I loved Israel before I knew what Israel was. I grew up listening to cassettes and CDs of Israeli songs in the car and I said the שמע before bed. I learned Hebrew in school and supplemented the language with daily lessons about my people’s origin story, far greater than that of any superhero or fictional protagonist. When reading the Torah, my mythology, I decoded ancient words into a modern language and then into my first language. I read epic stories about a tribe of underdogs who, despite all odds, were resilient enough to exist. Not only did the people – my people – in the stories continue to exist and thereby defy those who sought our demise, but my people also constantly worked towards a common and continuous goal: to go home.
I read all these stories centered around a people and a land. Perhaps subconsciously I understood that there was some connection to the soundtrack of my car rides and to the portions of my days dedicated to the Torah, but the linear link didn’t hit me until much later.
In my beginning, there was me and there was Israel.
It was with such a rich context, a deep understanding, and transformative personal experiences that I grew to comprehend what Israel was and why I loved it.
I moved to Israel with this knowledge, knowing wholeheartedly the personal, historical, national, cultural, communal, political, and transnational significance of the land. I had lived in this land before, and I loved it.
Fast forward to my most recent טיול in the שטח of Tiberias, overlooking the kinneret. Nothing was new to me, just familiar and beautiful.
We traveled north, up the Golan side of the kinneret, where I was faced with an intellectual dearth. It was overlooking the kinneret, the rays of sunlight grazing the surface water to create the illusion of sparkles, that I was hit. In this beautiful place, lush with vegetation and history, I encountered ignorance. I don’t want to label it ignorance so much as a lack of what I deem to be basic knowledge.
There were people around me, people I didn’t know, who had also chosen to move to this land with the intention to serve its army, who were unfamiliar with the Golan. I can understand perhaps having not been there or not knowing particular statistics about the dormant volcanoes, but there are a few things that seem like they should be known before entering the region, as follow:
- Land mines
- Jordan river
- Six-Day War
- Yom Kippur War
- Syria has historically not been a member of the Israel Fan Club
- Ibid @Lebanon
I might even add Mount Hermon to this list, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll keep it to those ten. To go to the Golan without these buzzwords – an understanding of the concepts isn’t even required in my book – doesn’t seem disrespectful so much as it seems unfathomable.
If I somehow came across the idea that I was going to move to a new place, I would do my research. I’d read up on it and try to understand at least the fundamentals of its history, geography, and maybe some aspects of its culture (like I did when moving to New Orleans).
But to move to a new place without any contextual knowledge, I suppose does seem relatively disrespectful to me. I recognize that I grew up with the inverse of this concept, being bombarded by ancient and modern context since before I knew what Israel was. But if I didn’t have my upbringing and only had a yearning to be in Israel, I would do my homework.
Even with my background, I still do my homework every day. I try to improve my Hebrew and to become even more familiar with the land so that I can become part of its story and not show up to the Golan, wondering about the mines and bodies of water.
In conclusion, this post maybe lacks a thesis, but I think the point of my writing this (aside from needing to practice my writing) is that I need to work on my own understanding of how to cope with those that lack the context that I have been privileged enough to be afforded. Yet my contextual privilege only goes so far, as my pre-acquired context is compounded upon the work I constantly put in to improve it. To not have the context and then to also resist improving it reads to me as active ignorance. But as an educational elitist who knows too many Israeli children songs and how to identify the Golan on a map with a blindfold, what do I know?