We checked out of our guesthouse at Kibbutz Ma’agan and headed west toward Ein Shemer, a kibbutz that is devoted to building connections between Jewish and Arab communities in the Galil (Galilee). Every week Ein Shemer brings more than 700 Jewish and Arab teens to work cooperatively in the kibbutz’s greenhouse. The students use their shared interest in ecology – a crucial issue for all residents of the water-starved Galil – to build relationships as they work side by side on experimental projects. We heard from an Arab Israeli staff member in the program named Faisel who spoke about issues of equity and co-existence from his perspective. Then we were joined by other members of greenhouse staff and broke into small groups for a mifgash, a Hebrew word that means ‘encounter’ and which provides a special opportunity for genuine exchange and connection. We were deeply moved by the passion and commitment of these idealistic young Israelis. In the words of one of the participants named Iris, “When I think of Arabs, I have a response of fear. I don’t want to live that way and I want to change the reality so that when I have children they won’t have that same response.” In the face of all the issues and challenges that contemporary Israel faces, we keep being struck again and again by the commitment of people and organization that want to look these challenges squarely in the eye and rise to meet them. It’s the same dedication and idealism that led to the creation of this state which we celebrate tomorrow night and it is what will help that state most fully live out its promise.
From Ein Shemer we visited Zichron Yaakov, a settlement that was settled by Romanian immigrants during the First Aliyah, which began in the 1880’s and laid the foundations for the future Jewish state. The famous Rothschild family helped fund the enterprise and set up vineyards for the new immigrants to cultivate; today it is the home of the Carmel wineries. Zichron is also a quaint town, a favorite site for Israeli tourists and we enjoyed wandering among the historical streets and stores filled with crafts (think Peddlers Village in the Galil!).
From there we headed west toward the Mediterranean, which will form the backdrop for our final days in Israel. As we looked out over the sea we recited the blessing the rabbis prescribed for the occasion: “Blessed is the One who creates the Great Sea.” It was on the shores of the ‘great sea’ that King Herod built the magnificent city of Caesarea in the first century B.C.E. We walked along the streets of the ancient city, a stunning accomplishment of engineering and beauty in what was clearly a cultured and refined metropolis in its time. Now, of course, we are headed toward a very modern city which makes the same claim and serves the same purpose, Tel Aviv, which is the capital of Israel’s vitality and innovation.