Galilee Diary #520, December 15, 2010 Marc Rosenstein
...Go up there into the Negev and on into the hill country, and see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not?... -Numbers 13:17-20
Recently, our Hebrew-Arabic website held an informal evening of presentations by writers for the site who have published elsewhere. About forty people turned out for a mellow evening that included readings of poetry and short stories, and talks by a historian, an educator, and a high school journalist. Since the site contains a link to Galilee Diary (the only English content on Dugrinet), I too had a place on the panel. This gave me an opportunity to reflect on this project, approaching today's entry, which is number 520 - marking the completion of exactly ten years of weekly essays.
After I wrote an email to some friends about my impressions of the riots here in 2000, Rabbi Katzew of the URJ suggested we turn it into a regular report, to provide some insight into life in Israel in general and the Galilee in particular, from the perspective of an "ordinary citizen." As I got into the routine of a weekly entry of a set length, I found myself trying to define a territory that was between the two extremes of the purely personal (what I feel) and the ponderous and national (what the government should do). I decided that my "mission" should be to try to convey the complex, interesting, sometimes surprising, and often challenging reality of everyday life here, to readers who in many cases were very far away in miles and in culture and in general knowledge. I believe that true "Israel education" is neither advocacy nor attack. I believe that if Diaspora Jews are to feel connected to Israel, they need to gain a degree of intimate knowledge that transcends feeling badly about Palestinian suffering, or angry about Ahmedinejad's rantings. Israel, like any other state, is a rich and complex fabric of historical memories, political views, cultures, social problems, dreams, achievements - and individuals. From far away it may look homogeneous, especially when one must try to extrapolate "knowledge" of the state from headlines and sound bites. My goal is to hold up a magnifying glass, so that those who are far away can get at least a glimpse of how Israel looks up close.
Moreover, I realized over the years that to convey the impression that we spend all our time and energy here grappling with moral and social dilemmas (the status of the Arabs, ecological threats, religious pluralism, etc.) is a distortion. Like people everywhere, we educate our children and go on vacations and tend our gardens and get sick and party and watch television: we live normal lives - in ways that are both universal and particular, that express our humanity - but also reflect the influences of our local experience. So I have made it a policy to include entries about the land and its seasons, popular culture, and the details of everyday life that give expression to Israel's uniqueness as well as its lack of uniqueness. I try, in order to sustain both readers' interest and my own, to maintain a balance between "heavy" and "light" topics, between moral dilemmas and the weather.
This attempt at nuance, balance, and intimacy is not so always easy: It is tempting, when I am appalled by the actions or statements of my democratically elected government, to say what I really feel as an outraged citizen. But my readers are not citizens, and their responsibility for Israel is different from mine. My outrage needs to be directed through the appropriate civic channels; it is not fair or appropriate for me to try to enlist my readers to my political views. On the other hand, if I shield my readers from the serious conflicts within Israeli society, I am denying them the intimate knowledge of Israel that is the purpose of this project. Meanwhile, the act of writing the diary often forces me to stop and look at both sides of an issue, and climb down a bit from my own outrage.
Indeed, the main benefit for me of writing the Galilee Diary for these ten years has been that in holding up a magnifying glass for others, I have had the opportunity to look through it myself, and see things about Israel I would otherwise surely have missed. Not what I had expected, but reason enough to look forward to another ten years...