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April 24, 2014 | 24th Nisan 5774

Tu Beshvat Interlude

February 8, 2004
Marc Rosenstein

Anyone who has been reading these diary entries for more than a few weeks has probably noticed that I never seem to run out of things to criticize in Israel. This is due, I think, not to any general unhappiness or disappointment with life here, nor to a sense of impending disaster, but rather simply to my underlying assumption – shared by many but also rejected by many – that somehow this place has to be better than anyplace else. And living with an expectation like that is bound to lead to lots of disappointments.

But this week is Tu Beshvat, and a kabbalistic text from 16th century Safed, in describing the first Tu Beshvat seder, quotes a strange and interesting passage from the Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Kiddushin:

In the future every man will have to give an accounting of whatever his eye saw and he did not eat.

The kabbalists understood the passage as referring to beautiful fruit. Or we could generalize it by understanding “eat” to mean “enjoy.”

The other day I returned from a day of meetings via the last train from Tel Aviv to Acco, leaving at 9:23 pm and arriving around 11:00. The trains in Israel may be our last environmental hope, and they are improving and expanding impressively year by year. The connection to Tu Beshvat? I am boycotting the new Trans-Israel toll road, a crime against future generations with its acres of asphalt cutting through the heart of the country. I don’t think anyone is noticing, but I feel righteous riding the train.

There is something special about the train, hurtling through the countryside with its varied human cargo, who go on about their reading, computing, sleeping, eating, walking around, without having to think about the road ahead or the world outside. In fact, this night it was pouring outside. The train was comfortable, mostly empty, and I was dozing. When you look out the window of a train at night, all you see is yourself, so all that exists is speeding along with you, and what’s out there is just out there.

As we passed Haifa, I became conscious of a group of half a dozen modern orthodox high school girls a few seats away, in their characteristic long skirts and stylish layers of vests, scarves, and sweaters. It had apparently been a long day and they had reached the level of tiredness that dissolves into silliness. Their laughter filled the car, but instead of annoying the few dozing passengers, it made them smile. “OK I need a country beginning with N… Nephrology!!” [peals of laughter]… And then as we pulled out of Kiryat Motzkin five handsome (really) non-religious soldiers came running through the train: the doors on this train were the old manual type, and theirs had jammed in the station – and before they could get to another exit the train had rolled on. They were frustrated, but what could they do? While two of them got lectures from other passengers on how to get back to their station by taxi, the rest were playing Jewish geography with the girls (“which neighborhood do you live in in Ashdod? Do you know Gabi?...”).

And it occurred to me: these are the New Jews we dreamed of, innocently laughing, safe and together on the train, and what’s out there is just out there.

I guess you had to be there. I guess I’m glad I was.

 

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