Land and People

So Orlando has very nice large hotels. They are close by one another, but you’re not allowed to walk between them. There are roads with some form of sidewalk, but no lighting. I reckon if you’re not expected to walk there at night, get a cab even if it’s the middle of the day.

Still slightly obsessed with the Freedom ponderings, I went to take a class in “Inclusivity: Beyond the (Cis)Gender Binary”.

It was totally fantastic. I felt safe enough to admit to another participant that I didn’t actually know what CisGender meant, and she didn’t shop me to the rest of the class.

But beyond that act of generosity, I started to move to an appreciation of this world of identity liberation. I learned that it is so sensitive to others’ vulnerabilities, that it even suggests I ought signal what personal pronouns I use to define myself (he/him/his), so as to signal to others that I don’t assume what pronouns they might wish to use for themselves. (Or something like that. Forgive me, I’m new to the game.)

There’s a piece of me that sensed in this a terror of privilege, a desperate fear that since one might accidentally wield power to the detriment of another, so one should abdicate it in advance. But then I realised there was something more challenging going on. It is not a fear of one’s own power: It is awe. A conscious, deliberate exploration of the full extent of one’s power, and a careful conscientious use of it for good. Not an abdication of power, but a microscopic examination of its application. Wild stuff. What does an Israeli do with that, I wonder…

So much for Freedom. What about Land?

Sarah is a young Hillel professional who has mostly lived in urban settings, and while she loves “nature” and the “outdoors”, doesn’t really place much significance on Place. She’s lived in the North of the United States, and she’s lived in the South. Tchernichovsky suggested that a person is built according to the “template of the landscape of his birth”. Not so Sarah. “For me it’s more to do with the people, the community – not the geography.”

And the Land of Israel?

“In and of itself? Like the Holy Land, and Israel’s place in the Bible and Jewish History and all that? That’s not what excites me about Israel. I mean, look, Egypt was in the Bible, too. Does that mean I need Birthright to take me there, too? Some pretty important things happened to the Jewish People in Egypt, didn’t they?”

I figured that one day, in a world of peace, that would be a pretty cool trip to take…

“For me, Israel isn’t about the Land: It’s about the people. It suddenly came to me on a Birthright trip I was leading. Up until then I’d been pretty agnostic when it came to Israel. I wasn’t exactly anti-Zionist, but you know, not far off…” (Yes, it’s true, she agreed, it is kind of scary to think that a near anti-Zionist was entrusted with young peoples’ first experience of Israel, but hey.)

“But then I said to myself, here I am staffing this trip, and working in Hillel because being Jewish is so important to me. And here I am in Israel where the whole frigging country is full of Jews – and I don’t feel I have a stake in that! That’s insane!”

That was when she chose to dig deeper. Her way in to engaging with the State of Israel was through the Jewish People, not through the Land of Israel. It was about belonging to a People, not about belonging to a Land.

(Although some might wink and say, “Yes, but she was in the Land when that revelation came to her! Coincidence? I think not…”)

(And other educational researchers will say “Told you so. All the evidence shows that the greatest connector to Israel, is a connection to Jewish Peoplehood.”)

And I just nodded, typed, and then hailed a cab back to my room. Tomorrow morning – early flight to Los Angeles.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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