When Uri told me that my first assigned guard duty would be November 25, I asked him if he chose my birthday on purpose. In any case, I find myself spending my 41st birthday patrolling the kibbutz which is my new home.
I often walk and run the fence road with my dog, but there is something different about being on patrol. Guarding one’s home, even on a routine night where nothing is expected, creates a new connection to a place that I have never experienced before, living in cities and suburbs. The fence gives a very clear boundary between inside and outside, between the insider and the outsider. The act of patrolling makes me feel like I am becoming an insider – not so much the new guy anymore.
For most of the night, I drive the big patrol truck around, but for one of the evening patrols, I ask if it is OK to do it on foot. The dog needs a walk, and I can use the fresh air after a few days cooped up with the flu. We walk out towards the gate, and head for the road behind the cow sheds. Dovie, usually our vigilant guard dog at home, barking at anything that goes by, does not seem to understand his role in the patrol, and hides between my legs as we pass the cows being returned from the night milking.
As we pass the cow sheds , the Jordan valley opens up below us, the lights of Beit Shean and the kibbutzim white, yellow and orange across the valley. These are familiar to me after 9 months here – Sde Eliyahu where my kids go to school, Sde Trumot where our favourite café is, Tirat Tzvi where we stock up before a barbecue.
The smell of the cows gives way to the more pungent smell of the turkey coops, as we round the southeast corner of the kibbutz. Merav is visible across the hill, our sister kibbutz on the Gilboa. The fields I often run through during the day between the kibbutzim, are too black to see in the dark night.
Coming round the old wind turbine, the Dotan Valley comes into view, Jilabun close by below Merav, and Jenin off in the distance. The yellow, white and orange lights are punctuated with the green of minarets. We are separated by the security fence and I know little about these places. When I run through to the far side of the forest, I come within shouting distance of Jilabun, but I have never seen any people there. We can hear their muezzin call them to prayer five times a day, and even music when they have a party of some kind or another. Carmeli, the watch captain, told me today “there is Hamas there.” Does that mean they are particularly radical, or that they had a particularly corrupt local Palestinian Authority representative that they wanted to vote out? In any case, I wish we could be better neighbours (is it cliché to think of Robert Frost now?) I am told we were in years gone by, before the fence, although there were also incidents of terrorism as well.
The Dotan Valley is where Joseph was taken by his brothers and thrown in a pit, and I wonder if I can see the actual spot. I think about the unity this country showed over the past two weeks of fighting in the south. Left and right, religious and secular, all got together to help those under attack. We hosted a group of kids from a kibbutz down south, giving them a break from the air raid sirens for the day. How much unity to we need to show to atone for that ancient sin? Will the upcoming elections undo it all?
Faqua comes into sight as well now, over on the west side. Carmeli says there is no Hamas there. Perhaps, but the fence is just as high here and I know them no better than those in Jilabun.
I come around to the new neighbourhood, where we hope to build our home one day. I stop to look up into the clear sky and see Orion rising in the east, his belt forming a vertical line in the sky pointing up to where Jupiter outshines nearby (to our eyes) Aldebran. I think of the trip I took in January, for my friend Danny’s fortieth birthday. His wife organized an expedition for him and his buddies (many, like he and I, science geeks to the core) to Mitzpe Ramon, with the Star Man. Last year, I was still living in Raanana, just having quit the company I had been with for 15 years, just getting started on this crazy adventure to the North. Some guys buy a fancy car for their mid-life crisis, some do crazier things. I quit my job, moved my family to a little kibbutz in the north, and started learning Torah. My wife, who amazes me every day, agreed that making aliya had not been sufficient excitement for one lifetime, and not only went along with it, but encouraged me. It has been some year.
I start up Givat Tuli, and the huffing and puffing prove that I am not completely over my flu yet. This is the dark part of the kibbutz, with only the red lights of the antenna obstructing the view of the stars. The housing out of sight over the hill, and the Yeshiva is not yet in view. Our kids camped out here one of our first weeks here, and it is one of my favourite places ever since.
Coming round towards the Yeshiva, the Jezreel Valley comes into view. I can see Afula and Har Tavor off in the distance. Yeshivat Maale Gilboa has proven to be more amazing than I imagined. I like to think of the learning here as the Torah of the brave. No one here is afraid of tackling difficult questions. If the academics at the universities have a new method of analyzing Torah or Talmud, there is nothing to fear from it. It can only enhance our Torah learning. Some people told me before I came that the Yeshiva had a problem with Yirat Shamaim – fear of Heaven. They could not be more wrong. The teachers here are so confident in their Yirat Shamaim, that they know that no foreign idea could dislodge it, so they have no fear of engaging it. The Torah here is also very much a Torah of this world. Despite placing themselves on a remote mountain top, the Yeshiva is deeply connected to the real world, and dedicated to helping make it a better place. My fellow students inspire me. (Along with me in the Kollel are two fellow Penn alumni who are also fellow BYFI alums – the coincidence is kind of weird.) I feel privileged to learn here.
Almost home now, I come around the corner into the upper neighbourhood, and into our apartment to drop off the dog, and get some tea before going back out in the patrol car. Everyone is tucked into bed. Our home here is much smaller than the house we had in Raanana, but we have made it our own. I think how lucky I am to have a home like this, a wife who is brave and creative and kind, and children who are healthy and curious and free.
Time to go back out on patrol.
Not a bad way to spend my birthday after all.