Food for thought: The long road home

A short drive leads to meandering thoughts on community, friendship and family.

FOCACCIA 248.88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The road between Beit Shemesh and Efrat is not long. It can't be more than 30 kilometers, but depending on the driver, it can take anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour - or even longer if you are stuck behind one of the many trucks that travel that road to reach the sandstone quarry. When I was in high school, the drive between home and school was perhaps the same distance, and the drive was done easily on the Grand Central Expressway from one Queens suburb to another. I don't think my mother thought twice about it. Yet every time I get into the car to drive up the hill to Efrat, I think so many times, that I often want to turn around. To call the road winding would be like calling Attila the Hun disagreeable. As you approach the bottom of the hill there is a sign that always makes me smirk: "Slow! Dangerous Curves Ahead." Being kindly put, I'm curvaceous. I'd much prefer to have my shape called "dangerous" as opposed to "soft," "plump" or "full-figured." As you leave behind the valley of Emek Ha'elah, you wave goodbye to one of the most beautiful areas of Israel. All around you are forests. Forests that I envision having been planted tree by tree by the JNF. I'm sure that you, too, have your tree certificate somewhere, between your intermediary swimming certificate and your sixth-grade report card. The forests are densely packed. There are vineyards and cornfields, ancient cities and modern towns. The area where we have lived for the last three years possesses such incredible natural beauty, that I have heard it compared to Tuscany; and yet it is such a wholly Israeli place with all the sweaty, angry, daily stresses that are felt in every Israeli city across the country, no matter how pretty. The thing about the drive up to Efrat is that it is beautiful. You leave the forests and the fields for mountains. I can tell you that during the 20-minute drive to school, the only thing that changed was the number of the exits on the highway. Even 11 years on, I'm still amazed that in so small a country, there is such topographical variety. As you climb the steep, winding road, the trees give way to rocks, the ground goes from lush to parched, and you can feel the rugged antiquity of the land. You can discern where once great oceans and rivers made their way, carving out a landscape. Today, small and large communities have made their homes amidst the ancient rocks and terraced olive groves. It is my sadness and my joy, my bittersweet moment, when I no longer will drive up to Efrat but down to Beit Shemesh. We will permanently leave behind the trees and the fields, but mostly we will leave behind a community as supportive and grounded as the trees that surround them. And if I could cry rainwater for those joyful moments that will never happen again, I could personally guarantee that the water shortage would be alleviated, if only for a day. The rocky terrain of Gush Etzion is not only fraught with controversy, it is steeped in history. The land has witnessed pain and suffering, joy and happiness, from our forefathers who grazed their sheep on this biblical landscape, to our contemporaries who have fought hard to reclaim the area; not with eucalyptus trees but with Jerusalem-stone homes. I believe I will learn to love my new home as much as I have loved the one I'm leaving behind. What I know for certain is that leaving one place means that we will be going to another, where there are vistas waiting to be admired, people waiting to be befriended, and a family - my family - waiting to be partners in our lives. If I could explain what it means for one such as myself - who has moved two dozen times in her life - that practice in leaving doesn't make one adept at saying goodbye and a friendly disposition doesn't make it any easier to recommend oneself upon entering a new neighborhood, I don't know that you would believe me. In the past, driving had always been a pleasure. My mind, while concentrating on the road ahead, can wander in its thoughts, can contemplate. As my tires wear thin the road between Beit Shemesh and Efrat, while I try to establish my children in their schools and prepare our new home for our arrival, what I have concluded will, I hope, be life lessons. And seeing as I have decided that I shall set myself up as an authority on life lessons, here are a few to get me started. First, good friends remain close; separation of time and place cannot uproot true friendship. Second, living near one's family is a blessing. Very few things in this world can justify staying away from them, if it is within your power to be near them, because when all hell breaks loose, the ones most likely to pull you onto the life raft are those you are related to. Third, we are not condemned to suffer in our lives. It is within our power to improve the cards that have been dealt us, and the easiest (yet messiest) way to achieve such improvement is by tossing the cards up in the air and smiling as they fall to the ground, having rearranged themselves for the better.