Is Kibbutz Be’eri now going to be a shrine?
A few days ago a rabbi I know posted a photo of herself visiting Kibbutz Be’eri. Wearing a helmet and bullet proof vest, she took a selfie in front of a burned out building. All I could think of when I saw it was Yehuda Amichai’s poem Tourists.
Some of my earliest memories of Israelis, forty five years ago, are moments in which someone is telling me that Jewish history is studied in the Diaspora and made in Israel; that to live in the city of Jerusalem, the moshav Beit Yitzhak, or the kibbutz Yad Mordechai, was to do what others could only watch, and learn from.
Throughout the land of Israel, memorial markers testify to the many generations of Israelite and then Jewish life lived among and between the waves of others: Babylonians and Egyptians, Mameluks and Crusaders, British and Ottoman and many others. Israel is full of museums to document and present each artifact and event.
And then there are the memorials to deaths suffered since 1948. My other earliest memory of Israel is the drive up to Jerusalem, and seeing the burned out armored vehicles by the side of the road. Far too many memorials have since been created to mark the violent deaths of far too many human beings. That same road to Jerusalem now includes a view of a stark hulk of a bus near Abu Ghosh, the site of an attack on July 6 of 1989 when a terrorist grabbed the steering wheel of bus 405 and sent it plunging into a deep ravine. And at the other end of my personal bus route, the once small and humble bus stop at Beit Lid, outside Netanya, now includes a large sculpture at the place where, on January 22 1995, twenty soldiers died, and many more were wounded, by a double suicide bombing.
Each of these memorial structures is affecting and beautiful. Indeed, Israel has become a land of far too many such markers. Having them is a privilege, after all, requiring resources of time and material. Jews are not unique in suffering massively in our history; as a Ukrainian guide once said when badgered once too often by a Jewish tourist about going to see Babiy Yar, lots of massacred Ukrainians are under the ground too, they just don’t have a memorial to mark the place.
U. S. Jews are starting to visit Israel in “solidarity missions” even while the Israeli destruction of Gaza continues and the Hamas rockets are still flying. On these missions, a pattern emerges: visit the destroyed kibbutzim, hear from a survivor, and – most horrifyingly – meet with the family of a hostage. And then, off to have dinner, and laugh, behind heavy curtains in their hotels, as Amichai put it. They will return to speaking engagements: I saw this with my own eyes, I am a witness to that, I myself spoke with the survivor. How intoxicating for them. Their listeners will shake their heads and ask for more details, tears in their eyes, and call it the most meaningful gathering of their lives.
Meanwhile there is no poetry in the misery of a Palestinian refugee in south Gaza, unable to stay in their homes and unwelcome in any of the surrounding Arab countries. For us Jews, reciting Kaddish at Kibbutz Be’eri is a welcome distraction from the discomfort of confronting what the state of Israel has wrought and what our role should be in opposing the mass murder of Palestinians by a criminal prime minister and his henchmen.
Meanwhile, the bombs are still falling, while no doubt the next memorial is being designed, and more U.S. Jews will make their self-important pilgrimage to it.