In my previous column on June 8, I recounted the ominous geopolitical signs and wonders I saw on my recent trip to Israel. It was written during a dark night of the soul. But eventually the dawn did come.
Most of my trip was splendid. I traveled across Israel as part of BlueStar Fellows, a fabulous program that offers Bay Area college students Israel advocacy training, coupled with a fact-finding trip. The seven students, all from San Jose–area colleges, were a dream to work with. My role was to help them sharpen their journalistic skills. So I stuck a reporter’s notebook in their hands and made them write every day.
Though we did hear sobering assessments about Israel’s security situation, we also encountered plenty to cheer us. Often that came when we were focused on the long Jewish presence in the Land of Israel, something the country’s adversaries conveniently forget.
We toured Neve Tzedek, the earliest neighborhood of Tel Aviv, built decades before the city officially incorporated in 1909. The high-gated homes and narrow streets evoked a long-departed era from the 19th century, when Jews began returning in big numbers.
Going back further in time, we visited the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, its gorgeous white dome dominating the Jewish Quarter skyline. First erected in the 18th century, the synagogue was leveled three times (most recently by Jordan during the 1948 War of Independence) before being rebuilt for good in 2010.
The word “hurva” means “ruins” in Hebrew, so accustomed had Jerusalemites become to its destruction. It is ruined no more. Modern architects went to Turkey to uncover the original plans and restored the Hurva to its former glory.
Then there were the ancient Jewish olive and grape presses we saw at Psagot Winery in the hills east of Ramallah. This was indeed in the West Bank, on land hotly disputed today. But inside the cave where the presses were, we saw evidence that Jews have called this land home over the millennia.
Up north, we met IDF soldiers tasked with patrolling the Lebanese border. They allowed us to watch a few tank maneuvers (very cool) and shared their stories. All we could do was offer them a shopping bag full of goodies, and our thanks.
Easily the most extraordinary moment of the trip came right after that meeting. In the orchards of Kibbutz Malkiya, which runs right up against the Lebanese border, we planted a kiwi tree.
Picture this: Beyond the border fence, a long slope covered with poppy fields rises to a commanding height. On top lies a Hezbollah military installation. Just below it, militants dressed as shepherds spied down on the kibbutz.
We could see them plain as day, and with their binoculars they could easily see the whites of our eyes.
I wasn’t nervous. I figured there was no way Hezbollah would trigger an international incident by shooting a bunch of obvious tourists.
Yet there was something so brazen, so beautiful, about us standing there, practically in their faces, putting down a few more roots in the Land of Israel. I was dying to give them the finger, maybe even moon them “Braveheart”-style, but I didn’t want to test my theory.
Instead, I watched as the students took turns digging with a trowel, and then nested the sapling in the earth.
Symbolic though the act may have been, it was overwhelming for me to watch young Jews work the same land as their ancestors, while on the other side murderous thugs tended the poppy fields.
We grow fruit, they grow heroin.
I returned from Israel fed up with the world’s willful misapprehensions about the country, and the general ignorance of its countless beauties.
I came back from this trip utterly Zionized.
Enough to make aliyah? While I know one is never supposed to say never, I don’t think I’ll end up moving too far from Solano Avenue anytime soon. Instead, I think I’ll tough it out here in the uttermost West, doing what I can to help Israel flourish.
Dan Pine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.