“You and I Will Change the World” – But When???

Earlier today I sat over coffee with my friends Tsvika and Nadine Mizrachi. Tsvika was the moreh derekh – the guide for our earliest Temple Shalom Israel trips, beginning in 2004. Though it has been a few years since we last worked together with a group, we remain in touch. Often we run into each other somewhere on the streets while Tsvika is guiding. This time Tsvika called me within days of my arrival. “How did you know I was here?” I exclaimed. “A little birdy told me. Eric, it’s July. I know you’re here!” he replied.

Today’s conversation, in a cafe in Jerusalem’s German Colony, was a chance to catch up on one another’s family’s and lives. But of course, much of the conversation was about the matzav –“the situation” as Israelis often refer to whatever major challenge is being faced by Israel. Nadine and I engaged in quite a bit of discourse about how we Americans misread events like those taking place in this challenging time. She explained, “I always start my guiding by welcoming people home. They are often surprised as I explain that they have two homes.” (From experience I can assure you that Tsvika begins the same way.)

After a month in Israel (a bit longer than planned owing to the matzav, I am preparing to head home from my home in Israel. I always leave with a complicated cocktail of emotions. After a month away from my family (except for Aaron, who is also here in Israel), I am eager to see them. I’ve long said that “it’s easier for me to leave Israel when I already know when I will return.” And I expect to return in December with a group from our Temple Shalom family, who I hope will also find that this is their second home.

Needless to say, the emotions this time are complicated by the matzav. Even as I am eager to see my family and friends it’s hard not to feel like I am abandoning family and friends. I cannot tell you how many times Israelis have thanked me for being here over these past weeks. This has been even more true since the ground operation began a week ago. Over the past week I have been traveling with my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Howard Jaffe from Lexington, MA. Back in late May he floated the idea of me extending my stay so we could travel for a bit as we are both enjoying a bit of sabbatical time. So, I changed my ticket, and we made plans to visit friends in Haifa and explore places that we both wanted to see in Israel’s Upper Galilee. “We can have an adventure just like old times,” Howie told me. Why not, I thought? Trust me, neither of us expected the adventure of this summer. In truth, few saw it coming.

Where we went; what we saw; and most importantly what we learned — that’s for another time, save for one small piece. At lot of what we did was spur of the moment as we uncovered unexpected treasures along our way. We saw many new sites — we also saw empty streets, empty shops, empty restaurants, and empty hotels. During our time in Tel Aviv (on what was supposed to have been my last day here) we wandered the largely empty streets of downtown Tel Aviv. “The City That Never Sleeps” (as Tel Aviv is often called) was very sleepy, very quiet this week. When we visited nearby Jaffa, we may have seen 5 or 6 other visitors. It was hard to miss the emptiness.

At one point yesterday, we came across Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor Cemetery, which neither of us had ever seen. It is the final resting place of legendary Zionist thinkers like Ahad Ha-Am and Max Nordau. It is the resting place of important political figures including Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first Grave of Arik EinsteinMayor. Looking online, Howard noted that it more recently became the final resting place of Arik Einstein (pronounced einshtein), who died late last Fall. As an avid fan of Israeli music, I have long loved Arik Einstein’s music. His death was sudden – at least for most of the public. His imprint upon Israeli culture and music is indelible. With no one to guide us, we were determined to find his grave and pay our respects. After what seemed like a very long time, under a very brutal sun and in wicked humidity, Howard found the grave. Barely seven months have gone by sincere Einstein’s death. It is clearly the most visited grave in Trumpeldor Cemetery. We stood silently by his grave, as did a few others – all Israelis. There were pictures, flowers, handwritten notes, and of course, many stones. In my head I could hear one of Arik Einstein’s most well-known compositions, Ani V’atah, which for years was a standard in NFTY and at our URJ Camps. I am almost tempted to say that it was virtually an “anthem” given its meaning. The words translate like this:

Me and you, we’ll change the world.
Me and you, then all the others will come.
It been said before,that doesn’t matter.
Me and you, we’ll change the world.

Me and you, we’ll try from the beginning.
We’ll suffer (it will be bad), never mind, it’s not terrible.
It been said before,that doesn’t matter.
Me and you, we’ll change the world.

You can catch Arik Einstein singing it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETqJxlBrQbc

Arik Einstein penned the perfect tikkun olam ballad back in 1971. It was a strong part of the American Jewish repertoire. We sang it for years.

As Howard and I turned to leave the grave and the cemetery, I noticed one picture in particular. It was an old picture, but I was reasonably certain that standing with Arik was Shalom Hanoch, with whom he recorded a number of albums early in his career. I asked one of the Israelis standing nearby if that was correct. She affirmed it, and I felt a shiver go down my spine. It was Arik Einstein who’d introduced me (so to speak) to Hanoch over four decades ago. Howard and I were to see Shalom Hanoch in concert later last night. It was a bit spooky.

I still get chills when I hear the opening chords of Ani V’atah, as it’s still a personal favorite. As I pack my bags hoping that tomorrow, my flight will actually leave Ben Gurion airport, I cannot help but think back over this past month. This has been a tough time. One needs only to read the various websites within the Jewish world (let alone the world around us) to see the wildly divergent reactions to the events of these past weeks, starting with the discovery of the lifeless bodies of the three Yeshiva boys who’d been abducted several weeks earlier (their bodies found just three days after I arrived in Israel); the brutal and horrific abduction and murder of a Palestinian teen by a group of Jewish youth who set him aflame while he was alive; the tension that quickly took hold as everyone wondered whether we were witnessing the beginning of a third Intifada; the uptick of missiles flying from Gaza across the border into Israel, and daily warning from Israel calling for stopping the missiles; Israel’s mustering of its forces at the edge of Gaza; and now 17 days of “Operation Protective Edge,” including these last seven days since the IDF’s entrance into Gaza. Thinking back over these weeks, I realize that I have never been in Israel during such a protracted period of conflict and warfare.

I could wax political and analyze these events in those terms. But that is not my mood at this moment as I prepare to leave. As I have since this began 17 days ago, I will soon head to bed with a prayer that the days ahead of us will see sheket v’shalva – quiet and calm, restored to this tense tinderbox I have inhabited for the past month. Assuming I leave tomorrow, there will presumably be no sirens or racing for shelter for me in the days and weeks to come. But I fear it will continue for Israelis and Palestinians for far too many days to come. As Nadine Mizrachi shared over coffee this

Sign that is now found  everywhere in windows and on banners throughout Israel in solidarity with the IDF

Sign that is now found everywhere in windows and on banners throughout Israel in solidarity with the IDF

afternoon, “Each one of those boys fighting in Gaza is like my own.” It’s a sentiment I have heard again and again as I have traveled around this tiny country. Certainly it is hard to imagine that there are not Palestinian mothers and fathers who say the same as their community counts its losses. I will not equate the two sides in this conflict, but at the end of the day each child is a child, and each death the end of a life.

Earlier today, Reuven Rivlin was sworn in as Israel’s President. At the understated ceremony (in light of the conflict raging in and around Gaza) he stated, “We are gathered here today with a very clear message to our enemies: You have not overcome us and you will not do so . . While we use rockets to protect civilians, they use civilians to protect rockets . . . We are not fighting against the Palestinian people, and we are not at war with Islam; we are fighting against terrorism . . . The day will come when the dark terrorism is eradicated from our land,” he predicted. “The day will come when we will dwell here in peace and harmony with each other; the day will come when there will be peace between Israel and all its neighbors . . .”

I say, keyn y’hee ratzon – May it be so!

How do we arrive at that day? Ani v’atah – it takes you and I; each of us — with the other, with family, friends, neighbors, and yes, even with foes to take that first step. Yes, Arik Einstein — “it will be hard.” But when will we find the courage to take the difficult steps, on all sides of this bitter conflict, so that we can change the world?

The mood here in Israel is grim. It is harder with each passing to maintain hope that those steps can be found. But I continue to pray that we will one day find them – so that we can change this world.

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