About Me

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kochav Hashachar Diarist

We’re spending Shabbat with friends in Kochav Hashachar, a national-religious community of 300 families, comprising Kochav Hashachar itself, Maaleh Shlomo and Mitspe Kramim within the jurisdiction of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council. The population is roughly 1,500.
Kochav Hashachar is located on the “Allon Road” some 18 miles North of Downtown Jerusalem. The yishuv is situated toward the Eastern edge of the Judea-Samaria Mountain Range, overlooking the Jordan Valley.
We’re staying with the Rabbi and Rebbetzin (and their four children) who mentored my wife on her journey to a more religiously observant life. Though Rabbi Hillel is from the US, and his wife Aliza, is from South Africa, they met in Israel after making Aliyah and only later returned to the town of Port Elizabeth to serve as the community Rabbi for the town’s dwindling Jewish population.
I’m sitting on a quiet hill overlooking vineyards – grapes grown in Kochav Hashachar are purchased every year by Carmel Mizrachi for their red Fantasia Sparkling Wine – and, beyond that I can see the Jordan valley.
Israelis who live in communities beyond the green line differ in their motivation.  Some are secular and others religious.  Some are ideological and others motivated by the religious significance of Judea and Samaria in the context of Jewish history, and yet others induced by more practical reasons such as the lower cost of living relative to the major urban areas.  Still others find comfort in small town life, where they know all of their neighbors, and where parents feel safe allowing their children play and roam within the community.
What strikes me also about life here is the quiet, the stillness.
Occasionally when I read accounts of life in such Moshavim in the Guardian, the words I read conjure pictures of a place which seem to represent not life as it is, but life as a parable – stories and fictive illustrations in the service of satisfying popular and conventional mores.
I often wonder whether what many in the affluent, post-nationalist West find so alien about Israelis, particularly those who have settled across the green line, is their passion for place, the reverence we possess for this particular place over all others – an apt illustration of the failure of many to understand Jewish particularism more broadly.
To discriminate, in the positive sense of the word, means to distinguish accurately;  to elevate some places over others.  To discriminate means to choose.
When you choose to identify with a particular religious community, you choose that faith and that community and not others.  When you marry, you choose your mate over everyone else. 
Residents here have chosen Kochav Hashachar over all others.
Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Death and Life in Itamar

The entrance to the house where the Fogel family lived – until the brutal attack which consumed the lives of Udi and Ruth, and three of their small children – is still decorated with the note joyously announcing the recent birth of Hadas who, at three months, was the youngest Israeli victim on that fateful Shabbat evening.

I don’t entertain notions that my brief time in the Israeli Yishuv called Itamar, and conversations with the community Rabbi, Moshe, and his wife, Leah, could possibly provide a full picture of what life is like in this community of 1,000 – the vitality, nuance, and day-to-day rhythm which only those who call the place home can ever really accurately describe – but one thing is for certain: While reasonable people can certainly disagree on the broader social and political implications of such communities across the green line, as with so much of what passes for reporting from Israel, the frequent and, at times, horribly callous pejorative depictions of those who choose to live here have almost no resemblance to reality.

In listening to Moshe and Leah – who, in their late 40s, are young grandparents – speak of Itamar, the Yishuv that’s been their home for 27 years, what they quite emphatically spoke of was not enmity towards the perpetrators of the grisly attacks on Friday, no calls for revenge, but simply their love for their country, the spiritual significance of the area (Itamar lies very close to Schechem, where Joseph was buried), and their belief in their right to live there, consistent with their desire to live in a Torah-observant community.

“Hard-line”, “fanatical”, and “extreme” – language carelessly, and lazily, employed in the service placing the rich, nuanced, complicated and passionate lives of the residents of Itamar in a way conveniently consistent with one’s political edifice – represents nothing but dehumanizing hyperbole, and serves often to assuage the empathy and natural inclinations towards moral outrage over the suffering of “the other”. Such words are often little more than name-calling, malicious invectives masquerading as journalism and polemical meditation.

One of the common questions – or, more accurately, political litmus tests – most frequently posed by acquaintances back in the U.S., since I moved to Israel, is how I feel about the “settlers”.

Though I really never had a short and pithy reply for my interlocutors, I’m certainly now prepared to give a sincere and honest, though far less than exhaustive, answer: They are more than political abstractions and, whatever my thoughts about the decision to build and expand such communities, I will not be party to their demonization.

They are, simply, fellow citizens in the nation I love, and the place I now call home.

Young resident of Itamar