children from Arab schools happened to be our “trekking companions”, greeting us as they passed us by or surrounded us in shared amazement at the Niagara-like spectacles. Many of these bright-eyed youngsters asked us where we were from, always with smiles and graciousness, speaking with us easily in good Hebrew and hesitant English. Some knew of Memphis and commented about the misfortunes of our “Greezleez”.
Referencing the end of the Book of Exodus, it’s time: time for everyone to participate in furthering the miracle of the 70th year since Israel’s rebirth. How? Visit! Think of it as “targeted donations” when you hire a guide, enjoy novel cuisine in a restaurant, ride in a cab or on a bus or the exquisite light rail, over-tip a waiter, stay in a hotel, immerse yourself in the cultural wonders on display indoors and in the national parks. Do it before you cannot! Go – then come back and inspire others. We should talk.