A boy goes walking in the hills of olive trees from Hebron to Nablus but then goes missing. His last words, according to an eyewitness are ‘I seek my brothers, do you know where they are?‘ and then young Joseph finds the ones whose blood he shares and they who hate him strip him of his famous coat and throw him in a pit and he becomes a slave and doesn’t say a word.
I trace his fateful steps this week, along the ancient routes where olive trees are ripe again with black fruits, Arab villages and Jewish settlements echo the Biblical names, and some brothers still hate each other to death, slaves to feuds that are older than the hills.
It’s a beautiful walk, the ground wet from recent rain, the skies low with clouds, and I get lost in thoughts among the olive trees as the sun begins to set. Where am I? climb a ridge and right below me, maybe 50 feet away – a mosque, surrounded by an Arabic Village, quiet homes, and kids play soccer, so close. For a moment I panic, and start rehearsing in my head the little Arabic I know – “where is the road”? and, with a smile, “Forgive me: My Arabic is not so good..”
Just a minute ago I felt safe and quiet walking in the olive grove that is next to the Kibbutz and suddenly the fear pervades me, 50 feet from there to here, theirs or ours, am I safe?
I was. Further down the path in the grove I met this kindly old Palestinian woman, picking olives from one of the trees. She smiles at my broken Arabic and points in the direction of the road. I thank her and she hands me an olive, fresh from the tree. Ma’Salaame, we say to each other in parting – peace upon you.
Later I find out that these trees, technically on the grounds of the nearby kibbutz, belonged to the Arab village that used to be here before 1948 but is now off the map. Who do the olives belong to? Where do the trees belong? Did this woman pick the olives of her family’s field?
The world is raging this week over E-1 and Israel’s plan to build more settlements over territorial disputes in response to the UN vote and it is a diplomatic mess, and here this little grove, a quiet eyewitness of haunting old questions: where are my brothers? what the hell went wrong?
Joseph’s last words as a free boy echo as I find the car and drive away, the stars already out: Where is the brotherhood? the trust? the hope? where am I in all of this rage? where do I belong?
I pack my bags today to fly to NYC for Chanukah, home away from home away from home, and in my bags I’ve got a bunch of Israeli made dreidels inscribed with “Great Miracle Happened Here”. I’m a little obsessed this year with this toy that carries so much weight and symbolic meaning. No other Jewish object is such a clear indicator of what does it mean to be ‘local’. Where is just a state of mind? Dreidels sold outside Israel indicate the miracle that happened “There”. I get the historical reference but am tired by the perpetuation of the distancing that leads to little care. Why prolong the distance and highlight what divides us when so much does not? There is Here – and we are one, and let’s find ways of solidarity with one another, less fixations of dividing lines, more ways to get along, to try harder to melt away the separations. Dreidels spin and spin, here and there, but always end up at the same spot… Is that so much to ask?
I also pack a bottle of olive oil, grown, crushed and distilled by a Palestinian farmer not far from the grove where Joseph get lost and I was found. A litle jar of olive oil lit the Temple menora and ignited hearts and hopes for geneartions in the fight against oppression, occupation and the loss of hope. Here we go again, symbols of peace, a single olive, a bottle, a dreidel, answering that age old question ‘where are you my brothers’ with the not so simple answer: here, my brother, here and now. Sit, relax. Eat a latke, dipped in olive oil.
Warmest wishes for a Chanukah of grounded presence, wherever you are, lit by candles, surrounded by friends and family, honoring the privilege of miracles, and freedom and the highest hopes of peace for all, in every holy land.
Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org