Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Golan Heights-- To Return or Not to Return?

Before the trip to Israel, I served on faculty as I do every summer at one of our Reform Movement summer camps in Great Barrington, MA. The educational theme this summer happened to be Israel, and with the older units, I ran a mini-course using films about Israel as a window into Israel’s past, present, and future. One of the films I showed was called “The Impossible Spy,” and today, we had the privilege of standing on the Golan Heights where that impossible spy, Eli Cohen, stood more than 40 years ago. (I’d recommend the film by the way, and I happen to know that one of our members owns it, if you’d like to see it!)

We took a bumpy jeep tour up to the Heights—an area that the Syrians held from 1948 to 1967 and used to bomb with impunity the kibbutzim of the northern Galilee. Finally in 1967, as the Six Day War was progressing so well for Israel, a group of citizens from the kibbutzim pleaded with Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defense for Israel, to do something to defend them. Ultimately, Israel captured the Golan Heights, and it’s easy to see why it’s so strategically important when one stands there and looks back on Israel. We stood at the legendary Syrian military position called Tel Fahr, where 36 Israeli soldiers died during the Six Day War to capture one of the main sites from which Syria had hit Israeli civilian targets again and again.

Ironically, today Israel completed the latest in a series of indirect negotiations with Syria, exploring the possibilities for a peace deal which would involve giving the Golan back to Syria. As difficult as that seems to envision, such an arrangement might be the best possibility to neutralize Syria’s role in supporting Hizbollah in Lebanon and terrorism elsewhere; these decisions are never easy and we will all watch events carefully from back in the States, having now an even better understanding of what’s at stake and what’s being considered.

From the Golan, we headed to the mystical city of Tzfat, home to Lurianic Kabbalah. In our congregation, we know of the Kabbalists and their conception of Tikkun Olam, as well as the words of Lecha Dodi that we sing nearly every Shabbat to greet the Sabbath Bride. It is truly a mystical place—one that inspired conversation and debate well into the evening about what Jewish mysticism is and what role it might or should play in our Jewish experience and expression.

We ended the day with a glorious and fun kayaking trip down the Banyas and Hatzbani rivers, two of the three tributaries which feed the Jordan River. Folks always come to Israel imagining the Jordan River and its environs to be like the mighty Mississippi. Suffice it to say, it’s just a bit smaller than that. It’s more like a creek by American standards! But it was beautiful, shady, and cool—the first time any of us have used that word since we arrived! Such a dichotomy, though, of terrain and experience, from what we’ve seen further south. Here is a lush, green, verdant area with moderate temperatures all year round. Are we in the same country? We took the opportunity to splash each other; don’t believe a word you hear when they try to tell you that the rabbi started it!

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