Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Israel Meme

First off, thanks to Soccer Dad for tagging me for the Israel Meme.  The Israel Meme, created by Daled Amos, is an opportunity to share a story from my time in Israel.  Admittedly, this was tough for me, since I have so many interesting experiences from Israel, but I decided on a story from when I first moved to Israel, and I hope you like it.  Certainly, the process bought back great memories!

Near the end of 1995 I traveled to Israel for what was supposed to be a 6 month excursion and what turned into my making Aliyah. I was heading to an Ulpan at Kibbutz Beit Hashitah, and to be frank I think I was running away from Philly more than I was running to Israel.  I was looking for a new shot at some real happiness in my life, and in many ways, my last truly happy memories were from my last Israel trip in 1987.  

I arrived at Ben Gurion after midnight, and took a cab up to Beit Hashitah.  I got the key to my room, smoked a couple cigarettes, and tried to catch a few winks. Problem was, I was pretty excited, and had didn’t get much in the sleep department.  So at 5:00 am I got up, took a long walk, and settled in for a smoke in this beautiful grove on the Kibbutz with hundreds of baby trees.

I was staring at the mountain across from the kibbutz, puffing away at a cigarette, when a 70 year old man sat down next to me, and motioned for a cigarette. I gave him one and lit it up, wondering if he would be able to speak English.  He took a drag at the American Marlboro, pointed appreciatively at it while nodding to me.

The old man then answered my question by, without introduction, moving right into the story of the Mountain I was looking at, Mount Gilboa. His accent was thick but I understood every word, and remember his speech to this very day.  And at that moment, I knew for the first time I had found a home.

“That is Mount Gilboa, from the Torah. I know, you haven’t heard that story, but it’s there, you can look it up. Once, long ago in our history, Saul stood on that peak with his sons, with Jonathan, and David, mighty David not yet king, stood on the other peak. And beneath them, the Philistines were outnumbering us 100 to 1.”

“When Jonathan fell, Saul was so distraught he committed suicide….well, sort of. You know, a Jew won’t take his own life. He commanded his own aid to kill him. Oy, could you imagine having that job? Anyway, he did it, then went over to David and told him. David, yes, the one who slew Goliath. And that’s who he was, a warrior…not the type you want to upset, not the one you want to tell bad news.”

“Well, the aid learned it first hand, because David killed him right on the spot when he heard what happened to Saul. And then he said a curse. David looked at the two peaks of Gilboa, his peak where the Israelis, eh, they weren’t doing so bad, and the other peak, where Saul and Jonathan had died, and he said that the peak would turn to blood, and wash away everything living. Nothing would ever live there again.”

“Now the crazy thing is it happened. And of course the Philistines, they see this guy, who already was a very good warrior to say the least, turn a mountain to blood, killing all their friends over there, and they think, you know what, maybe it isn’t such a good idea to mess with him. And they left, and David became king.  And that is why, to this day, there are trees on one side, and the other side is bare.”

With that, the man got up, not even giving me a chance for introductions, nodded thanks for the cigarette, and walked off. Later I would find out that his name was also Saul, that he was a New Yorker who moved to Israel as a teenager in 1949, and that he had run the tree nursery, the largest in Israel, for nearly 50 years.

I worked for Saul in that tree nursery, starting at 4 am and planting nearly 4,000 trees, all of which were transplanted throughout Israel, a country that needs trees desperately.  It was hard work, but so fulfilling. And most of the time Saul was more or less quiet, never talking as much as he did that morning, when he didn’t eve know me.

I never forgot the story of Gilboa, and the way Saul told it. I’ve read the true account since, and been on the mountain, determined that the soil and sunlight are identical on both peeks.  There should be life on both sides of the mountain but there aren’t. And so every day I looked at proof of the validity of the Torah, or at least of that story, and was inspired by it. To me, this is the power of Israel, and it has touched my heart forever.

Oops, forgot, I need to tag 4 people to complete the post. Well, fortunately I have gotten to know many great Israeli writers through my blog, so I will tag Desert Peace, Ra'anana Ramblings, AbbaGav, and Meryl Yourish, assuming they all wish to participate.


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