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5. The Zionist layer plus the Jewish layer. Zionism is an ideology going back to the mid- to late 19th century; Judaism is a religion and culture going back over three thousand years. Zionism is now old enough that it constitutes a tradition, a heritage, within the state of Israel. For instance, the first kibbutz—Deganya, on the shore of Lake Kinneret—recently celebrated its 100th birthday (Israel, as mentioned, is celebrating its 63d). Driving and hiking in the upper Galilee, mostly still pristine countryside, one sees small settlements nestled beside green hills and gets a sense of time travel, of gazing back into the early days of Zionism.
Israel is also, of course, very rich in ancient Jewish sites, like the deservedly famous Western Wall and Masada. The Zionist and the Jewish layers are distinct, yet flow together; the former would not exist without the latter. That is, the ideological Zionists came here because the Jewish “layer” was already here. The modern Israeli is fed by both the Zionist and Jewish streams, both separately and in their convergence. It’s a strong brew.
6. The spring holidays. As alluded to, there are holiday experiences here all year round, but there is a particularly potent succession of holidays in spring, both ancient Jewish ones and modern Israeli ones. The former: Passover, Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and the more minor Lag B’Omer; the latter: Holocaust Day, Remembrance Day (for fallen soldiers), and Independence Day (along with Jerusalem Day celebrated mainly in that city).
What is notable is that these holidays are taken seriously and related to authentically. Holocaust Day and Remembrance Day touch an abyss of mourning; Passover, Shavuot, and Independence Day are tremendously joyous. Especially in the spring Israel is an ideological community in the best sense; people do not live only as atomized selves but as part of larger memories and purposes. It’s perhaps what I was most seeking in coming to the old-new land; it’s very much to be found.
7. Jerusalem is here. I used to live in it, don’t anymore, but whenever I think of its name (Jerusalem, Yerushalayim), there’s a heart-fluttering sensation. It becomes the center of one’s dreams and sentiments. Perhaps it can be that, too, outside of Israel, but it’s different when one has known its stones and cypresses for years. To me, it exudes holiness with the same undeniable, indeed sensuous immediacy that its stones exude soft light.
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