Galilee Diary: Galilee encounters

February 2, 2010Rabbi Marc J. Rosenstein

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in
Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)

Do not uproot what has been planted Do not forget the hope Return me and I shall return To that goodly land.
-Naomi Shemer

So, rabbi, what do you do all day anyway? Wednesday I spent the day with 50 students from HUC, spending their first year in Israel before beginning their studies at the stateside campuses. The day included three encounters:

Iman is a 21 year old religious Muslim woman studying to be an English teacher. She has been working with us for a few years, speaking to groups, organizing encounters with her classmates. She is bright, thoughtful, poised, extremely articulate in English, and honestly ambivalent about her relations with her Palestinian - and Israeli - identity and culture. One of 17 children in a working-class family, recently married to a Technion graduate, she is a fascinating case study in the transitions that the Israeli Arab community is experiencing.

Kamla is in her 30s, from the village next to Iman's. We ate a delicious middle-eastern lunch (vegan) at her home where the first floor has been made into a sort of makeshift dining room for groups (mostly she caters out). About a dozen years ago she fought (sometimes literally) her husband's clan's opposition to her going out to work, and got a job as an occasional chambermaid at a nearby kibbutz guest house... which led to work in the dining room... which led to her learning from the cook... which led to a job as chef's assistant at our dining room at Shorashim... which led to her opening her own falafel restaurant in the village... which led to a full-fledged catering operation throughout the north and even center of the country. She suffered a setback two years ago when her husband's brother was involved in a vendetta that forced the whole clan into exile - she had to give up the professional kitchen she had built at home and operate out of a rented house in another village. But a "sulcha" has been arranged, and the family is about to return home. Her dream: a line of fresh gourmet foods to be sold in fancy shops - and a kashrut certificate.

Amin was 13 when his village of Saffuriyeh was conquered by the Israeli army in 1948. He met us at the cemetery of the destroyed village, now the moshav and national park Zippori. He is a gentle, soft-spoken, sweet fellow. He told us his story, and expounded his belief that there will only be true peace when all those Palestinians forced out will be allowed to return, and the Jews and Arabs can go back to living together here "without Zionism."

Thursday was our annual community Tu Beshvat seder, which we cosponsor with an Orthodox community and the county culture department. This year we had 200 people, half of them Orthodox, half of them not. There were decorated tables laden with fruit and nuts; there was a not-too-ambitious "haggadah" with readings about the seven species mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8 and our attachment to our land; there was enthusiastic singing led by a local, extremely talented trio (ending with the song quoted above); there were remarks by the regional Orthodox rabbi (long, as usual) and by me (short, as usual); and in between there were sketches by "Kalabat (sic) Shabbat," a comedy troupe from Jerusalem who sharply (and hysterically) satirize Israeli - and Orthodox - life.

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

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