I was sitting by myself in a room full of people in a synagogue in Englewood New Jersey when I realized my life and who I really was. I wanted to shout it out. The chazzan was reading Parshat Pinchas and I was far from home in Itamar where our hill overlooks the very hill of Pinchas. As I looked around the room at the pews and the people and the light shining off the stain glassed windows I tried not to imagine myself pulling all the people with me to the place in my mind. It was like that hectic scene in The Graduate, and in that freezing room I became feverish as I traveled to the views of what and who was being read. The congregants sat unruffled by the text, collected and calm. A zealous act would prove me insane. I sat, unable to sound the siren.
But I soon lifted on a cloud to those delicious pine trees flowering in early July here in Israel, to the scent- clean, real and elevating. A tiny forest of sorts at that, but a wonderful position to view Awarta, the village home from time immemorial to Pinchas, Itamar, Elazar and the seventy elders. The very rocks you stand on tell stories of the past, of ancient times and the mossy stone gravesites that serve as monuments and as a testimony to the true owners of the Land. Huge fig trees are full of fruit in the heat of an open sky here and the land drips honey and milk. My mind wanders and I’m back in my natural habitat…
I dream of another place nearby, the inheritance of the daughters of Tzlofchad who demanded a place as their obligation and received the most beautiful in all of Israel. The wadi of Tirzah or Ein Beidan another name for it. From the peak of Mount Kabir it looks like a grassy maze deep down in the valley. It is hard to climb down from here because of the sheer steepness of it. With water running through it, in early Spring a carpet of pink and white almond blossoms adorn the blanket of land. The path of Avraham, the one he took from Aram Naharayim to Shechem, it is repaved in a primitive way with many potholes and fissures in the road. The air feels warmer here, more balmy. The scent is orange blossom and it feels restful, magical. Bamboo shoots and tall reeds cluster along banks of water. In bygone days King Solomon built summer palaces here, as well as many Canaanite and Israelite kings. The remains of these stone structures sag crumbling next to new mud thatched dwellings that stand leaning into the old ones. The stream flows east, into the Jordan. The Tammun mountains look as bare and tan as a camels back in the backdrop. Occasionally a dark skinned woman would walk by boasting a golden tooth carrying a huge basket on her head. An old man wearing a kaffiyah would lead a donkey or a mule laden with wares. At the turn in the road where a small waterfall emptied into furrows the road would be always wet, even in the hot dry summer. At this scenic shaded corner a huge stone wall was built. Young Arab men could be seen at their corner café on the high porch of the wall drinking their Turkish coffee, playing shesh besh and other games. It seems the picture of ideal tranquility. I awaken from my fantasy. This tucked away seemingly forgotten land was forfieted in the Oslo accords and I can only really dream of it. From Englewood New Jersey and from my home in Itamar only moments away from this scene.
As our story of Zionism changes and morphs before our very eyes – the rise of our own Jewish state- the early years, seemed nothing but a distant dream and it seemed like holy chutzpah to dream it. Today it seems taken for granted. Things are moving fast now and in that fast pace things get hidden, forgotten, some lost. Some are lost because of the deep pain it inflicts to think about them.
The zealous though are able to face that pain, to clarify it and try to fix it. They sound the alarm. This is the message of Pinchas. He was able to shout it out.
Shabbat shalom, Leah