Two days before the world was to end, as calculated by engineer and prophet Harold Camping, seemed as good a time as any to find answers to eternal questions about human life and meaning. Thus I joined “What’s on your Mind? ” an “International Philosophy Festival” in Jerusalem that ran from May 18 to May 20 as part of this year’s Jerusalem Season of Culture. The city where more philosophers, prophets and messiahs roam than on any other place on earth, and in which the momentous events of the Apocalypse will unfold, was the obvious locale. The festival was held in a large tent erected at the beautiful cultural center Mishkenot Sha’ananim, a stone’s throw from the walls of the ancient city and facing Mount Zion.
Bronzed workers forge a winding road through the hills leading to the Dead Sea; smiling politicians cut ribbons marking the National Water Carrier, chemical factories and a gleaming submarine; proud generals lecture an adoring audience on their latest military victories; Jewish athletes march at the Maccabiah Games — these images, known as “Yomaney Geva” (“Geva Diaries”), were shown during the first three decades of the State of Israel to cinema-goers before every film screening, representing the ethos of an idealistic era and helping the process of cultural and ideological integration in the new country. Now, the celluloid on which they were printed has faded and soon the buildings they were created in will be demolished, replaced by luxury apartments.
‘Chasamba! Chasamba! Chasamba!” This battle cry of the fictional patriotic youth group Chasamba (an acronym for “absolutely secret group”) — familiar to every Israeli child during the first decades of the state — is once again heard across the land. Resurrected from a series of novels to feature in the television show “Chasamba Generation 3,” which premiered this past fall, the program’s heroes arrive at a country radically different from the one in which they previously fought the good fight.
Under a full moon in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, two lovers recite poetry — the late Palestinian national bard Mahmoud Darwish’s words of affection and longing. Shadows cast on the stones of Christ’s birthplace merge. The scene shifts to an acrimonious meeting at a sports club. Debate flares over which game to watch and over politics. One club member declares, “We should live the way we believe.”
Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel By Alon Tal University of California, 546 pages, $34.95. * * *|‘The swiftly flowing waters of the Yarkon River enticed us to leap into them and swim, though occasionally we had to make way for a water buffalo or a camel.” Thus enthused my father, Israel Tzvi Raab, as he