Libi B´mizrach- My Heart is in the East- 6.2.13

3 Jun

“Jerusalem is my anchor on the earth” Professor Lefkovitz said to us on the first day of class.  She told us that wherever in the world she goes, she always finds herself coming back to this magical city.  This sentence truly struck home for me.  Ever since I visited Israel for the first time exactly one year ago on Birthright, there has been this pull inside my heart telling me to come back.  When our plane touched down just 2 weeks ago, I was filled with a warm familiar feeling that I could not describe.  But I think that Professor Lefkovitz was able to put into words what I could not: Jerusalem is my anchor in the world, wherever I may go.

The way I feel toward this land, and many American Jews feel, is expressed perfectly by Dan Nichols who wrote a beautiful song called “My heart is in the East.” The song is based off a quote by poet Yehudah Halevi which say’s “Libi b’mizrach v’anochi b’sof maarav” (my heart is in the east but I am at the ends of the west).  Both Nichols and Halevi share this deep love for a country to which they have never even visited.  Dan Nichols expresses this sentiment in a love song to Eretz Israel, the following of which is an excerpt:

My heart is in the east/ libi, libi b’mizrach/ I want to see the dawn of hope in your eye/ I want to brush the tears from your cheeks when you cry/ I want to smell the blossoms in your hair/ I want to hear the sound of your song in the air/ I want to taste the honey on your lips/ I want to dance with my hands wrapped round your hips/ I want to lift you up and watch you take flight/ I want to know that you’ve found peace tonight/ My heart is in the east/ libi, libi b’mizrach/ My heart is in the east/ V’anochi b’sof maarav/ I think about you most every day and wonder when I’ll finally get the courage to say/ I wouldn’t be the man I am without you/ I wouldn’t see the world the same if you hadn’t come true.

The strong connection to the land of Israel is one which not only I connect to, but Jews all around the world.  This relates directly to the lecture that Dr. Elan Ezrachi gave us this morning in class on Jewish immigration to Israel.  Immigrating to Israel is called making Aliya.  The word Aliya in English translates to “ascent,” as if one is rising up when claiming Israeli citizenship.  While most Jews that immigrated to Israel at the establishment of the state in 1948 were secular Jews, the word Aliya also echoes an honor of blessing the torah.  This correlates making Aliya with a very holy act.  Today, in Israel, there are over 100 ethnicities of Jews that have come to Israel and made Aliya.  American Jews, however, only make up a minor percentage of the population.  There are many factors that play into this reality.  For me personally, I would make Aliya in a heartbeat if Israel were not a 12 hour flight from my home and my family.  As Americans, we have been raised with valuing family above almost anything else.  I could never raise my children in Israel knowing that they would never truly get to know their aunt and grandparents.  The people who make Aliya are looking for something more than family, and they want to make a reality out of this dream of Israel as their home.  Dan Nichols song is sung as if he is on an airplane, dreaming that his destination is Israel.  The end of the song say’s “when I touch down in an hour or two, I’ll still be dreaming that I’m coming home to you.”

The reality is, however, that as much as I feel a connection to Israel, so do many people.  After Dr. Ezrachi’s lecture we had Lubna and Eman, two Palestinian girls studying at Hadassah College in Jerusalem come and speak with us about their perspectives on the situation.  This was especially powerful for me because until I was a junior in high school I was completely pro-Israel and advocated for a one state solution.  My junior year I participated in a program through NFTY (North American Federation for Temple Youth) that brought Palestinian students to speak with us.  I had never spoken with a Palestinian before, and meeting this boy put a face to the Palestinian side of the conflict.  I realized that I couldn’t hate him anymore than I could hate anyone else my own age because he was just like me.  In fact, he felt so strongly about coming to speak with us that he disobeyed his mother, who forbade him to participate in the program and was not speaking to him as a result.  This boy completely changed my view of this conflict and the world, igniting a passion inside of me. This experience led me to write my college essay about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ended up getting me into Northeastern.  Speaking with Lubna and Eman brought me right back to that first day five and a half years ago when I realized how passionate I was not just about Israel, but more importantly about people.  Both young women are stuck in the middle of a conflict they didn’t ask for.  They are stuck in a mess of their own dreams, their families’ wishes, and the demands of two opposing governments, none of which can seem to find any common ground.

There are a few points that stuck with me the most after our conversation with Eman and Lubna.   The first of these is that Eman does not hold citizenship to any country.  I did not think this was possible, but aside from that I can’t imagine how it would feel.  Would it feel as though I belonged nowhere, or would it be liberating to belong to no governing body but my own?  Eman made this decision because she refuses to choose a side.  She does not believe either is correct, and she does not want to restrict and label herself with a citizenship.  She said that many of her Palestinian friends have chosen Israeli citizenship and given up their right to travel to Mecca.  They did this out of a desire to feel equal.  Eman believes that citizenship is not real equality, it is just a paper and there is no real equality in this divided state.  She believes that the basic issue comes from the way you raise your children.  If you raise a child full of rage, they will grow to hate not only others but themselves as well.  No state can reach peace with a generation of children full of rage and hate.

Lubna, the second woman we spoke with, echoed this idea.  She told us that she teaches a class of third graders, and when she brings up the conflict they repeat the hateful, closed-minded ideas of their parents.  These children are too young to have a real opinion of their own; they just repeat what has been instilled in them.  This is a two sided problem- I know that I was so pro-Israel not too long ago because I had no concept of any other solution.

Another issue that the women talked about was the issue of Israeli- Palestinian relations on a personal level.  They both hated Israelis until they came to Hadassah College and had the chance to meet Israeli students face to face.  Lubna and Eman made many Israeli friends and a new hope for the future was formed.  However, after the attacks on Israel from Gaza this past November, the friendships were broken up when the Israelis retreated back to their roots.  Lubna and Eman talked about how their friends refused to speak to them, as if the attacks were somehow the fault of these two women.  It really broke my heart to see how superficial these relationships were, and that we still have so much further to go until Israelis and Palestinians can just act like normal people with one another.

A final point I would like to make comes in the language that the women used.  Throughout the whole conversation, the two women spoke of a dream of harmony between the two nations.  It wasn’t revealed until the end, however, that when Eman meant harmony she mean a two state solution, while Lubna saw harmony as an integration of the two peoples living at peace in one democratic state.  This brings up the fundamental problem of what peace is and what it will look like.  Everyone can aspire to “peace,” but that does not mean that we are all aspiring to the same future.  As much as I learned in class today, I believe I left more frustrated than I started out.  If two women from the same side of the conflict aspiring to a peaceful future cannot agree on what that means how will two defensive militant governments ever find their way?

– Jenna Sweig


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