Why I go on Journeys

July 6, 2015 by jewish journeys


I could have asked the question using the word “travel”, but there is something about “journeys” which is closer to my why. I write this literally halfway across the world from my home in Israel, but the reflection is not so much about this place, Oz (not the yellow brick road Oz, but the “Sheila, mate, crack a coldie” Oz, Australia), but about where I have journeyed over the past few weeks in Israel. Guiding firstly a group from Washington Hebrew and then guiding a group of alumni from Habonim Dror, my youth movement.

The journeying I do is a journeying in the mould of the journeys that De Botton calls “Existential Travel”. It is about the external places we visit, the places we come across and go to, but equally it is about two additional journeys: the journey into oneself and about where we all started from, home. Amos Oz, one of Israel’s inspirational writers and thinkers talks about his Aunt Sonia in his autobiography A Tale of Love and Darkness saying to him, “all journeys are ridiculous: the only journey from which you don’t always come back empty-handed is the journey inside yourself.”

I never knew Aunt Sonia although I had my Auntie Sevvie and I am guessing that Aunt Sonia also wore crinoline dresses like Auntie Sevvie. Auntie Sevvie was “Auntie” and not “Aunt” because in South Africa where I grew up, every or almost every adult woman was called “Auntie” something. So without having known you Aunt Sonia, I must respectfully disagree with you. I am sure our biographies were significantly different. You were a Jew who lived through the rather more turbulent first half of the 20th century, and I am a Jew living in not totally quiet times, but we tend to lose perspective when we view our reality today – how easily we forget what was before we had what is.

But what was there in the past few weeks with the wonderful people from Washington Hebrew and the great people from my past that made it so powerful? Firstly conversations. Imagine two weeks in which one has been in powerful conversations with Ari Shavit, Yossi Klein Halevy, Etgar Keret, Ruth Calderon, Rachel Korazim, Yuval Diskin, Nabil Sha’ath, Miri Eisen, Muki Tzur and many others. Conversations which have taken place in the Museum on the Seam, in the Golan Heights looking into Kuneitra in Syria, on Zikim Beach just a kilometer away from Gaza, next to the Western Wall, in Kinneret Cemetery and on the beach in Tel Aviv. So many conversations in which a word, a phrase, a sentence, all of which might have been used before in an article in one of the great newspapers of the world or in a lecture in an air conditioned space, but here, in the field, resonating in a totally different way.

Great education can only happen when we are caught slightly off balance, when our emotional selves are available, when we are not in our known spaces. When Walter Benjamin is mentioned in the Kinneret Cemetery, near the graves of Rachel, Katzenelson and Borochov, it means so much more when we think of the notion of “Dreaming with your eyes wide open”. When Yuval Diskin shares the opening story he told in “The Gatekeepers” in the Museum on the Seam, the very place which was the only crossing point between Israel and Jordan until 1967, it has a special power. Talking of Palestinians and how our lives are bound up with theirs with Nabil Sha’ath is somehow totally different in Ramallah in his office than in a hotel in Washington DC. We listen in all of these places with our entire beings; we hear with our bodies and not only with our ears. We see, we smell, we feel, we are challenged to understand.

My five days, was it really only five days, with 25 people, all around my age, all from Habonim Dror South Africa the youth movement I grew up in all those years ago, was an unusually powerful event. Titled “We Were Dreamers”, it was a five days focused on the two or three questions crammed into the title of the Journey:

What has happened to the Dreams we dreamt all those years ago, many of which were intimately connected to the place I now call home, Israel?

What has happened to us, the “We”, over the intervening years?

Is the tense of the verb the correct tense?

Is it a “were” reality or should the title have used the present tense?

You need to know, as I think you do, the 25 “Dreamers/ex-Dreamers” who travelled with me, that this was an exploration which will stay with all of us for years to come. This was existential travel. This was the travel which claims our souls for a few days and then offers them back for us to consider what has happened to us. Were we transported to a purer version of ourselves for a short while? Did we dare to look really closely for a time? And ultimately, this is where I ask my second question as to the purpose of Journeys, or rather I will leave it to T.S. Eliot (one of my favourite anti-Semites) to ask. In Four Quartets he writes the following lines which have accompanied me on my Journeys over the past years:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Will we see where we live through changed eyes? When we return to where we came from, will we be living even slightly differently? This is existential travel. This is why I travel. to examine myself, my life and where I live, so that life can be filled with more meaning, or rather filled with the pursuit for this meaning.

Journey on. I will.



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