Friday, January 15, 2010

Rock - and Sand - of Israel

“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day… And he said: 'Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”

– Genesis 32:25-29

Two evenings ago we wandered in the desert with Rabbi Michael Cohen, a faculty member at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. He sent us out to walk alone for five minutes, to find a place where we felt secluded. Then he blew a shofar (ram’s horn) and we closed our eyes for 15 minutes until he blew it again. We opened our eyes and sat for 15 more minutes until the final blast, when we came back together to discuss our thoughts.

The discussion culminated in the fascinating question of why many prophets and religious leaders spend time wandering alone in the desert. A mentor of mine once said that humans’ greatest Divine endowment is our propensity to feel deep-seated internal displacement. Indeed, we wander in our own minds. Our internal struggles to make sense of reality can lead us to loneliness as well. This loneliness may be as real in our minds as physical loneliness is real when we are deserted on a sandy dune.

I have been here for one week now, and have both faced and witnessed many challenges. As Genesis 32 tells us, “Israel” means to “struggle” or “strive”. Praying and meditating in the desert, with Rabbi Cohen as our guide, was a wonderful experience as I strive to understand the ecological and human dilemmas (wrestles) of Israel and the region.

Pictures: captions are from bottom up, which is chronological order.

1) Ben Gurion’s grave: Ben-Gurion was the first Prime Minister of Israel, and is one of the most important figures in Israeli history. He is buried at Sde Boker, in the Negev (southern, less populated region). He believed that Israel had to settle the Negev in order to maintain the viability. He moved here to live in a small cabin where he enjoyed greeting other world leaders.

2) The Arava desert, where we wandered alone and discussed our thoughts with Rabbi Cohen.

3) This is the border with Jordan at Kibbutz Keturah. We stayed on the kibbutz overnight, after visiting the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Students at the institute can take full part in kibbutz life, which is very special given that Keturah is one of the few remaining socialist kibbutzim in Israel (75% have privatized).

4) A straw-bale hut in Kibbutz Lotan’s eco-village.

5) An ancient copper mine in Park Timna.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your mentor's comment about internal displacement. Thanks so much for the updates on your own wanderings in Israel.