Friday, August 17, 2007

Kiryat Mal’achi and Yad Mordechai

One of the things that pleases me most about this visit to Tel Aviv is getting around. I know which bus to take where and, more or less, how often and when they come. When I get on a bus for the first time, I take out my city route and make the connection between reality and schematic. Which then means that, when I look at the map later, I am seeing a place, not simply a set of intersecting lines. I do this because I have no sense of direction at all—put me in a place and I will turn the wrong way about 80% of the time (if it were 100%, that would be preferable, but no…). And don’t give me oral directions; I just can’t make sense of them. But a map and an address—I’m set. That, plus the buses—well, I feel like I’ve gotten a decent sense of Tel Aviv. Aside from the weather (the humidity is just about unbearable), it’s a great city. I don’t have a lot to add to what the books say about the three cities—Haifa is the working man’s town; Jerusalem, a crazy center for religion in all shapes and sizes; Tel Aviv, the center of business and art. Even with all Jerusalem’s insanity, I think I would choose to live near Jerusalem for one rather embarrassing reason—I can tolerate the climate. It is dry and hot, which I can deal with. The humidity kills me—I just can’t cope. Hardly profound, but there it is.

On to my day Monday. I left very early to get to the Central Bus Station and from there took a bus to Kastina, near Kiryat Mal’achi. It was a long, sweaty ride in a bus that had no air-conditioning and a grumpy bus driver. More of the passengers were Ethiopian than I had seen before, with many elderly women and children.

The whole area that is south of Tel Aviv is economically depressed. The Jewish Agency is trying to find US congregations to help support the area, and Beth Emek is one. For example, this summer, two students came to help with Beth Emek summer camp, as a way of connecting the two areas.

I was put in touch with Inbal, a young woman who is Miranda’s age, finishing her first year at university. She did three years in the army, completing her officer’s training, and then began studying psychology. Taking groups or individuals to the various sites/sights in the region is a part-time job for her, and one she takes very seriously. She grew up in Kiryat Mal’achi and clearly loves it and Israel. So the two of us spent a pleasant day together. She had wanted to show me a youth center, an art program, and more, but in August, much is shut down. What I got to see was a senior day center and a kibbutz. All very interesting. And, while most of this trip has been a personal journey, this part I took very seriously as a representative of Beth Emek, whose job was to bring back information we can use as a congregation.

Here is what I found out: the senior day center is a place where the elderly can go to be with community, to make things—some to decorate the center; some to sell (interestingly, the men make mosaics; the women sew. Apparently, the men are “lazier” (and I do quote!) than the women, but mosaics hold their interest, while sewing does not. Fascinating. The center offers exercise, showers and haircuts, meals, health care, and company. What I noticed most were the smiles and the smell—or lack thereof. In the US, every center I’ve been in has a slight smell of urine. That was completely absent here. Have to say, though, that I don’t know if that’s because of the kind of place or the kind of care. The center director showed me the kitchen, being renovated by donations from one American congregation; the art room, supported by another; the barber shop/salon and so on. In the middle, were about thirty seniors playing one kind of game or another. I wanted to take pictures, but was afraid of invading their privacy—not even. When the camera came out, each one wanted a picture and then to admire it. I didn’t catch on quite soon enough, but would have taken pictures of each one if I had understood sooner. The center for Ethiopian Jews was attached, but—it being August—not active. Still, I had a chance to see the work participants produce.

Inbal talked to me at length about the volunteer opportunites—drama, music, and art; helping with youth; working on computers; teaching English (no knowledge of Hebrew required) and, of course, working with the seniors. It turns out that the Jewish Agency maintains an apartment where volunteers can stay rent-free while they help. Very cool. So that was Kiryat Mala’achi.

Then we drove south, near Eshkelon, to Yad Mordechai, to see the museum there. This is a kibbutz that took its inspiration (and some of its fighters) from the Warsaw Ghetto. During the 1948 war of independence, it held off the Egyptian army for several days, eventually fleeing, but by then, other fighters had had the time to organize and get weapons. The museum itself is a nicely done place, but what I was most interesting in was the ideology behind the museum.

Two things—first, it claimed responsibility for the State—had it not been for the defense, Tel Aviv would have fallen, and so on. Same thing was true in Tzfat—it was the defense for the north. Clearly, both are true—Israel was threatened on all sides; had the defense faltered in any case, well, the situation could have been very bad indeed. And the need (both perceived and real) for defense continues to this day. Both Inbal and Tali knew that their work in the army was important in allowing Israel to continue to exist and to exist in relative security. Very different than in the US.

Second, the museum made a distinction between Jews who fought and those who went “to the slaughter.” It’s a distinction I used to make—I can remember when “Dona, Dona” was one of my favorite songs. From making that distinction, I went to a belief that people simply do the best they can and the best they are capable of. Perhaps some of those who ended up in the camps were easily led, however, some of those who ended up outside the camps were lucky. The problem, as always, is that we never know where our choices will lead and that each person has a different set of constraints—the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto were, by and large, young and unattached. From that perspective, it’s easy to see the world in black and white and it’s easier to act without considering the consequences. And, as in a previous post, those who resisted were not left unscarred either.

Following the museum, we had a tour of the battleground and then of the honey factory (cute, but frankly, better for the ten-year-old set). I’m bringing back Israeli honey for Dave. Deborah (meaning “bee” in Hebrew, just for the record) has declared that he will need to decide whether the honey she brought back from the South of France is better than Israeli honey. A tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

No comments: