War and Independence

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Friday, May 13, 2011

     What a week!  After the Holocaust Memorial performance week (the performance went as well as it could have, I was actually proud of myself; here is a link to a video taken from the audience http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3kVZUc5RwI; and a link to what was televised http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R979p-C5ZO8) I thought, whew, finally a normal week ahead of me.  Actually, there is no such thing as a normal week on Kibbutz Ga'aton.  The thursday of that week we went on our hardest and best hike, in the Golan Heights.  Because of injuries, auditions, etc. we were less than half of our normal size; this was just as well because if we hadn't started out that way, we certainly would have finished in small numbers.  We visited the border of Israel and Syria and discussed the 6 Days War which had taken place on the ground where we stood.  The border was a beautiful field of wild flowers and long grasses.  It was peaceful, hard to see it as a battleground.  We climbed like children on an Israeli tank (made in the U.S.) left behind.  We examined the fatal wound of another tank (Syrian, Russian-made), where an Israeli rocket had hit, that had been turned into a kind of Memorial for soldiers killed during the war.  There were soldiers all around us as well, preparing for Memorial Day a few days later.  Friends from my group talked about how a few years ago they would have been eyeing the soldiers, as most of them are quite attractive, but now, at only 23 or 24, they are too old for them.  I mention this to emphasize how young Israeli's are when they begin their required military service - 18 years old.  I'm 18; it has taken me this year of working and traveling and living at times on my own to feel even remotely close to being a very young adult.  I feel at this point that my life as a full person is just starting.  And for Israelis, they start their adult lives in the army.
     We began our hike on one peak of a thin valley.  We were all in bright spirits as the sun was keeping us warm and a breeze was keeping us cool.  We passed a famous colorful sticky rock where it is tradition for hikers to stick their gum.  We slowly ambled our way down behind a group of 50+ Israeli middle-schoolers.  We passed a waterfall and some purple wild flowers with a beautiful name in Hebrew, that means unshaved nose-hair flowers.  Our last hike, we had the option of staying dry - not this time.  I was excited to get in the water to cool off.  We sloshed in up to our shins and began to make our way down a thin stream shaded completely by thin trees and hanging twigs and "vines."  Soon we were up to our waists, clinging to the twigs above our head, mixing curses with laughter as we tried to keep our balance on the slippery rocks beneath us.  It took quite a bit of strength and concentration not to fall in.  It seemed more like a trek through the Amazon than a hike in Israel.  (I have been surprised at Israel's terrain; this hike is an example of its great natural diversity).  After a long long time spent slipping around and swearing at the bog (which was actually quite beautiful and pleasant), we stepped onto some dry land and began a hike upwards.  Eventually we reached the waterfall.  Again - the waterfall.  And we stopped for lunch at - the waterfall.  I sat in a state of waterfall and sandwich and no-longer-in-a-bog-induced bliss, soggy and sunny and sleepy.
     After lunch, we continued up one side of the valley.  Then we climbed back down, crossed the the stream in the center, and scaled the other side, which turned out to be a steep and rocky climb.  In this part of the hike, I listened to a passionate discussion about the U.S.'s political situation, compared with Europe's - more specifically Great Britain's - and where we are both headed next.  I tried to participate, but my thoughts usually followed this kind of train: "Wow, look where I am. . . No, I don't agree that socialism will completely . . .  woah. . . . in this time no matter the progress of. . .  wow, look where I am, look who I'm with and what I'm doing. "  When we reached the top, we walked through some flat land until we entered a landscape that felt otherworldly; I expected Dorothy and Toto to go skipping by in the other direction.  We were in a sunflower field.  Instead of flowers, there were these puffy bunches of dandelion seeds the size of baseballs.  My heart went out to those with allergies.  It was not only soft and fluffy: hidden among the sunflower stocks were pretty prickly thorn bushes that scraped our shins.  I felt that we could get lost in that field and never come back to reality.  And when we came out of the field, we saw Northern Israel's agricultural fields and greenery from high above.
     Our final hour of hiking was no less strange or challenging.  We followed a very thin stream of water downward, again trying to keep our balance on a path of slippery rocks and mud.  At arms length on either side of us were barbed wire fences.  These fences could be seen in almost every location that day; they served to keep us from walking into left-over mine fields.  "It's Israeli life" we are often told.  It's unnerving, still, what else can you do but accept it and appreciate that you're on the safe side of the fence?  Getting to the highway, boarding that bus, peeing in a rest stop bathroom, and driving that hour back to Ga'aton - I don't have to tell you how good it felt, and then taking off my damp shoes to release my marshmallow toes, and the shower, and the shakshuka dinner shared with my friend at the cafe.  It was one of the best days.
     Friday, I had a wonderful Shabbat dinner with a family in Nahariya that I have gotten to know through a family friend.  I am really humbled by the support and hospitality they've shown me.  I got to bake with the Mom!  And eat food from a grill!  I also got my toes painted in various blues and greens and sparklies by the thirteen-year-old daughter and her friend.  (Nail-painting is very big in Israel.  So is hair.  Someday I hope to have the hair and the attitude of these Israeli women).  The Kibbutz can feel stifling sometimes, much like the island, so it was nice to get out and be with some non-dancers for a bit.  I spoke with the mom about my experience on Holocaust Memorial day and my reaction to the siren.  She told me that there would be two more sirens on Monday for Memorial Day.
     Fast-forward to Sunday evening.  The Israeli/Jewish day begins/ends when the sun sets, so Memorial day began Sunday night.  The whole Kibbutz gathered for a ceremony in one large room - big Raya - our main dance studio.  Some of MASA were performing in it and all of MASA were invited so I decided to go, reluctantly, because I knew it would probably be upsetting.  I can't say that I have ever had an experience like this.  I can't even write or speak about it without tearing up, which, if you know me, is uncharacteristic.  It was a beautiful ceremony.  Four soldiers were honored, each with a speech about them, a slideshow of photos, and a performance - either live music or dance.  The ceremony began with the siren.  I was sitting in front so I couldn't see the entire Kibbutz community behind me, but I felt their sadness and I heard it certainly.  From that moment, till the end, I wanted to leave.  I could barely hold myself together.  I am extremely lucky because very rarely do I have cause to feel that way.  I don't know if I've ever felt grief like that.  The four men killed were fathers and sons; the people in the photos looked like my family and the friends I've met here.  The youngest died at 19.  I left carrying a huge weight.  It was fortunate that I had just bought a new box of tissues.  Normally you feel better after some nice hysterics, after a restful sleep, after a big breakfast, after ballet class, but the second siren that went off before pirouettes brought it all back up for everyone.  We started working on a KCDC piece danced on mattresses - infamously difficult.  Normally, I would have been quite sore, and I was later, but I was still in such a state that I didn't notice so much.  It was a rough day, for everyone I think.
     I was so down that night that I considered not going to the Independence day activities.  (Memorial Day becomes Independence day when the sun goes down)  MASA had some time scheduled before Ga'aton's ceremony to meet with our guide.  He asked first about our reactions to the ceremony.  I knew he had seen how upset I was, and I would have liked to maybe speak about it, but I couldn't.  The discussion changed into our versions of independence.  We sort of collectively came to the conclusion that independence is having the freedom to choose who and where and what we "depend" on - our loved ones, our jobs, our homes.  We cut open a watermelon and snacked before heading to an outdoor celebration of the beginning of Independence Day.
     I have been told since that Ga'aton's ceremony is special in Israel; I believe it.  The whole Kibbutz was again there to watch.  MASA stood together in the crowd of people facing an outdoor makeshift stage.  A man began to speak in a friendly personal manner.  Behind him were wooden pillars with strings hung between them.  Attached to the strings were large letters that made up words and names in Hebrew.  As the man in front spoke, some kibbutzniks began to light the words on fire.  Not only did they burst into flames, some of the words broke from their hanging place and slide several meters to center stage, or fell together spiraling downwards to be caught just a few feet of the ground.  It was stunning.  There was a massive menorah and a Star of David that, when lit (with the music of Requiem for a Dream playing in the background), began to spin slowly on it's axis like a globe.  Candles were lit and speeches given in honor of various aspects of the Kibbutz: the founders, the education I believe, the volunteers, and even a candle lit in honor of Rami, the Company and MASA.  We were really made to feel a part of the community.  They sang Hatikvah - Israel's national anthem.  With the knowledge that this Israeli Independence day is the Arab "Day of Catastrophe," (the day they lost their home) it was beautiful in a kind of sad way to be a part of this group of people who truly love this land and are grateful to make their homes and build families here.  It is really a hard situation; the conflict becomes both clearer to me and more complicated with every week I am here.  But in that singing, in the joy of the crowd and the thrill of the fireworks that followed, the weight was actually lifted from my shoulders.  It is still an emotional subject to think about, but I don't feel it as this thing pressing from the outside; the entire country is no longer in mourning.  After the fire ceremony, we went back to some tables in front of the studio, ate sweets, and listened to a local band.
     The next day, even though we had it off, was not easy, and neither were the following two days.  I was so drained that it took everything just to go through the motions in class and rehearsal.  I feel a bit better today as it is the weekend and I have done nothing but eat and write and eat and watch a cute film with my friend.  I feel like the people here in MASA are my family.  I take them for granted sometimes, I laugh with them, I love them dearly and I hate them at times.  I feel like they hardly know me and I hardly know them, we only know each other as who we are here.  But I've grown comfortable just to be with them all the time, as we spend almost every minute together.  It has been an amazing process.
      I'm having dreams every night now about coming home, my roommate as well.  I am getting stressed about my Nizozot piece (our student choreography show); it's in three weeks and I have yet to finish my piece.  I'm thrilled with my dancers, but I'm not happy with the work I have done.  I'm afraid because it's silly physical comedy, that it will be seen as stupid and childish.  I have no idea if the humor will read in this very different culture.  The biggest struggle here has - ok I have to stop myself, I can't say that.  One challenge that I have been working on throughout this experience has been trusting myself.  But in general, I have adjusted to living here and doing this program.  So that is an accomplishment I guess, and that is really what I came here to do.  That, and get taller.  Oh and I guess maybe dance a little bit here and there too.
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