Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Farm land…

Last Thursday, I met a soldier who told me his dreams for life after the Army. He talked of the farming community where he grew up, herds of livestock, acres of orchards. Hills surround the land where his family established roots, where he and his newlywed wife bought a plot for building their own house…one day. Apparently, she’s moved further south to be with her family as he lives deployed at various bases. So the soldier doesn’t return to this home much, yet speaks of it with obvious passion and endearing joy. “You should visit,” he told me, enthusiasm sparkling. It sounded so beautiful I was greatly tempted! The thing is, his home is very far away. And it may not be there if ever I go.

Let me back up. This interaction occurred in Uptown at Temple Israel, an historic local synagogue with marvelous interior design. The senior rabbi hosted an interfaith clergy conversation with visiting soldiers from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). These five young men and one woman, all officers, none above the age of 26, are traveling around Minneapolis for two weeks giving presentations about the IDF’s mission and goals. I’d attended a similar conversation last year at Beth Shalom in Minnetonka, found the experience intriguing for myriad reasons. It was great to make connections with local Jewish Community leaders; fascinating to learn more about this small, remarkable country; challenging, occasionally unnerving, to ponder the IDF’s responsibilities and actions. They’ve fought anti-Semitic terrorists. They’ve had to defend violent, anti-Arab settlers. The IDF includes young people from often antagonistic ethnic groups (Israeli Arabs, Israeli Jews, Druze, Bedouin) and teaches them to help one another, to build trust, to serve a greater good. The IDF launched a war in the Gaza Strip several years ago, in response to frequent rocket attacks, that devastated its economy, demolished communities and killed scores of non-combatants.

And the home that this soldier I met talks of so lovingly sits in his country’s north. Or rather, it’s in “The Golan” as he put it (the Golan Heights), occupied by his country since 1967. He was born there, so it feels like home, his parents and grandparents having settled years ago with their government’s permission and protection. There are other families, though, Syrian or Druze or Palestinian, who may remember when that land was theirs, who also long to return, whose children don’t recall any farms or houses from childhood, just refugee camps.

One letter is much too small to address the fullness of this fraught situation, and I’m no qualified commentator, by far! Needless to say, we’d all do well to better inform ourselves and never accept easy answers. Soil that over half the world’s population- Muslims, Jews, Christians- feel entitled to calling “personally significant” on religious grounds, is soil that’s bound to cultivate fierce opinions, competing narratives, frequent misunderstanding.

But for a select group of those people, this soil isn’t an idea, a topic of debate. It’s home, at least potentially. I’ve read of the Six Days War and Israel’s takeover of the Golan Heights, along with subsequent offers to return that territory to Syria in exchange for lasting peace. However, I’d never met a person who’d lived there, saw his eye’s nostalgic gleam, heard his hopeful dreams. Friends of mine who’ve talked with Palestinian refugees in Jordanian camps describe hearing something similar of them too. Which reinforces to me an important reason why peace in that land is so hard: home matters.

Uniquely so. Perhaps I’d defend mine to the death. Unlike him, I’ve never had to offer. I mean, America’s neighbors are friendly Canadians, fish, friendly Mexicans, fish. It wasn’t always this way, but it’s been so for over a century. Existentially, we’re quite safe. This soldier, by contrast, lives within ten miles of communities who believe his home should be theirs. I can’t imagine feeling safe, planning the future, easily loving my neighbors. So the next time you hear of trouble over there, remember how complex their lives and challenges are. And pray that the God of all who loves all- repeat All- will lead them all to peace one day, soon.

Grace and Peace,

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