Posted on April 3, 2019 by Daniella Silverstein
Last week Pardes students enjoyed three days of exploring the Golan, drinking in the scenery. Rainy plains covered in wildflowers, mountains built of rocks, green for days, a shout of exaltation spilling across the landscape. We met crumbling and rebuilt temples, abandoned war bunkers, and UN personnel manning the Syrian border. And through it all I wondered- what does it mean for me to know this place? The trees and the temples. To stand here in a bunker and hear the stories from the Yom Kippur War of soldiers hiding for hours- wounded and shell-shocked, unsure if they were awaiting death or salvation- in the same place I stand now as a free woman. What do I owe this experience, if anything? These soldiers have died in effort for us to maintain autonomy of this land; the autonomy that allows me to live and breathe and walk here, wondering.
How can we know a place? Trekking along paths, climbing up rocks, skirting into the bushes for a toilet break, skipping across streams. Pressing our faces to the bus windows to ogle the glory of the rain, the setting sun. All valid, yet none of it seems intimate enough to me. How to know this land- this land of Israel that we belong to, that I feel so deeply in my soul, so much that it called to me from across the globe in Melbourne, Australia, a call strong enough to rouse me to leave my jobs, communities, friends, apartment, dogs, family- my happiness- all behind to heed it. How can I properly love it? I want to experience it- to lie face-down in the grass, dig my fingers into the dirt, breath in the rust smell of the ground, and forget the boundaries between me and the earth for a while (from dust you came and to dust you shall return)…. But, barring that, sightseeing is pretty good, too.
The funny thing about the Golan is that a lot of the trees are Gumtrees; Australian native. Walking along the path I cupped my hands around my eyes and looked up at the tree crests. Set against the pale blue sky (rare for our otherwise wet getaway), the iconic pointed, dusty green leaves and branches were the only things in sight. I was immediately back in Australia, hiking through the Dandenong ranges on the outskirts of Melbourne, where I feel so at home, so like me. A beautiful cross-over; these Australian trees I feel such homeliness towards, such deep love for, on this land that I’m trying to connect to. I don’t identify as a tree-hugger, but I literally hugged a tree.
It was a few weeks ago that my housemate- who made Aliya from America a few years ago- said to me, in a conversation about living abroad, “you’ll never be whole”. I found it both profoundly painful, and also, strangely, a relief. A relief to hear the unrest and longing that had been niggling at me since moving to not-Australia put into words. And that it was there to stay; not to drive change, or because the feeling meant I had done the wrong thing, but just as something to accept. You will never be whole. A part of me is wholly Australian, and it will always long for the Australian shore. And a part of me is wholly Jewish; a Jewish soul, longing for the land of the Jewish covenant. I may never be whole, but I am also completely whole, too.
One of the wildflowers we saw in the Golan was the poppy. It dotted the landscape in startling bursts of red. In Australia we wear the Poppy on ANZAC day, April 25th, when we remember the soldiers of Australia and New Zealand who have fallen in our wars. I found it oddly appropriate that the landscape should carry this symbol, as we recounted the sacrifices that Israeli soldiers had made for the land we travelled. It’s crossovers like this- the red poppy of the ANZAC, the gumtrees that smell like Australia- that help me to integrate those different parts of me. Australian/Israeli. And to help me know the land- not from behind the window of a bus, dirt under my nails, or through the words of an (excellent) tour guide, but by just being wholly, completely me; a not-stranger-but-still-not-familiar Australian, encountering this Jewish land that I also call mine.
Written by Daniella Silverstein
The Pardes Year Program 2018-19 Golan-Sea of Galilee Overnight Tiyul was generously sponsored in loving memory of Rabbi Stanley Wagner z”l by his wife Renee Rabinowitz.