Tzukim, Arava, Israel
The whirring of the machine as I touch my foot to the pedal brings me back.
To my grandmother’s home and her ancient Singer. To the costume room in the basement of my middle school theater. To my projects on the kitchen table in my childhood home in Brookline, Massachusetts.
I haven’t used a sewing machine in a long time, and the rhythmic pull of needle on fabric is bringing me to a good meditative place.
The air is so dry that drinking water does nothing for my thirst—the liquid seems to evaporate on my tongue—and there’s a super-fine layer of desert dust beneath my bare feet. (Hardly had we swept the floors, cleaning house to usher in Passover, than the relentless winds brought the dust back.)
I’m staying with my brother’s friends and their five beautiful children in the mud house they built for themselves here in Tzukim; we (my brother and I) have been invited for Passover seder. They study and speak openly about Kabbalah, a central tenet of which is the concept of togetherness. And indeed, I feel more than welcomed here on my second stop of my second visit to Israel—I feel involved.
Tonight, I am helping to sew pillowcases to decorate the rounded, light-filled common area of their home. Deep green, vivid red, heavy, rough, intricate, beautiful textiles. I hum tunelessly as I work; it’s a new habit I’ve found myself adopting since the term, “humming tunelessly” caught my eye in a book.
The pillowcases are definitely of the wabi sabi variety—as is everything about the house. Perfectly imperfect. Made by hand with care and natural irregularity. Human. Filled with meaning.
My brother’s friend works beside me, and she smiles when she tells me that each person who has stayed in the house has left a part of themselves in it. The pillowcases will be my part.
After my last, particularly heavy post on Israel, I wanted to offer something lighter. A balancing perspective, if you will.
The question came to mind: How would one write about Israel if it were just a place, with no history, no complexities and no enigmas—just sun and desert and sandy beaches and olive groves—a beautiful spot on the map? How would one describe it?
Is such a thing possible? Of course not. Not for anywhere in the world. Total nonsense.
And, what’s more, maybe misguided.
For, like my wabi sabi pillowcases, Israel is not beautiful—cannot be beautiful—in spite of its rough edges (rough edges is putting it mildly), but because of them. The same is true, I believe, for every spot on the map.
Somewhere near Modi’in, Israel
A man with one leg and no clothing flashes by, moving faster on crutches than I can usually manage to run.
As we traipse in with our camping gear a little before dusk, a crowd near the entrance shouts, “Welcome home!” as they always do at these gatherings. Participants spread out across the forested space to make camp, collecting in small population centers, or venturing further afield in search of silence and solitude.
The activity centers around the communal cooking area, and a large bonfire where most gather after the shared evening meal for drumming, singing and sometimes dancing. Gauzy dresses, dreadlocks and bare skin are as common here as head scarves and black hats in Jerusalem.
This is Rainbow Israel, and if you aren’t familiar with Rainbow Gatherings and you want to understand what they are (you do), you should go here.
We stay only one night, but I could have happily stayed a week. There’s something special about a community where anything goes, and (usually) nothing bad comes of it.
Tel Aviv, Israel
On my last night in Israel, I sit with an old friend on the steps of the big Synagogue, sipping a beer as we catch up on six or seven years of life.
He describes his experiences with medicines in Peru (yes, others would call them drugs), his work with sound healing and his studies on homeopathy and Kabbalah. I describe my work with elephant journal, a publication focused on mindfulness, my yoga teaching and my nomadic lifestyle. I think the intervening years have brought us both a good deal closer to our life paths.
This last evening, along with other conversations, meetings and interactions like it, balances out my more complicated experiences of Israel, renders me more grounded in my time here. There’s violence and oppression in the Holy Land, but there are hippies too.
So, what do wabi sabi pillowcases, rainbow gatherings and hippies all have in common?
For starters, they’re all positive, forgiving, inclusive and somewhat alternative entities.
And, they all exist in Israel.
It would take many lifetimes to write enough to do justice to a single spot on a map. It would take a million voices, on a thousand days, to tell every facet of every side of every story cradling that spot.
For now, I’ll content myself with having told two facets of one story—my own—and I hope you’ll be wise enough and brave enough not to take my word for it. Make your own stories, wherever you may be called to do so!