Dateline March 28, 2015: Today I stood with my father on the top of the Golan Heights and I understood in a much more visceral way than ever before why Israel will never relinquish this strategic outpost. I returned my father to Jerusalem later that afternoon and started to make my way to the airport. On the drive down Highway 1 from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport for my flight home, a song involuntarily emits from my lips. Lo yisa goi el goi cherev v’yilmadu od milchama ( Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Nor shall they study war anymore )…
This is not my fight per se, but it is the fight of the decent Israelis (Arabs and Jews) everywhere. And, sadly I fear they are loosing…
The difference is both palpable and unexpected. There is an air of resignation amongst my Israeli friends. The separation wall to them represents only the hope of a cold peace. The enthusiasm and optimism of 23 years ago is largely dead. With that in mind, my Israeli friends all seem to think the separation is desirable. None of them are convinced the current Palestinian leadership seeks a peaceful resolution.
My visit, this time, started out in the Ben Gurion Airport six days prior on March 22nd where I met my 86 year old father who had flown in from his home in Frankfurt for this, his very first trip to Israel. Together we made our way to the new Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem. A wonderful, yet pandering to the religious, hotel.
Perhaps it was my age and obliviousness that colored my view of Jerusalem in 1992. I hardly remember it as being so religious. Sure, there were religious Jews, but the level of religiosity seemed out of control this time around. When Stephen Kahn and I made the rounds in the June week before Rabin’s election in 1992, I don’t recall observing so many jews in Black Hats and Coats glaring at me.
The following morning my father and I woke up and made our way to the Jaffa Gate to visit the Kotel. It is a longer and harder than expected journey for him, the street is narrow and the path is downhill with lots of steps. This is actually one of the few places in Jerusalem where Moslems, Jews, and Christians seem to have a comfortable coexistence. I suspect it is fueled by economic opportunity, in so much as if there is conflict here, the tourists like us will stay away.
In 1992, down by the Kotel, I was admonished for being improperly dressed ( shorts and a tank top mind you ), this I can understand. This time I was dressed more “modestly” and my father and I made the right turn on to Ha-Kotel Street and proceeded without objection to the Western Wall.
ASIDE: There is an interesting tradition in religious one-up-manship here in the old city. When you look from the sky at the Kotel, you see the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque which sits squarely on the site of the old Second Temple. Likewise the room purported to have hosted Jesus and his disciples for the Last Supper sits squarely on top of the Tomb of King David. I guess there is some sense that you can squash a religious tradition and enhance your own by building on top of an early dominant religion’s holy sites.
Also, of some interest to history buffs, especially with some appreciation for today’s hostility between Israel and Iran, the construction of the Second Temple was completed under the leadership of the last three Jewish Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi with Persian approval and financing.
The Kotel was a powerful experience for my father, who, like me, is spiritual but not very religious. We talk about the importance of the site to so many people and the unfathomable ( to us ) ideas that the Haredim have about so many things. Why can Women not pray with the men if they so choose? Why do the Haredim here all look so anxious all the time? Why are they always trying to get other people to pay for their lives – is the daily study of Torah that valuable to society?
Rhetorical questions of course.
Next we make our way to מרכז רפואי שערי צדק (Shaare Zedek) a hospital which my family from Germany helped finance the start of and continues to support to this day. With the permission of the Ottoman Turks, the original facility was built on Jaffa Road about 3 miles ( 2km ) outside the Old City. It was the first hospital to be built outside the old city and at the time it was considered very risky. Fast forward to the time when terrorist attacks in Jerusalem reached a peak in 2001-2004, Shaare Zedek treated more victims than any other hospital in Israel. The hospital’s trauma unit located within its Weinstock Department of Emergency Medicine on the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Floor has become a model for emergency medicine and handling large-scale mass casualty incidents.
My father’s sister ( Hannah Wagner ) who passed away last summer left another large sum of money and they invited us to tour the facility if we found ourselves in Jerusalem. I had made arrangements two weeks prior and a lovely Audrey Gross met us and gave us a wonderful tour. It was interesting to hear about the things they find important – friendly staff, consideration for relatives who need to stay near sick loved ones, the state of the art NICU. It was astonishing to find out that they believed they were the only folks interested in such things. I invited them to come to Boston to check out our efforts along similar lines.
After the tour, we made our way to our cousin Gustel’s house. It is in a rather religious neighborhood which was of some surprise to my father who thinks of Gustel as not very religious. We come to find out that she is taking care of her brother Martin ( who is religious ) and this place has the facilities to make sure he gets the 24 hour a day care he needs -interestingly provided by live in hindu workers.
Gustel gives us the lay of the land as it were and let’s us know that some 25 to 30 relatives will be attending the family get together my father and I have booked for Tuesday night. She is keen to make contact with my cousin David Horovitz and many others. She is clearly the glue of the family in Israel. At 92 she leans in to tell me that my father looks too frail to be traveling on his own.
Later that night arrives Baruch. My father has not seen Baruch in 60 years. They were best mates growing up and the love between them is instant and obvious. Over a cup of tea, Baruch tells us that his daughter ( who has been sick with cancer ) has just woken up and started talking at the hospital. This was a big turn because she has been so sick and the cancer had spread to every organ at this point.
I recognized this as what I call the bounce. That last effort many people make to connect with their relatives about 5 to 7 days before they actually die. I told Baruch there was not a moment to waste and we should go right away to the hospital – Shaare Zedek as it turns out. We arrive quickly by cab and Baruch takes us arm in arm with him in the middle through the hospital to his daughter’s bedside.
As we walked I felt the eyes, the deeply hostile penetrating eyes of the Haredim most in the company of my Cousin Rabbi Baruch Horovitz. Those who walked by us seemed incredulous that my cousin should be anywhere near us. As it turns out, it was not my youthful obliviousness. Most people who have been coming and going in Israel assure me that things in Jerusalem have taken a severe religious turn for the worse.
When we arrived at Channah’s bedside my fears were confirmed. Her family was talking as if a great miracle were happening and I pulled some of them aside to encourage them to spend as much time with her while she was awake – as there might not be much time left.
[Epilogue: sadly, Baruch’s daughter did pass away that Saturday… Some of the family now think I’m prescient. ]
The next day was the family reunion. I have relatives on all sides of the Israeli equation it turns out. I have leftist Kibbutznik relatives. I have centrist Software engineers as relatives. I have a center right Journalist. I have religious Y’Shiva running relatives, and I even have what I like to call “Part of the Problem” Settler relatives. Mind you the Settlers are not so fond of my characterizations.
On Wednesday my father and I split Jerusalem with great speed to head first North to Kibbutz Giv’at Haim Ihud to see where my father almost wound up had he chosen to immigrate from London to Israel rather than to the United States. We met there with one of our cousins we had met the night before. It is located around 5 kilometres south of Hadera in Israel. It was founded in 1932 by European immigrants, it was originally called Kibbutz Gimel, but was later renamed in honour of Haim Arlosoroff, who was assassinated in 1933.
The kibbutz split in 1952 in the wake of ideological differences between supporters of the two main socialist parties, Mapai and Mapam. This created two new and separate kibbutzim:
We have relatives on both sides of the equation and it makes for interesting conversations. Also, having been founded by Germans who were very conservative with their investments, both Kibbutzim are doing quite well today.
Soon we are off to Tel Aviv. That whole experience will be in another post. And the last post in this series will address the deep concerns I came away with on this journey.
It’s the third time I’ll be visiting Israel and the first time since right around the time Rabin was elected in June of 1992. Interestingly I’ll be visiting just after another Israeli Legislative election while the majority party is trying to negotiate with other smaller parties to create a coalition large enough to govern. Always an interesting time to visit.
I’m on approach to JFK when The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys starts in on my headset and I start to think about what a perfect song it is.
The spirit is something no one destroys. Landing in NY for my brief transit stop on my way to Tel Aviv this is a fun reminder of my youth.
On my flight from Boston I met a man who clearly came from a place of pain. He was recovering from a shotgun blast to the leg. From the looks of things, this might have been an expected outcome based on his lifestyle ( several obvious gang tattoos ). We talked a bit about how meditation might help him get a little bit of control over his pain and his life.
Oh yeah – I’m on a bit of a meditation kick lately. Not that folks from the north east are very open to this sort of thing. In fact, you might as well say you are vacationing with ISIS for the looks you get back from folks when you mention you have re-started a meditative practice around here.
At any rate, I find myself thinking about the relatives. My father will meet me at the airport tomorrow. He’s flying in from Frankfurt and we land about the same time.
The last few times I have been to Israel I hadn’t given a second thought to the fact that 1/2 of my family who fled Germany in 1938 wound up in what was then Palestine. Now, with so many of them in their late eighties and early nineties, I regret not seeing them and keeping in better touch all these years.
My father and I will be hosting a family reunion of sorts at the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem on Tuesday night. It will be an opportunity to meet so many people I have known of, but not seen since I was a very little boy – if ever.