The Human Spirit: They also tried to kill our forests

Other countries have natural forests, but here reforestation was the work of the Jewish people.

barbara sofer 88 (photo credit: )
barbara sofer 88
(photo credit: )
At first they didn't look so bad - and then I remembered these were pine trees - coniferous, not deciduous - and that pine trees aren't supposed to turn orange like maple. Deeper in the forests of the north, the damage is unmistakable. Black charred skeletons have replaced the deep shade and camp grounds. Not long ago, a friend's sabra grandchild was visiting Colorado and complimented the forest ranger on what an amazing JNF they must have had to plant so many trees. The ranger laughed. The Good Lord had planted those, he said. Other countries have natural forests, but in our denuded homeland, reforestation was the work of the Jewish people returning home - sapling after sapling, row after row. The trees hold the delicate top soil and clean the air, and provide shade and recreation. And our Israeli trees are ultimately the symbol of our ability, through our resources and hard work, to redeem the dusty land. In the Diaspora, we filled Blue Boxes with dimes and pounds and francs and marked our life cycle events with trees from Israel. Like the broken notes of a shofar cry, the burned trees tug at our hearts in this season of reviewing our deeds. THE PROCESS of understanding what has gone wrong in the Second War in Lebanon is ultimately the same process of personal stocktaking, heshbon nefesh in Hebrew, that we are commanded to do now, before the High Holidays. We rightfully demand accountability from our leaders, but in a democratic country leaders don't just happen, we elect them. We went to the polls such a short time ago and put into place our current government. On March 31, we already knew that the Palestinians had chosen leadership dedicated to our destruction. If we listened to the electioneering in the half-hour slots each evening on TV, we could hear Binyamin Netanyahu already warning about the Axis of Evil in the North. But we closed our ears. Talk of war gave us a headache. We had just emerged from five years of constant terror. We had undergone the ordeal of disengagement. (Try discussing disengagement at an Israeli dinner table if you have any doubts about the depth of the pain and division over this national trauma.) The prime minister who had taken us through the intifada had suffered two strokes and was lying unconscious. And yet, elections were taking place in a period of not peace, but "relative quiet." And even relative quiet goes a long way here. We felt cheered as the dark windows of our hotels lit up and the buzz was that you had to book a year in advance to spend the holidays in Jerusalem. So Diaspora Jews began buying second homes in Jerusalem and Netanya, to vacation or as a hedge against worsening anti-Semitism abroad. On the coast in Haifa, hi-tech geniuses at Intel were working on a new computer chip. In that most private of places, the voting booth, we chose our leaders not on the basis of who might keep us safe. Who can blame us? We're a people who have never experienced a single day of true peace and who are heartsick that every child, grandchild and great grandchild has to face the burden and mortal danger of war. We fan even the tiniest flame of hope because we're so infatuated with the idea that we might be a normal nation that doesn't have to defend its right to exist. We'd love not to have to teach the first graders starting next week that the pencil box abandoned on the playground might be filled with explosives. We want peace so much that we project our own desire for it on our enemies. We can only blame ourselves. Our capacity to fool ourselves seems counterintuitive to those who think of Israelis as the most pragmatic of people, particularly when it comes to our own future. But we're easily blinded by our own strong desire for peace. Take, for example, the seminal story that Channel 2 TV commentator and Arab Affairs expert Ehud Ya'ari told audiences during the intifada. After the Oslo Accords, Arafat was allowed to return to Gaza. He arrived in Rafah terminal sitting so tall in a Mercedes that his keffiyeh was touching the car's roof. According to Ya'ari, an Israeli soldier was surprised that Arafat was so tall. Everyone knew the late chairman wasn't really tall, so the soldiers opened the car door. Arafat was sitting on Jihad Amarin, smuggling him in. Mamduh Nofal, the former military commander of the Democratic Front, was hiding in the trunk. Prohibited Kalashnikov rifles and night-vision equipment were in the vehicle. We heard this story years after it happened. How is that possible? So badly did we want the Oslo Accords to work that we suppressed and pretended everything was going to be okay instead of aborting it from the start. And those who did perceive the lurking dangers? Their jeremiads were easy to wave away. ACCORDING TO law, the forest workers in the North didn't have to show up for work while the rockets fell. But they came anyway. They positioned themselves between the forest rows without shelter so that they could extinguish fires with the first plume of smoke. We don't lack courage. Forest workers saved most of our greenery. Unlike other countries where rain and natural decay remove the effects of forest fires, we'll have to chop down the burnt trees, remove them and replant. This time we won't use only pine. There will be oak and carob, tamarisk and cedar -trees that don't burn so easily. We've learned a few lessons along the way. We can learn. And as we confront our flaws, be they gossip, impatience or opacity, we ask for Divine help in penetrating our souls and coming up with inspiration and determination to do better in 5767. May we be written and inscribed for a good new year.