The Galilee and things Israel can’t escape
“Where are you from?”, I asked the person sitting in front of me on the camping blanket on an early Sabbath. “I’m Israeli, originally from Australia, I did Aliyah eight year ago.” Aliyah is the name given to migration to Israel from Jewish diaspora from around the world.
As I keep asking about her Jewish heritage, I realise almost everyone around me has a personal story on their arrival to Israel. Either their past generations last century escaped the horrors of the Holocaust and descriminaiton or themselves in the 21st arrived to this small nation in the Western Mediterranean. Generations moved by different reasons but a common aim. “I feel like Israel is one of the only nations in the world where people emigrate from wealthier countries,” she continues, “it is much easier to start a life in Australia or the US, but we made it here anyway”. Still today, many Jews across the world immigrate each year to Israel, between 2002 and 2010 almost 200,000 thousand did, a majority European, but also from Africa, Asia and The Americas.
Sabbath Shetta — Sabbath in the fields — has become a very popular way for secular millennial Israeli jews to spend the Holy day. On Friday evening, once a month, a group of 30 people, mostly friends, come together in a different location in Israel every time. Away from the busing Tel Aviv, and the tense Jerusalem, this month is the turn for a Sabbath Shetta up north, in the Galilee or as Israelis know it, the Kinneret — from Kinnor, arp, due to the shape of the lake.
A group of around 17–20 tents line up underneath a small forest just by the coastline of the Kinneret, giving life to a deserted Kibbutz. Kibbutz HaOn funded in 1949 by a group of Polish immigrants. While many Kibbutz were created by communities organized in cooperatives, with a communism utopia in mind, today they have shifted and transformed. Many small communities run businesses, HaOn runs a small spa, other Kibbutz have become wealthy specialised in technology and startups.
The Galilee, as almost any landmark in this part of the world, has history rooted thousand of year back. The Sea of Galilee is where Jesus walked on water, where he calmed a storm and where he multiplied the fish. This is the place were the Bible say Jesus did most of his miracles during his lifetime. In this country one can escape the cities and the people, but among many things one cannot escape religion.
As one of the only non-Israeli at the camping site, I lay back and listen to the diverse group. We talk about family, sex and life, yet, one topic keeps coming up, the military. Their stories about serving in the military are very recurrent. They all have served. As one friend tells me, serving the two years in the military is the lowest standard almost every Israeli goes through. An experience that, she continues, “unites as all, even if it’s controversial, it binds us together.” My head takes me to the many stories I’ve heard about my grandad’s military service in the Castillas under Franco’s fascist regime. Different ways to see it. But listening to them, the military service has bounded the young group, all from complete different backgrounds, professional worlds and places, but, in this case, a shared life-experience.
As the sun sets, a small group of israeli-americans start to cook the botjie, typical South African camping food, while we drink some fresh Paulaner’s. It‘s getting dark, but the temperature does not seem to cool down, the Sea of Galilee is more than 200 meters below sea level, the sun and the water brings humidity to the roof. Just behind us are the Golan Heights, some of the most peculiar and beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen. The imposing mountains are commonly known for Israel’s occupation during the 6-days war in 1967, six days that changed the region.
200 meters under sea level, with a magic sunset, war doesn’t seem that close, but Israel meets Syria on top of the Golans, only 20 km away from us. Today the Syrian-Israeli border occupies headlines, Syrian citizens approach the border fleeing Assad’s bombings and just last week Israel was publicly demanding Russia and Syria to keep Iranian’s forces away from the border. 20km away, the UN authority controls the demilitarised zone between Israel and Syria, a bit farther north a small area is still under Syrian rebels oversight, and a bit northern Daesh seems to still control some territory. Yet, in this small Kibbutz, in the middle of the Galilee, war seems from another world, a world though only 20km away. How can we be enjoying such a paradise when disaster and dead are just around the corner?, I keep asking myself.
As a very shinning moon replaces the sun light, the botjie is ready. Right before the fest, somebody starts reciting almost singing different verses from the Torah holding a glass of wine, and later somebody else does it with a piece of bread. We pray, then we eat. Sabbath starts, we fest good food, a Scottish-Israeli passes around very good Scotch, and almost everyone ends up with a small glass of Arak, typical Israeli anis. Somebody brings the hukele out and sings some Israeli popular song. We could be anywhere in Europe or the US, until somebody starts talking yet again about the military and war. This time about serving in the Sinai border and the Negev desert. Some things, Israel can’t stay away from, this is not a normal country.