What Being An Artist Means

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Waiting on a bench in the Jerusalem Central Station, I met a girl who was an alumni of my University. She was in Israel for the month and she was on her way to visit her aunt and uncle who lived in the Yeshuv , Itamar.

We spoke about our experiences at Boston University, our recent adventures in the Holy land, and our shared status as artists.

Then she got to politics.  My new friend had entered into dangerous territory.

“You know, I’m an artist and all, and you, being an artist, you probably have similar ideas…but, since I’m an artist, I just don’t really feel comfortable with my aunt living in a settlement.  What do you think?”

Last time I checked, your creative abilities were not supposed to determine what you considered right and wrong.

I am an artist. I paint. I take pictures. I make films. I write.

The fact that I can put paintbrush to canvas does not have any impact on what I think about Jews living in our homeland.  That I can write out a poem does not mean that I am opposed to idealists and dreamers. That I can pick up a camera does not mean I deny the rights of my own people.

If you are an artist, you should be putting your creative energies into defending this land you blindly condemn because of your vocation.  There are artists in this land. There are artists painting pictures and there are artists painting reality. They create the world that they want to live in. They fight for their art, they die for their art, and you oppose them for their art.

Do not tell me you oppose them because you are an artist.

Yes, it is encouraged in society to hide your beliefs, to not stand up for what is right…but to believe in something simply because it fits a label you place yourself into? No wonder the world is upside down.

The Jewish people living in Yesha are artists. They create, they give, they fight.  If you are going to oppose something, let it not be because you are an artist.  If you are going to oppose something, let it be because this something is wrong.  However, In this case, this something…is right.

Learning from Tremps

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After a weekend on the Yishuv, I had several options to get back to Jerusalem.  I could climb on a bus and join fifty other people and their kids, sad to leave the hills and Shabbat behind.  I could see if the family I had stayed with was heading into the city and join them. Or I could take a tremp.

I remember when a good friend of mine first taught me the rules.  Don’t talk on the phone. Don’t play music. Get out when you get to your stop.   To be on the safe side, all of my tremps were drivers coming out of the Yishuv I had just spent the weekend on.  They were usually either women or families.  

I loved coming back to Jerusalem in a tremp.  It was a peek into another person’s world. The music they listened to, the conversations I could have if they started speaking to me.   The connections I made all over the Shomron as I was driven through the mountains under the stars and toward my destination.

Now that I am in Chutz La Aretz and away from my home, I don’t take tremps anymore.  Not only is it dangerous, but it is also out of the question. No one driving out of my neighborhood will offer me a ride if I am heading elsewhere.  That is not in their mentality. They have their cars, they’re comfortable. I can get there myself.  

When did the American mentality become so me me me and less we we we?  Judaism teaches that we are all one, part of the greater whole of existence.  Perhaps that is why strangers were so willing to give me rides back to Jerusalem on those Saturday nights.  If we are here to connect, then surely we should have no problems offering rides to, if not strangers, at least acquaintances and friends who are in need of transport.  We were not put on this earth to acquire, but to give.  Perhaps America could take some cues from people who pick up strangers in cars.  You have 5 seats built in for a reason.

Revolutionizing Extremism

“Some people believe exactly what I believe, but they like to wear ties. They know their ties neatly around their necks, cutting the brain off from the flow of blood, and this solves the problem.  The mind to one side, life to the other. I, you know, don’t like ties. I don’t like dividers.  Understand me. My beliefs are nurtured not only from external well springs, but also from my veins, and in my veins flows blood” -Israel Eldad

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On a Saturday night at Nefe Nehemiah I walked around the community and spoke to my host.  “People used to die for their beliefs” he told me as we gazed upon the Samarian hills.  I conceded.  Today, it seems, less people are willing to live for their beliefs,let alone die for them.  We are left with a mentality that even if your beliefs are right, then it is a crime to act on them.   The risk of being called an extremist is too powerful, but it seems many people have forgotten that there is such thing as “extremely good.”

An animal has no beliefs, no ideologies, this is a privilege granted only to human beings.  An animal survives.  A human being lives for something greater.

Belief isn’t something to be argued about at the dinner table, it’s not a passing thought. It’s something to act on. Something to live by.   Something that gives us strength.

Judaism was built on people who today would be called “extremists”.  Avraham Avinu was willing to be thrown into the fire to live up to what he knew to be true.  While the rest of the world fought against his claims, he fought for truth.  He never agreed to the “almost oneness” of G-d,  only accepting the one truth, while the Idol-worshipping world continued to call him crazy.  Today, there are people who follow in the path of Avraham and live by what is true while the rest of the world continues to call them crazy.  It is time that the world wakes up to the other side of extremism, the side that leads to positive change in the world, that compels people to act, the kind that brings good into the world and the kind that we as people who desire to change the world should embrace.

Wake Up, A Poem

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I wake up

To the rock covered hills

To the olive trees and lined caravans

To a sunrise in Samaria

 My empty sleep has ceased

Truth has ended slumber’s term

Is there anything more beautiful

Than this land, these people, these rock covered hills

These olive trees and lined caravans

This sunrise in Samaria

Awake, my soul, from your slumber

Sing out Modeh Ani  

A new morning has come

I join my spiritual nation

Am Yisrael

The marriage of our two souls seeks out the fruits of it’s consummation

The people of Israel and the land

Combine under the Chuppah of Heaven

And make a house for their kingdom

Shabbat at נופי נחמיה

The windows of the Synogogue at  נופי נחמיה look out onto the mountains of Samaria. From where I stand in the בית כנסת,  I can see the Jewish and Arab communities speckled across the landscape as I turn the pages of my Siddur and listen to the men on the other side in their tallit and woven Kippahs welcome in the Shabbat at נופי נחמיה, a ישוב (settlement) in the West Bank.

Friday night dinner is outside.  A table is set in the middle of the street in front of the caravan and together, along with Jewish people in the settlement, in Israel, and around the world, we welcome in Shabbat.  The greenish white lights of the Arab communities and the yellow lights from the Jewish households dot the outlines of the mountains surrounding the area.  Meir makes Kiddush and Ligal lays out a Shabbat meal made more sweet by the sounds of children singing the prayers they learned from watching their parents.

Shabbat dinner is followed by sleep and tefillah in the morning.  On my walk home from the synogogue, a man sitting at a table outside makes kiddush on wine and we all stop to listen. He finishes, we say Amen, and then continue toward the park in the middle of the ישוב.  Young girls with long dresses and their hair in pigtails and little boys with woven colorful kippahs sit in a circle and sing tefillin.  Afterwards, they all play together in the center of the ישוב while the parents sit in a circle and  chat.  This is real community.

As the sun sets on the ישוב, it also sets on Shabbat. I sit with Meir, Ligal, and their two children, Yoav and Omer, as we enjoy the last meal of Shabbat.  Meir makes Kiddish and Ligal lights the Havdalah candle as we all bid farewell to a weekend centered around community, family, and G-d.

The other day I visited the ים המלח (Dead Sea). I met a Jewish women from Belize who was planning on making Aliyah.  As we spoke, she told me that an easy life is not a good life, a life must be difficult to have meaning.  Here on נופי נחמיה, where every Shabbat is a demonstration of the hard work and connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel,  our  day of rest is one of special significance. Every Kiddush made, every Tefillah said in the בית כנסת, every Zemirot sung and every little boy running around with his Tallit and Kippah is an expression of hope for the continuation of the Jewish nation.  Life may be more difficult on נופי נחמיה, but it surely is not worse.  If anything at all, life may be difficult, but it also just might be much better.

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