One of my favorite hobbies is to guide walking tours in the Western Wall Tunnels. It's an awesome place and I get to meet people from all the exotic corners of the world, from Malta to China, from New Zealand to Brooklyn. You always learn something new about people and places. For example – this week I met a couple from Peace River, Alberta (that's Canada). Haven't heard of it? Well, it used to be called Riviere-la-Paix (which is the same, but in French it sounds more exotic). Sound familiar now? Anyway – the couple were a very nice farming family, and in spite of the fact that I speak no Canadian we had a nice conversation. They grow wheat, when they're not growing snow, which is what grows there much of the year. Now – I never knew wheat grew so far north, so you see – you can always learn something new when you meet people from a place you never ever heard of.
The same phenomena happened this week to some people who met me as a representative of a type of people they had often heard about but had never ever met: "the [Israeli] settler". [I don't say settler in everyday use because in my mind that term conjures up the vision of a wagon train crossing the Great Plains long ago. I prefer to say I live in a Jewish town in the Benyamin Region.] They were from Baltimore, which I know is somewhere between Chicago and Israel – and I even know peope who claim to hail from there. They were sweet people from their sweet synagogue who came with their even sweeter rabbi. They came to Israel to learn about "the conflict". I remember Conflict as a board game with rules I never understood and that somehow my brother always beat me at, but "the conflict" is one of those words like "the settler". They asked questions, which is actually a good way to learn.
"Why do you live here?" they asked. Well, it was a rainy day so I couldn't talk about the great view I have of Tel Aviv – and they weren't at my house, so I couldn't say I came for the nice house that makes my wife happy. I had to tell the truth:
"I live here because it's my home, it's the home of the Jewish people and I'm one of them. This is the land of the prophets, the judges and the kings, and this is the land –God willing and through our efforts – of our future and of a better future for all humanity". I think it took a moment for that to sink in. The simplest, most direct answers are often the ones that take the most time to absorb.
"What'll happen if the government will decide you have to leave? What will you do?"
I said that would be a tragic mistake, but I would do whatever the duly elected majority in the Knesset told me to do. The redemption of the Jewish people, a Divine, historical process, would continue, through all trials and tribulations, but I hoped that the mistake of leaving the heartland of our country won't ever be made.
They were thrown off – they weren't expecting my answer, they were expecting the stereotypical-but-false militant answer of "the settler". So I explained the answer of the real "settler":
"Look – it would be a tragedy, personally and nationally, and a major mistake, morally, spiritually, security-wise and more. But – we live in a miraculous time: the rejuvenation of an almost barren land and an almost dead language, the ingathering of the exiles and a host of incredible victories on the battle field. But the biggest miracle happened on the Fifth of Iyar, 5708 (that's May 1948), the miracle that once again we've come together to live as nation, to rule ourselves, as a nation, to decide things together, as a nation in our homeland. That togetherness is a dear thing. It's not easy – six and a half million Jews means thirteen million opinions – but it's so precious that all must do the utmost to safeguard that togetherness realized in the sovereign state where we decide stuff, together, in the elections and then in the Knesset."So by actually meeting a real "settler" they learned something.