Thursday, September 6, 2012

Israel's Founders

During the past two days of the study tour, we have been focusing on the events leading up to the founding of the state of Israel.  Since I already took a class on Zionism from the Modern period (1800s) until 1948 at Brown, a lot of the material was repetitive.  Still, my teacher here added some details to my understanding, and more than anything, being on the land itself taught me more than any books or articles had in the past.

On Wednesday we had a class moving from the beginning of the Diaspora all the way to the start of the 20th century.  We covered Herzl, Gordon, Borochov, and all of the other great and argumentative early Zionist thinkers.  At the end of class, we spent extra time on the socialist and communist underpinnings of a certain influential strain of Zionism called Labor Zionism.  The colonizers with this ideology formed much of the 2nd and 3rd Aliyah and created much of the infrastructure for Israel today.

All of this class work was in preparation for our field trip today to the first functioning kibbutz (commune) and to the Kinneret more generally.  We were faced with a lot of difficult questions throughout the day about idealism, sacrifice, and the difficulties of uprooting oneself and moving to a new land with an entirely different way of living.  Perhaps the most difficult part was going to the graveyard of the kibbutz and seeing a row of stones for children, many of whom were toddlers.  When we hear about the courageous Zionists draining the swamps in Israel and making the desert bloom, we rarely hear of the number that caught malaria, or whose children died from this or other diseases.  It really means paying the ultimate price for ideology, and I am still processing my opinions on the matter...although I suppose it may not be my place to have one.

After that stop, we went to the Sea of Galilee, changed into bathing suits, and swam in the water.  The sea was quite warm, but it was still cooler than the air, which was swelteringly hot.  We stayed in the water for about an hour, with fish nibbling at our toes the whole time.  One girl screamed because of the sensation and the lifeguards called her over and then fed fish near her and had her catch them with her hands, to allay her fear.  We all laughed a lot, and seeing all of the flopping fish and chuckling Israeli lifeguards was pretty entertaining.  Afterward, we went to Tiberias, one of the four holy cities, and got lunch.  I had a fresh-squeezed orange juice at the end, which tasted great in the heat.

Finally, we walked up a mountainous area where Jews had hidden in cave towns during the rule of Herod.  In a book I am reading, the author describes these dwellings as carved into a mountain with nearly vertical drop-offs, but not until I saw them myself did I understand how steep and dangerous they were.  A disturbing and infamous battle occurred there, with Herod pursuing the Jews and many taking their own lives and those of their family members in order to escape slavery under the Romans.  The sights were breathtaking, but mixed with all of the tragic history, it is hard to name the emotions I felt throughout the hike.

All in all, it was a great day, and far less tiring than our first trip day.  I am looking forward to class tomorrow followed by a restful Shabbat.  For now, I am going to pop in a DVD and call it a day.  Goodnight!  

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