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April 21, 2014 | 21st Nisan 5774

By the sea

Galilee Diary #437, April 12, 2009
Marc J. Rosenstein

The ocean sounds, O Lord, the ocean sounds its thunder, the ocean sounds its pounding.
Above the thunder of the mighty waters, more majestic than the breakers of the sea is the Lord, majestic, on high.
-Psalm 93:3-4

Many Israelis spend Pesach in Sinai (despite both the irony of returning to Egypt for Pesach, and the government warnings of terror attacks). That's always seemed a bit extreme to us, but this year we did repeat an adventure of several years ago, transporting our seder to a beachfront kibbutz guest house south of Haifa. Not Sinai and not the Red Sea, but plenty of sand and sea nevertheless. With two other families we prepared and brought with us all the symbols and the foods, and organized the seder in one of our rooms (after a bit of furniture-moving). The circumstances forced us to keep food and utensils simple, releasing us all from some of the "bondage" of Pesach preparation. Since no one had to leave for home afterwards, we could drink wine and sing as late as we wanted. And we could take long walks along the beach, by sunlight and by moonlight, a setting conducive to thoughts about freedom.

We were just a few minutes' walk along a broad sandy beach from Tel Dor, a massive excavation of an important port city that was built and occupied over and over again by every people that ruled the coastline, from the Canaanites through the Phoenicians and Romans to the modern Zionists. A little farther south is the Roman port of Caesaria, whose excavations have been turned into a popular tourist site. Dor remains partly excavated and totally undeveloped. The waves crash over a jumble of natural rock formations and man-made structures from different periods, and you can wander and climb freely – you can even swim (illegally) in the pools created by the waves among the ruins. On a spring day, when the paths are lined with wildflowers, the sky is clear blue and the water turquoise, and salt spray is on the breeze, it's hard to think about the responsibilities waiting after the holiday.

Dor, like Gaza and Yafo, Caesaria and Acco, represents the link between the Land of Israel and the West – Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Napoleon, the British, the Zionist settlers, all used these ports. We take for granted the importance of the desert in the history and culture and religion of the land; the Torah is pretty much a desert book. Our desert is the bridge between Asia and Africa. But it's important to remember the significance of the coastline as well – for it represents the bridge to Europe. Perhaps what has most made this country so important, throughout the ages, is its unique location, linking North Africa, Europe, and the Arabian desert and beyond (it is believed that Marco Polo passed through Acco on the way to China). We’ve been dealing with globalization here since before the globe was invented, for better or for worse. Mediterranean, African and Asian flora and fauna meet here – as do diverse cultures and religions. These encounters have at times been traumatic, but they have also been productive. Our challenge today is to shift the balance from trauma to creativity.

Since most travel to Israel today is by air, it is easy to overlook the importance of the sea link. When our children were young we decided it was important to experience the geography of Israel's location, and so we flew from Chicago to Greece and continued on to Israel by ship. And indeed, seeing Mt. Carmel materialize in the distance, and then experiencing the entry into the harbor and arrival on dry land – the sense of place – and of history - was very powerful.
The sea is of course not just a path to the West; it is also a powerful force of nature and cultural symbol in its own right, with its power and its mystery, its beauty and its cruelty. In this context it is interesting to note that the vast majority of the population of Israel lives less than 45 minutes' drive from the shore. We are at least as much of the sea as we are of the desert.

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