Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Israel

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Israel Immersion Trip: Journal 5

Collin Rudnik '10 - Some of my fellow students composed blogs concerning the awe-inspiring qualities of the Holy Land.  Yet try as I might, I could not tap into those same feelings.  Part of it might be the information overload of trying to soak up all the chief features of monotheism’s overall holiest city—the other part might be the embellishment of facts with convenient (or strangely inconvenient) locations for holy sites, merchandising, and the seemingly endless fighting between not just different religions but different sects of the same religion.

My own cynicism has important parallels to societal tensions within Israel today.  The state was founded by Jews who were predominantly secular and often socialist.  The ultra-orthodox sects within Judaism actually believe the creation of Israel to be outside of God’s plan.  And even if they slander Israel, they are not above receiving exemptions from conscription and stipends to continue studying at Yeshiva; nor do they refrain from creating political parties to voice their interests.  Reminiscent of the mythical system of estates in Medieval Europe, the ultra-orthodox do the praying while the more moderate or secular Jews do the fighting (along with the Druze) and working (along with Israeli Arabs).

Sometimes, this tension enters the light.  Yesterday night, at the checkpoint between the Arab and Jewish districts of the Old City, an ultra-orthodox tried to brush through one of the checkpoints.  The Uzi-toting IDF soldier stationed there was simply not amused, and sent the fellow through the metal detector like everyone else.  Not everyone is keen on their holier-than-though disposition.

And yet Israel grants them significant powers through religious courts, which we discovered today on a tour of the Israeli Supreme Court.  Marriages between Jews and non-Jews must be held on Cyprus because the courts won’t approve of them here.  Separation must follow the Old Testament requirement of a thrice-stated divorce by the husband.  And unless the religious court oversteps its jurisdiction, these rulings cannot be appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court.

But I suppose that is the least of the problems here.  During my writing of this (about 9 PM March 6th, local time), a Yeshiva was attacked by three gunmen, one of which is still on the loose.  Some eight people are dead, and another thirty-five are wounded.  The sirens from the ambulances and the whir of helicopter blades pierce the silence, and then fade away once more.

Israel is a beautiful, green, modern, quiet place.  This has been my overall impression.  Things seemed so peaceful in the north when we were all staying at the Kibbutz.  And for those not near Gaza or Jerusalem, they probably are still peaceful—for now.  The greatest contradiction, the greatest tension, once more enters the spotlight: that in the Holy Land, perhaps more than most anywhere else, the least holy acts are perpetrated.