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April 23, 2014 | 23rd Nisan 5774

Living on the Edge

Galilee Diary #463, October 28, 2009
Marc Rosenstein

Three times a year - on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths - all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place that He will choose.
-Deuteronomy 16:16

I am writing this entry while sitting on the mostly empty train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, my first ride on this route since it was reopened four years ago. Originally laid by a French contractor for the Ottomans in 1892, this line winds through beautiful vistas of the Judean hills for over 90 minutes. It was shut down in 1998 as inefficient and little-used; recently it was refurbished at great cost, for reasons that are not clear, as it is still inefficient and little-used. A high-speed alternative is under construction. Now that I have started working at HUC in Jerusalem two days a week, and have to be there by 9:00 am on Mondays, I have been exploring the various alternative ways to get from the Galilee to the capital:

• Leave the house at 4:30, drive to Acco, park in the free parking lot, take the train to Tel Aviv and transfer to the Jerusalem line, arriving at 8:30. About 60 shekels each way.

• Leave the house at 5:00, take a later train to Tel Aviv, and transfer to a bus to Jerusalem. If there are no major traffic jams on the road up to Jerusalem, arrival will be around 8:30; however, the trip can easily take at least another half hour, and there is no way to know in advance. The odds are about 50-50. Except today, when the National Association of Municipalities is protesting budget cuts by driving a caravan of garbage trucks slowly up to Jerusalem at rush hour. About 55 shekels.

• There is now a direct bus that stops at Shorashim at 6:15, but it doesn't get to Jerusalem until 9:15 (on a good traffic day). 48 shekels.

• If our second car were up to such regular long trips, I could drive. Bypassing Haifa and coming out to the coastal road at Zichron Yaakov, this is about a 2:45 trip - again, assuming normal traffic. Of course, this method rules out sleeping or working en route. About 60 shekels for gas (based on my diesel that gets 50 mpg).

• Recently, Route Six, the huge toll-road project to connect the whole country (remember the Interstate?) has been extended to Yokneam in the north. Driving this route can take as little as 2:15 - though it does not bypass the biggest potential traffic jam - the climb to Jerusalem. About 90 shekels gas and toll. This project remains controversial on account of its environmental impact and its diversion of resources from mass transit. I have adopted a quixotic policy of avoiding driving on it unless there are other people in the car who would think I was crazy to go the longer way around.

• I know someone who decided to reenact the ancient pilgrimage experience, and made the trip from the Galilee through the West Bank to Jerusalem by donkey. It took him four days. This confirms the medieval tradition that the reason that the oil found by the Maccabees in the Temple had to burn for eight days was that it took four days to go to the Galilee to get a fresh supply of sacred oil, and four days to get back with it.

There is a lot of public discussion now in Israel about "the periphery," the Galilee and the Negev. There is even a government ministry of "development of the Galilee and the Negev." Some of this discussion echoes with the usual rhetoric of victimhood - we Galileans and southerners don't get our fair share of attention and resources; our economies are underdeveloped, our access to culture is limited. One response is to invest resources in developing industries, tourism, education and culture in the periphery. Another is to make the periphery less peripheral, bringing it closer with fast trains and highways. For me, while it would be nice to have easy and fast access to the resources of the "center," being far away also has its advantages, allowing both the Galilee and the Negev to stay different, to provide alternative visions and to preserve their unique cultures.

 

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