Jack bit his lip and went silent for the rest of the evening.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005: The Upper Galilee and a secular Jewish Road Warrior
While riding in the van with their ten friends, Jake and Terese Hunter took turns cradling the two urns that contained the ashes of Kat and Brigit. Kat had succumbed to ALS on Good Friday, in 2004, and Brigit entered eternity on that Pentecost Sunday. As the van drove the ten friends past the Mediterranean, Jake whispered to his wife, "I say we cast their ashes into the sea. Plus, I am ready to get my feet in some water. I cannot believe I am so near the Mediterranean and I am not going fishing! I am having withdrawal, Terese. I am going to split from the group after the Galilee and get some time in deep water."
"That's fine with me. But relax; you will be happy when we get into the Upper Galilee. We are staying in a cabin in the woods where David lives, high in the mountains, in the village of Harashim. When we return to Jerusalem, we can drop you off near the sea. And no, we are not throwing these ashes into the sea; I want to plant them both under an olive tree when we get to that church in Cana, where the Gateway High School's Interact Club provided the funds for 500 olive trees."
Jake squeezed his wife's hand and leaned in close. "The church in Cana, where the new trees are now rooted, will be the perfect place to leave what was once Kat and Brigit. They both appreciated the fact that Jesus' first miracle happened at the wedding in Cana, when Jesus turned the water into wine and kept the party going."
Terese smiled and closed her eyes, and Jake looked out the window and thought about fishing. Jack had been introduced to Joy, a friend of Louise, who was accompanying them. Louise, the Jewish co-founder of the Olive Trees Foundation for Peace had many Jewish friends Jack was anxious to meet.
"So, tell me how a twenty-four-year-old from Nashville decides to move to Israel, where she knows no one. What made you do it, and how has it been these past seven months?"
Joy lit up as she told him, "My friends got so tired of me complaining about my political frustrations over the last election; they said, 'If you don't like it here, just leave!' I had already been considering joining the Peace Corps, and when I got turned down because of a medical problem, I explored the possibility of going to Israel. I learned about, Aliyah, which means 'going up,' and the deal was hard to pass by. I get fifteen hundred shekels or about thirty-six hundred dollars a year in increments to help with my expenses. I can apply for unemployment benefits after seven months, as long as I look for a job. I just completed Ulpan, which was five hundred hours of Hebrew language immersion studies that took five months, five hours a day, for five weeks. I get subsidized rent and just moved out of the Absorption Center Projects. All the new immigrants get room, utilities, and three meals a day for the first five months in Israel. We also receive free medical care and all the doctors here are dedicated. We can go to the university with 100 percent of the tuition paid by the government. College is much cheaper here; it's about three thousand to four thousand dollars a year. Until I am thirty years old, I can receive up to three years of education for my master's degree."
Jack wondered what he would do, if he were a young American Jew without many prospects at home.
After meeting more of Khaled's family in Majd Al Krum, the ten friends split up to be hosted by various Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims. Louise, Jack, Jake, and Terese got into David's van for the drive to their cabins in the woods of the village of Harashim. Jack and Jake were absorbed in the mountain vistas, but Terese was captivated by David, and did not take her attention off the tall, thin, angular man as he told his story.
"My mother is fourth-generation to this land; my father was born here while this land was still called Palestine. So, I am a forty-two-year-old Israeli-Palestinian secular Jew. In 2000, when Ariel Sharon went to the Al Aqsa Mosque and provoked the violent uprising, I cried, 'Back off, man! Enough! It is enough already!' When those young Palestinian innocents were killed, I knew I had to do something. I didn't know what, but I began by knocking on doors throughout Rosh El Aim, a Christian-Arab community. I told them I just wanted to help somehow. Mostly they thought I was crazy; many today think it, too. I drove a three hundred mile radius, knocking on doors, offering to help somehow. One day, I was sitting with a bunch of Bedouin kids, and I began tapping my fingers on my thigh. The next thing, all of these kids were imitating me, and I realized I could bring them drums. I have friends who are musicians and artisans, and they have all offered an open hand. Without any assistance from the Israeli government, we have established centers of peace/ shalom/salaam that offer tutoring, health care, folk dance, music lessons, and artistic projects to the least and easily forgotten. We have built community between Israeli Jews and Bedouins, and Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
"It's been five years now, and I continue to make daily rounds all the way into the Golan Heights. Many others have joined in and are keeping the projects moving forward, as I take on new ones. I have a friend named Hagit Breittman, a Jewish woman who has done the unthinkable! She opened her home to Bedouin woman, and they get together weekly to sew and, more importantly, to be a community. Right now, we are building community here, for security comes from community, not walls and gates! We absolutely have hope that one day, these Bedouin woman will travel to America with their embroidery and weaving. Hagit also started up a daily lunch service for the poor in the community. She provides food and comfort for hundreds everyday, and has done it all without government assistance.
"Today, the people are so in need of good leadership. If they can find it, they will follow. People need to be taught morals, boundaries, limits, and manners. This is the stuff Jesus taught, and he led the people. Today, people are lost in a violent cycle without basic human rights and respect for the other. Forget co-existence; we must have basic existence, basic human rights. Maybe when others see we care, they care too." 26
Terese told David, "You remind me of another socially radical Palestinian Jew who went through Galilee, offering free healings and love."
The following day, Khaled and his brother Hamid drove a ten-year-old Toyota up the long incline into the occupied Golan Heights behind David's van. The Toyota began to smoke and sputter, and the brothers pulled off to the side of the road. David turned the van around as soon as he noticed, and as he exited the van to help the brothers, he announced, "If you need to stretch your legs, don't walk off the pavement. There can be land mines anywhere the pavement ends."