Day One in Israel: Day Six, March 30, 2012



By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they carried us away captive required of us a song…. How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem.

Psalm 137

“The children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem”? Isn’t Edom the name of the room where we met to write and share our reflections on this our first day in Israel?

When I was about to write this blog, I considered beginning it with the lyrics of a song by one of my favorite reggae singers, Jimmy Cliff. The title of the song: “By the Rivers of Babylon.” Then I thought, Jimmy Cliff wasn’t thinking of the children of Israel in captivity when he sang that song; he was thinking of Rastafarians who see the West as Babylon, Ethiopia as Zion, and Emperor Haile Selassie as God incarnate. No, here in Israel, I wasn’t going to use Jimmy Cliff’s song; I was going to use King David’s 137th psalm, which of course Cliff used for his song. As I was looking for the psalm, I came across another that made me think of the history of anti-Semitism and the violence against Jews – the violence that culminated in the Holocaust. In Psalm 109 King David wrote, “For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue. They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.”

These days, I have found myself hating writing about violence. On Tuesday last week, Corey asked me to write with him a blog on our Auschwitz-Birkenau visit. “Sure,” I said. On our way there I went to him and said, “Corey, I’m sorry. I can’t. I’d rather write about our trip to Israel.” “I understand,” he said kindly.

In retrospect, I’m glad I obeyed my instincts. Auschwitz-Birkenau numbed me. It silenced me. What could I write about silence? Arica had written about its eloquence so superbly before we embarked on this trip. The silence of the hair, the silence of the shoes, the silence of the shower room and the gas chamber told horrendous stories I could not find words for.

So this blog does not have a transition between Poland and Israel. Or, if there is one, it is the plane ride from Warsaw to Tel Aviv. At Warsaw airport, we were leaving death for life – the death of the Polish Jewry and the renaissance, to borrow Asia’s word, of an Israeli Jewry. On our way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I could not help but read in the greenery of the hills the ubiquity of life.

In its plentiful life, Jerusalem welcomed us with its paradoxes: its churches, its synagogues, its monasteries and its mosques. Regardless of the differences in our faiths, we all found in Jerusalem a place to call home.

I don’t know much about Israel’s music scene, but I bet it’s vibrant. No Jews are left in Babylon, whatever Babylon may be a metaphor for. Those that survived came back home, to Edom and other places in Israel, picked up their harps, and sang a joyful song unto the Lord.

~Gatsinzi Basaninyenzi

A dark and heavy curtain has been drawn behind us, and a collective sigh of relief can be heard throughout the room.  The assemblage of teachers, representing different geographical areas of our country, the United States, and with varied backgrounds, are swept away by the beauty of Israel. In every direction the eye beholds green.  Jacob, our guide, informs us that his people planted 380 million trees and transformed this small country.  My eye is caught by the contrast of purples and reds against the green that is the predominate color of Israel.  The scent of flowers in bloom fill our nostrils.  We are impressed when he continues with pride to inform us of the accomplishments his people have achieved within a few short years, one being that they have developed the technology to remove the saline from the water, making it usable for irrigation.  However, this new and modern state did not emerge without strife.  The young nation was forced to defend itself against the Arab nations that lay  claim to it as their own. In the recesses of my mind, I am reminded  of  the biblical story of David and Goliath.  We continue to learn that the Israeli have developed the infrastructure to make Israel what it is today.  Education ranks high on that list. The roads are easily navigated, and tomorrow will take us to sites that yesterday we only dared to dream of ever seeing.   New construction surrounds us on all sides.  Government buildings, schools, apartment buildings.  Older dwellings surround us as well.  Christian churches, Jewish temples,­­­­ and Mosques.  A few of the facts we learn as we drive through clefts of rock and up the steep slopes of surrounding hillsides are that Israel has a socialized medical care system that works, a social security system, and the system of drip irrigation that is used in our country was invented here.  A difference between American and Israeli youth is that  those that live here, male and female, must serve in the military, 3 year terms and 22 month terms respectively.  Jacob draws our attention to our left, our right, pointing out historical sites that we will visit during our stay.  “That is where Joseph of Aramathea lived.  This is where the tree was cut to make the cross that Jesus carried.  The stump is still there.  King David was buried here 3000 years ago, and that is where the Last Supper took place.”  The list continues.  The buildings, made from Jerusalem stone, glisten as the sun begins its descent.  Jerusalem, Universal City for all, we are happy to be your guest and look forward to our visit in your beautiful country.

~Brenda Johnston

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