This week we mark the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding. It is in every respect a remarkable milestone. Who would have thought, a century ago, that the Jewish people would have a place to call home? Who would have thought, as Hitler’s hate machine sought to eradicate an entire population, that we would have a place of safe haven? Even with its flaws and conflicts and countless scars, Israel is a truly special and holy place. It is a miracle and a blessing that we get to live in a time when Israel is a reality.
These days we would be tempted to associate Israel only with political controversy and strife. The news tells only of tension and pain in and around Israel. Those tensions are important but it is also important to remember that Israel is more than division or jarring headlines. It is a place of high art, multiculturalism, food, striking topography, geology, archeology, history, literature, scholarship and innovation. It is a rich and layered place of color and sound.
I wanted to share here some of the poetry of Israel. Below you will find the words of “Tourists,” written by the late Yehuda Amichai who, for many years, was the unofficial laureate of Israel, giving language to the complexities and contradictions of life there. It speaks to the need to see Israel in all of its wonder and glory, the everyday as well as the timeless. It urges us to remember that Israel is made up of actual people, with actual lives and unique stories – each of them. It encourages us to go past the headlines, past the so-called tourist stops and truly engage with every fact of our Holy Land.
I find these words particularly poignant and meaningful. Maybe you will too:
Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind the heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
And on the top of Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust over our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.
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 down and a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.’”