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Monday, April 25, 2011

Day One

There was evening and there was morning, one day.

Early Sunday evening, after 24 hours of travel, I arrived just in time for the last Passover meal with my friend Ayelet's family in Kfar Vradim, a beautiful village in the Galilee. The meal was held at her parents' and joined by her husband, Ari, their three kids, and her sister and brother-in-law and their three kids. It had been 16 years since I had been here last and it was like being welcomed by family -- with the bonus that they are Sephardic and eat rice during Passover. So having survived 24 hours of travel on matzoh and a couple pieces of fruit, this Ashkenazi Jew gladly partook. Okay, green beans too. (Note to my girls at home: Ilana and Ari, keep it on the down low, no need to tell mom.) Thoroughly exhausted, once I hit the pillow I was out.

In the morning, I awoke to the fragrance of jasmine and lemon trees, and couldn't wait to go out for my first run. I covered about seven miles, going from Ayelet's house to a Druze village called Yanoch. Last time I ran hills like this was at a race in Vail. Here, in the Village of Roses (the English translation of Kfar Vradim), there is a stretch of about a mile straight up to the clouds. Park Avenue hill in Highland park, this was not. Reaching the summit (at least for me) at Yanoch gave me a great expansive view of the insanely blue Mediterranean.

After breakfast, four of us - Ayelet, Ari and their 13 year old daughter, Yael, who gently peppered me the night before with questions of how I'm able to represent "guilty" people, and me - went on a light hike not too far from the Lebanese border and then stopped in Acco, before we headed for the day's destination, Kibbutz Yagur, where I studied on an ulpan for six months covering the first of the Scud missile attacks in January 1991. We first dropped in for coffee with my former ulpan teacher, and then met with my "adopted family" at the kibbutz. The highlight was seeing their 28 year old daughter, Nofar, who was eight when I was in the ulpan program. It was my time with Nofar twenty years ago that made realize that I wanted to have children of my own. And to see her grown up, with her same brimming smile, and now assistant finance director of the kibbutz was really something.

Our final visit at Yagur was with Phil and Vered. Phil had made aliyah from New York and I used to sit at their house, drink beer and talk baseball and listen to music with him, while Ayelet and Vered looked on at us like a couple of crazy Americans. I also knew Phil's politics, and I had had such a terrific time being "non-political" the evening before and all during the day that when he asked me what I was doing in Israel, I told him that I would be joining up with a "group" on Saturday in Jerusalem. He dismissively inquired whether I was going with a tour group, which considering the amount of time I had spent in Israel and my experiences during that time, would have been justified. But I'm not going with a tour group and I told him that I was with J Street. So it began. The only thing worse than arguing with a J Street critic, is arguing with a J Street critic from New York. Still, at the end of our "discussion" it appeared that our main difference was how  Jerusalem's Old City should be addressed, confirming that for a lot of people it ain't so much about the lyrics as it is about the music, which may seem encouraging until you consider that the music they really want to hear drowns out the lyrics they probably don't. Anyway, we respect each other enough that we parted quite amiably and wished each other well.

On the ride back to Kfar Vradim, the "non-political" Ayelet and Ari, with whom I had been maintaining a great ongoing dialogue about J Street, Zionism, post-Zionism, and religion's place in the state, continued the discussion.They are both sympathetic to my position, though not totally convinced that a solution is achievable.  I was only happy to oblige, but reminded them that it was Phil and they who turned the conversation to the political. After writing my last post, and clearing my head during my morning run, I thought I had judged the fashion designer too harshly. She was truly smart, and I sincerely liked her and understood her position. So, I had challenged myself  not to turn everything in the political. Being here, afterall, you could swear Jews will be celebrating joyous Pesach meals in Israel at homes like Yossi and Leah's in Kfar Vradim, forever, regardless of what the situation with the Palestinians turns out to be. As if to prove the point, we soon arrived to Yossi and Leah's to "break" Pesach with falafel, pita, and a little arak. And then to put the point too fine, we attended Mimouna, the Moroccan celebration of the end of Pesach, marked with sweets and music.

What is it that they see that I don't; and vice-versa?

There was evening and there was morning, one day. And then some.

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