Friday, April 13, 2007

Meeting on the Israel Trail

I wanted to talk about an amazing project that is taking place in Israel at the moment. Here is the description of the project:

"After the recent war, we all felt shaken up; more than ever we sense the widening divisions in Israei society: centre and periphery, strong and weak, religious and secular. In order to preserve the togetherness and unity we invite you all to stride together with us in a trek nothwards: to connect, to become familiar with each other, to identify ourselves, to feel. Join us as we walk through the incredible scenery of the land..."

And each day, Israelis from all walks of life meet up at the starting point early in the morning; left wingers and settlers, religious and secular etc. and walk a portion of the "Israel Trail" a path that stretches the length and breadth of Israel.

They are walking from 1st of Nissan until Yom Haatzmaut! (exept Shabbat and Chag) From Tel Aviv to Shaar Yashuv in the North - near Kiryat Shmoneh.

Each day they:
- learn about a topic relating to Judaism and Israel and society. (From classic Torah mekorot to Israeli poetry and literature etc. On Fridays, they study the Parsha.)
- meet with a person/leader/poet/writer/activist who has changed Israeli society for the better

On the way they visit community centres to meet with Olim, voluntary organisations etc. And every night on Galei Tzaal, there is a 2 minute report on the day's activities!

So Zionism isn't dead! What a powerful project! What positive energies!

I have two comments to make in regard to this:

First, it is fascinating to watch how in the current Israeli reality of a pathetic government and corrupt leadership, that people-power is taking the lead. It is volunteer organisations who help the poor and needy before Pesach; it is chessed organisations that helped the Northern villages and towns under attack last summer, and now, we see that Zionism, societal unity, idealism sprouts from the grass-roots! Am Yisrael Chai!

Second, let me quote from Rabbi Sacks:

"Not far from were we live, in North-West London, is Regent's Park. Completed in 1827 and opened to the public in 1838 , it is ... a glorious mixture of lakes; tree lined avenues, open spaces for games, and flower-beds that for half the year are an impressionist masterpiece of blazing colour. There are coffee shops and restaurants, a zoo and open-air theatre, and a magnificent rose garden. There are places for children to play and for people to have picnics or row-boats on the lake or simply stroll and enjoy the view.

...At most times of the day it is full of people relaxing, talking, drinking coffee, reading the papers, jogging, walking, exercising the dog, meeting friends or just enjoying the sight of other people enjoying themselves. The point about it is that it is a public place. It is a place where we can all go, on equal terms... the park itself is ours. In it we are equal citizens. And because we enjoy it and want it to be there, we keep the rules, usually without having to be told.

... For me, the park is a metaphor for a concept ... namely, society. Society is a vague and complicated idea and it is easier to say what it isn't than what it is. It isn't the state, it isn't the market, it isn't a mere aggregation of private individuals.

... Where is society?

The simple answer is that it is everywhere in general and nowhere in particular. It is an abstract concept, but we encounter its presence wherever we go, from the 'Good Morning' we share with neighbours to the television programmes we watch at night. But should someone say, that is still too vague to understand, I would show them the park." (Politics of Hope. pgs 41-43)

Israeli society is fragmented. Every neighbourhood is characterised and segmented. The city is already a place in which we irritate each other. We prefer to live in separated zones, dislocated sectors. And hence it is not surprising, but quite fascinating that the place in which we can go to meet each other, the arena in which we might express and explore our unity - our society - is out in nature; on the trails and footpaths, the steep hills and picturesque valleys. On the other hand, the incredible natural beauty of our land and the Biblical landscapes of our beloved Eretz Yisrael should be enough to arouse a sense of love and mutual fraternity in us all.

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