French Israel

Monday, April 12, 2004

How I spent my spring vacation

Pessa'h [Passover] just ended tonight, and I will soon be chowing down on spaghetti, unlike many of my friends who are still in holiday mode and doing an eighth day because they intend to live outside of Israel. Sorry, guys.

For the traditional Sepharadi world, tonight and tomorrow (or tomorrow night and Wednesday for those living outside of Israel) is the time for the Mimouna. There is an excellent article describing all the customs and traditions, the mouffletas and beach-side barbecues, the community mingling and shiddou'him [potential marriage matches] that occur now, immediately following Pessa'h.

Of all the Jewish holidays, Pessa'h must be my favourite. Are we allowed to choose a favourite? Pourim and 'Hanouca were contenders in past years, and Succoth might be someday, if I can ever understand it. Let's say that I am most predisposed to enjoying this one because I have more memories of it than the others, and because it's replete with such wonderful meanings. As enigmatic as Succoth can be, Pessa'h goes out of its way to explain its beautiful complexity. Let me sum up a few of things I've learned over the last few years, in 50 words or less, and be yotsei.

Time passing, year after year, on the Jewish calendar could be viewed as a spiral instead of a straight line. Each holiday is on the same point in the spiral as the ones in the years before it and in the years after it. And through those holidays you could draw a line, a channel of meaning and energy particular to that holiday.

Pessa'h, in short, is Independence Day. But instead of being won with a war, our independence is handed to us. I say "handed" in the present tense because it happens every year. "Unlike other Jewish holidays," writes Rabbi Pinchas Winston of Telstone, "the spiritual light that flows down from Above during the first half of the first night of Pesach is a Heavenly gift. Whereas the rest of the year we must do something to draw the light down, Leil Seder the light comes down on its own regardless of what we do as it does every year at this time, ever since the first Seder in Egypt while the firstborn of Egypt were being killed."

The pattern set for Pessa'h can be used each year. Whatever we are trying to accomplish, whatever liberty we are trying to achieve from whatever tyranny, we get a boost so that we can accomplish it. More than usual, that is.

Unlike in the U.S., 'Hol HaMoed Pessa'h [the week between the first and the last day, which are rest days like Shabbath] in Israel is not a time to come to work late every morning and show your coworkers how bizarre you are for not drinking out of the coffee machine. Nor is it a time to keep Kroger afloat for five months by buying macaroons and jelly candies that you never would have eaten the rest of the year. I seriously suffered no deprivation here. In my next entry I hope to highlight some of the food that was available this past week.

Tonight, however, I want to mention briefly a one-day voyage I made on Wednesday, the first day of 'Hol HaMoed. The advertisement was posted around the neighbourhood for a couple of weeks. In one day, you could take a bus trip from Jerusalem to the Galil and back, with excursions into Na'hal Shofet (Park Ramat Menashe, off the Israeli route 66), Ma'arath HaKesheth (a mountain with easy climbing to the top), Shmourath Na'hal Iyoun (with the supposedly widest waterfall in Israel), and a kayaking venture on the Yarden [Jordan River]. A good time had by all. In reality, we skipped the waterfall because, said our tour guide, there had not been much water there lately. Instead, we went kayaking on the Yarden after Ma'arath HaKesheth, and then headed to Tiveria [Tiberias], where we sat in traffic beside the Kinnereth for about 45 minutes, and finally ended the day by going home.

You professional photographers will become nauseous at the sight of my less-than-seamless stitching here, as in the photo above, but give me a break: these shots were taken with a PDA (a Palm ZIre 71, to be precise). This demonstrates what has got to be the most dramatic scenery I have seen in Israel thus far. It is at the Ma'arath HaKeshet ["Rainbow Cave"], at the top of a mountain that affords a view of the highest and the lowest points in the Galil. At the right of this panorama is the trail leading up the mountain from the highway. In the middle are the plains below, and the Mediterranean Sea; our tour guide told us there was a farm in those plains that was partly in Israel, partly in Lebanon. On the left side of the photo is the edge of the actual Ma'arath HaKeshet, which is open on the top and on the side.

We then travelled east, passing north of Tspath and entering just into the edge of the Golan for kayaking on the Yarden. So I did my first Jordan crossing, as alluded to earlier on this Blog. On the way, our bus wound its way around many beautiful mountains, most of them just as lushly green as they were uninhabited. This photo does not do the area justice, but it is the one moment I happened to take a snapshot. It was hard to believe that we were still in Israel, whose capital city is replete with trash, crowds, and ghetto landscaping.

Would it be so difficult just to build a small town out here? Put a cottage on each hill, relay them with little roads to the center, where all the necessities can be found? There are some neighbourhoods of Yerushalayim that don't even have so much -- Givath Mordekhai, for example: no bank, no post office, etc. -- and yet thousands of people live in apartments stacked one on top of another. The Galil isn't even disputed territory.

I'm guessing that I'm not the first to think of this idea, and that there is some incredible reason it's not being done. Whoever owns the land doesn't want to sell it; they can't afford to ship in low-paid Arabic labourers everyday....

Someone please fill me in. And don't tell me there aren't enough Israelis, with no need for housing.

As I said, our final drive took us through Tiveria, where we contemplated taking a boat ride into the Kinnereth [Sea of Galilee], but opted to go home instead, after Arvith [evening prayers] at the kever [gravesite] of Rabbi Meïr Ba'al HaNess. There I witness something I never would have seen in America: a popular turnout, families having barbecues, children helping to light candles beside the gravesite complex. Nothing official, nothing formal, nothing self-conscious, no uniform on these mostly traditional families turning up to a holy site on their first free day.

Z'man 'hérouténou. The time of our freedom.
PinḼas Ivri 23:10


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