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Newsletter 217: Builders and Destroyers


It didn’t matter where I went on Rosh Hashanah as long as I was spending time with my kids, by this I mean my grandkids, although I’m happy spending time with any kids who want to spend time with me.

Spending time with them doesn’t mean that I’m really doing very much, it just means that I’m sitting on a comfortable white plastic garden chair, with them at a place where they can find things to do, what some educators of children call a challenging environment. This is a very big expression for something, according to adult standards is very simple, but for kids is full of adventure, namely a grove of pine trees, some dusty black brown dirt at our feet, some pine cones, some scattered white ash of a burnt out barbecue, a Beduin shepherd with a flock of sheep and goats and two scrawny dogs, scrounging for food.

All that we brought were some pitas from Sheikh Jarah, the Arab neighborhood near our home in Jerusalem, two plastic jars of Humus, from the same place, a bag of falafel balls, some meat pies made by Lilach, my daughter in law, tea made of Louisa, geranium and mint, still hot in the flask, prepared by Ettie, a mat brought by Ariel, a tent set up by Ariel, a chess set, some bats (for playing matkot).

All of this at the foot of an important archaeological site known as Tel Lachish, where a 3000 year old culture of writing and building was uncovered by archaeologists in the 20th century; letters written on pieces of pottery, by our great teacher Jeremiah on his flight to Egypt in the wake of the Babylonian conquest of Judah, in 586 BCE, walls, gates, palaces, temples, streets, running water, sewage systems, wheat, barley and the other 5 species mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy.

Man arrived on the face of the earth more than 3 million years ago yet he only started producing literature, painting and morality that we call civilization. 3000 years ago.

Compared with the time he’s been on earth man has been civilized for a very brief period. It’s no wonder therefor that he easily lapses back into primitiveness. It’s as if he’s climbing a slippery slide; if he doesn’t hold on tightly enough and clamber determinedly enough he’ll slip backwards and have to start all over again.

It’s easy for archaeologists to see the truth of this phenomenon at Tel Lachish and hundreds of other “tells” like it; a “tel” is a heap of ruined cities burying one beautifully built city after another, a layer of building is discovered beneath a layer of destruction and another layer of destruction underneath that one covers yet another layer of building. Man has constantly been trying to build and other men have constantly been destroying. This is why it’s taken man so long to reach a respectable level of civilization like the one in Lachish.

The amazing thing is that we call everyone “man”, the builders and the destroyers. We are all men. The destroyers aren’t different creatures, although it’s comfortable for us to talk that way.

One can find “tells” in many parts of the world, but mostly in the Middle East and in Israel, more than anywhere else. Israel probably has the highest concentration of “tells” of any area in the world. More cities were built and destroyed here than in any other part of the world. In other words more builders and more destroyers have come together in Israel than anywhere else in the world.

Where there’s building there are cries for destroying. Today we still hear cries to destroy Israel, especially in the Middle East. You don’t hear cries to destroy in countries where there is no building. Building is going on in Israel today just like it’s always been going on here. There’s more evidence here than anywhere else in the world of man’s determination to climb the slippery slope of civilization and there’s just as much evidence of his determination to slide downwards into primitiveness.

During the last war the builders became destroyers. Lots of ruins in Gaza and some in Ashkelon and Ashdod and other cities in Israel is a perfect example of how easily we slip back.

Today, however, “tells” aren’t formed because we have bulldozers that make evidence of building disappear completely, things aren’t like they were in ancient times when it was difficult to move rubble; they just built on top of ruins so leaving layers of destruction covering layers of building that archaeologists could discover and study, as in Lachish. Our generation won’t leave any “tells” because there won’t be any ruins.

“Tels” are things of the past which will never be created again. This makes them fascinating for modern man. The different levels of civilization locked into a “tel” are like the ingredients of a many layered cake tempting the tourist like a tasty cake tempts a party goer but the new political boundaries in Israel today, don’t encourage tourists to come and enjoy the delights of discovery which this part of the world has to offer. Modern politics, just like ancient politics, takes us backwards into the darkness of pre-history by locking tourists visiting Israel out of many “tells” and other interesting tourist sites.

There should be some kind of Middle East Tourism association totally unaffiliated with any of the political authorities involved in governing the area. This would be the civilized way so that a tourist visiting Israel will be able to visit all Israel and a tourist visiting Palestine will visit all Palestine. We must disassociate the idea of tourism to Israel and tourism to Palestine from the definitions Palestine/Israel.

Even now there are certain areas, however where visits by Israelis and tourists to Israel are permitted. These are areas where Israeli settlements have been established; some Israelis consider these territories to be Israeli and other Israelis consider them to be Palestinian territories.

One of these places, for example is Mt. Gerizim, the mountain considered to be holy by the Samaritans, which overlooks the Palestinian town of Shechem (Nablus), another town is Emanuel and Eli and Bethel and many others, all well worth a visit.

Unfortunately the Jewish People have been away for such a long time that when they see these ruins they doubt whether they are genuinely Jewish. The Jews have been swinging like a pendulum between the Promised Land and the lands outside since the time when God told Abraham that sometimes the Jews will be scattered and other times they will be gathered into their own land. Since then there has been an inside and an outside. They question whether these ruins are inside or outside the Promised Land. When we are out there is longing to be in. Outside Israel is the place of punishment inside Israel is the place of reward.

There is no longing to be outside, but such a long time has passed since we were here that we doubt that we can really return to the land from which we were scattered. We can’t easily forget the diaspora, with all its suffering and insult; it even looks more attractive to some than the Promised Land.

One of the proofs that we are the same Jewish People as the ones who lived here 2000 years is the observance of customs. Keeping all the customs like celebrating the festivals strengthens our conviction that we are indeed the same Jewish People that inhabited all these wonderful places.

Indeed close examination of these wonderful ruins shows that every strata of building is a Jewish strata, while strata of destruction are non-Jewish.

Wishing You a great No News day

Yours truly

Leon Gork

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