from the land

parshat lech lecha

In a previous post walking without pretext, I explore the lost Jewish gestalt of pilgrimage. It is one of my favorite posts since I was contacted by the author of a book that I quoted (A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful by  Gideon Lewis-Kraus) with gratitude for a “thoughtful blog post” and gladness that I enjoyed his book.  Writers of books and blogs love positive feedback!

In today’s post, I’d like to explore the flip side of lech lecha.  (Genesis 12: 1)

Now the LORD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ

The word “Land” אָרֶץ ‘erets appears twice in the verse. Later in the Hebrew Bible, when the word “land” is used without modification, it refers to ‘erets yisrael, the Land of Israel.  In modern Hebrew, when one makes reference to “b’arets” (in the land) one is referring to Israel.  In this specific verse, clearly the first reference to “land” is to Abram’s land of birth, probably in the modern land of Iraq.  Using a small dose of poetic license, I would suggest that for the lech lecha gestalt to take full effect, one must both leave one’s land and go to one’s land… at the same time.

To really arrive in a new land, or for the Jew or Israeli, to truly arrive in a new Israel, he or she must both move away and towards the land.  When this happens, there is real progress.. there is real lech lecha.

Such a moment happened recently (this week) when Reuven Rivlin became the first President of Israel to attend the annual memorial ceremony commemorating the 1956 massacre at Kafr Kassem.  According to the headline in the Times of Israel “Rivlin condemns ‘terrible crime’ of Kfar Kassem massacre. President says Jews and Arabs must draw lessons from killing of 49 civilians in village by border policemen in 1956.”  It seems to me, that for Israeli leaders to recognize the crimes that were committed while establishing the modern State of Israel is an important step for Jewish Israelis in rejecting bigotry and racism and entering the next stage of redeeming the land.  It also provides a much needed example for Arab Israeli citizens as they create a narrative that both embraces their privileged citizenship in the only true democracy in the Middle East without having to betray their parents and grandparents suffering and victimization.  In order to move on (lech lecha) all Israelis need to recognize a past without artificial sweeteners while embracing a shared future. For more on the importance and implications of Rivlin’s historic act see Daniel Gordis: Israel’s Overdue Reckoning With Its Arab Citizens

In November 0f 2013 I was privileged to glimpse such a future.  I was in Jerusalem with my wife and our good friends Nachum and Chani from Tel Aviv told us about a weekend of tours scheduled in and around Jerusalem called Open House Jerusalem; part of the international movement www.openhouseworldwide.org.  They were going on a tour called Lifta – A Look from Within.  According to the blurb:

The tour will be led by the architect Shmuel Groag, who heads the Conservation Unit at Bezalel`s Department of Architecture. He will examine the village of Lifta from its architectural, anthropological and environmental aspects, as a site earmarked for preservation that is unique not only in Jerusalem, but in all of Israel.

The tour which was conducted in Hebrew and for Israelis (not tourists or a visiting mission) was extremely well attended.  We learnt about the unique architecture of this Arab town and it’s history. Most importantly we learnt of the controversy and legal fights to save Lifts from demolition and to make way for more Jerusalem housing sprawl.  We learnt of the movement by both Arab and Jewish Israelis to preserve the ruins of Lifta as a heritage site. For more (much more) on the history, significance and status of Lifta see: In the Midst of the Ruins: Activists Struggle to Save the Palestinian Village of Lifta, Tikkun Magazine, by Marc Kaminsky, May 2, 2013.  The author of the article took a similar tour as we did.

What I would like to add to the historical record is a video shot by my friend Nachum of the highlight of my tour… a chance meeting between our tour of Israelis and a grown son with his 80 year old father, returning to Lifta on the annual occasion of the father’s birthday.  As I watched, it occurred to me that this father and son were doing what many of us do… going back to the old country to visit the village they were born in… only the residents of Lifta resettled just a few kilometers away.  What struck me was the dignity of both of them, especially the dad who just wanted to get the dust off of his trousers.  These were not people stuck in victimhood.  They were well dressed and had clearly made a new life for themselves, even reestablished a community of Lifta; outside of Lifta.  To my eyes, these two generations of witnesses we met, showed no malice as they pointed out homes of well known families in the town, the mosque, shops and local workshops… all destroyed.  As important was the respect and profound interest of the Jewish Israeli visitors.

To me it was a Lech Lecha moment.  Watch for yourself.

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Filed under Bible, Israel, Pilgrimage, Religion, Torah, Zionism

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