Friday, July 20, 2007

Scenic Samaria - Blessings and Cursings

Yesterday I visited Itamar, out in luscious, beautiful Samaria.
Located in the Shomron area of Biblical Israel (also known by the politically incorrect term of "The West Bank," "The Occupied Territories," "Beyond the Green Line," etc.), Itamar is literally a stone's throw away from Mt. Garazim and Mt. Ebal - the mountains of Blessings and Cursings which were commanded by Moses to be pronounced by the 12 Tribes when they entered the Land of Israel (Deut. 11:29-30, Deut. 27:11-26).
After leaving Jerusalem and crossing through the various security barriers, everything changes. Beyond other side of the Security Fence that divides the "green line" is a vast moonscape, barren rocky hills occupied by Arab villages, tents and trailers. An occasional flock of goats driven by barefoot boys wielding sticks and stones are sighted as we drive.
In our rental car, we are flying over poorly paved pock-marked roads "condemned by international standards," as my Guide, riding shotgun in the passenger seat, likes to say. The road rises and falls before us, a narrow asphalt ribbon disappearing into the hills.
We whiz by Arab villages with outlandishly oversized houses, garishly designed desert mansions in ghostly configurations, some with improbable pagoda roofs, all unfinished so that future generations may "add on" as they like.
Donkeys and dust, roadside fruitstands, futility and flies.
"Careful here," my Guide warns me in whispers, inscrutable behind his Ray Bans. "This is where the big Arab gravel trucks like to run us off the road and leave us for dead."
"I grew up on the L.A. Freeway system," I said with serene confidence. "No driving experience can possibly intimidate me."
"Good, I'm glad to hear it. Now gun it and drive as fast as you can through this part, and don't stop for anything or anyone. Usually we prefer bulletproof busses but I have a good feeling about this rental car today. Did you take out full insurance?"

Once inside the massive electronic security fence, Itamar is beautiful. Green and lush, edged with plenty of barbed wire, watchtowers, road patrols, infrared cameras and IDF sharpshooters, suddenly we realized we were perfectly safe.
As if to illustrate how safe it is within the "Settlement" itself, we picked up hitchhikers - two little girls, looked to be 6 and 4, to whom we gave a ride to the top of the hill where our host's house and property is located. The site of these two little girls hitchhiking within the apparent total and complete security of Itamar itself was shocking in an unnameable way.
We were there to visit Baruch, who has a large farm where he presses his own olive oil, makes his own honey and wine, raises chickens on organic feed grown on his own property, and where he grinds and stores kosher organic flour grown in Israel.
Baruch has lived in Itamar for over 20 years. He and his wife have 7 sons, all of whom study Torah and the older ones work with their father in the fields and the groves. It's possible they are still trying for a daughter.
Baruch takes us on a tour of the olive oil press, the honey farm, the massive and unexpectedly air-conditioned storage facility where tons of the world's best Kosher Organic Flour is grown, ground, packaged and stored. Baruch sells it, kilo by kilo, to customers in Jerusalem who can't get enough of it - he delivers once a week, and no matter how much he brings in there isn't enough supply to meet the demand.
He gives us a small jar of homemade quince jam and two plastic spoons. My Guide and I dip in and within moments our mouths are filled with the sweetest, most delicious taste ever - and we begin to laugh "like dreamers...our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with glad song" (Psalm 126). We battle with our spoons within the jar for another and another heavenly mouthful.
"Enough," says my Guide, holding the half-finished jar high above his head. I can't argue about quince jam with someone who is well over 6 feet tall and possibly a trained assassin. "I need the rest of this for my ulcer, it's like medicine to me."
Baruch points out Mt. Garazim and Mt. Ebal, which rise like the most luscious of breasts, languid supine against the mercilessly blue sky. In the cleavage is a natural amphitheater, acoustically perfect, where in approx. 1423 B.C.E. after the Israelites, led by Joshua, defeated both Jericho and Ai, the voices of the our ancestors were heard with perfect clarity pronouncing blessings and cursings upon themselves and future generations.
Six Tribes stood on Mt. Garazim and the other six on Mt. Ebal, and according to what they had been taught by Moses and Joshua, and call back and forth to one another the words recorded in Deuteronomy 28.
It SEEMS simple enough. Obey the LORD our God and we will be blessed. Disobey and we will be cursed. What's wrong with that?
Driving back to Jerusalem we see evidence of our cursing everywhere - as we have failed to obey the Lord's commandment to drive out the inhabitants of the Land that He gave to us. We have listened to the voices of other nations, who say "peace" when they mean "war," who tell us we have no rights to the Land that the Lord Himself gave to us, whom we allow to strike fear of the worst sort into our hearts - the fear of "what will the neighbors think?"
What will the "neighbors" think, indeed - especially when things get ugly.
But right now - it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, Mister Rogers! "Won't you be my neighbor?"
Can't we all just get along?

No comments: