I only just got back to Germany after leaving Israel early this morning and am still a bit ragged from two flights and a long express train journey, the whole procedure made greatly more stressful by the fact that Pegasus Airlines lost my suitcase somewhere between Tel Aviv and Cologne. However, I’ve still got a “suitcase” of dreams of Israel with me on my computer. By that I mean a collection images of things and places that surprised so much they stopped me in my tracks, as well as those things I expected to find there like the palm and citrus trees, vineyards and olive groves, the beaches, mountains and between them the ancient ruins. You can look all the latter up on the internet and find many better photographs of them than I took during the last weeks, so there’s no point in showing you many of them (I’m making just a single exception below). I’m also leaving out all the things that I’ve already shown you in the blog postings headed “Israel Riesling Diary ” during the last two weeks. Instead, I decided to concentrate on the surprising Israel, because it normally gets so little attention in the West. Hence the following gallery of images, that I snapped up and when they suddenly grabbed me. Above and below are the sole wine images I have to offer in this category, and the contrast between them strikes me as saying something important about Israeli wine.
As this image, taken in the cellars of one of Israel’s large Kosher wineries (all of Israel’s large wineries are Kosher) shows, the wine industry is one of many places place where the nation’s twin obsessions with profits and prophets meet.
Often Israel is many things at once that seem contradictory at first glance. I began wondering if – in the non-spatial sense – Israel is actually infinite. However, sometimes it was the simple things, like a plate of bread and salt, which touched me most.
History may not be everywhere in Israel as is sometimes claimed, but you certainly keep bumping into it, and repeated collisions with it drove home how what you see is always like a half-eaten slice of layer cake.
The contemporary reality of Israel is much more difficult to decipher than the past, because it isn’t divided up into neat portions (e.g. Roman, Crusader, Ottoman), and every time you think you’re beginning to make sense of it it knocks you off balance yet again.
Of course, you can’t avoid the military situation if you spend two weeks traveling around the country as I did. One side of this was talking to and hearing about young Israelis who served during the nation’s recent war with Hamas in Gaza, and the other was what I saw myself. Israel’s military strength struck me as being much greater than many of its older people realize, but the psychological price of its wars on its youth is also much greater than they usually acknowledge.
Profound as they are, Israel’s conflicts tend to be over-emphacized by the international media, because they tend to ignore the peaceful coexistence of Arabs and Jews in many parts of the country. Experiencing that made me wonder if a federal Israel with autonomous Arab provinces might not be the best solution. Of course, this would require the laying down of arms and increased cooperation on the basis of mutual interest.
I hope that in an elliptical way this gallery and my picture captions give an idea of how wonderfully disorientating my experiences of Israel were, because a few images couldn’t do justice to the rich human diversity (Jewish, Arab and other) of the place.
One experience could never be captured in this way, also because photography is forbidden at Yad Vashem, the Memorial Museum to the victims of the Holocaust. The enormity of the historical fact and its continuing reverberations in our world also make that impossible. I felt an enormous sense of loss for the six million Jewish people murdered by a coalition of German Nazis and their brutal cohorts of many other nationalities. (Yad Vashem makes it easier to grasp these basic and terrible facts than any other Holocaust exhibit I’ve seen). I also came away with a much clearer impression of the indifference of the Allies who said some fine words when it suited their purposes, but always had a good reason not to actually do anything about this terrible crime. That makes, “learning from history,” an obligation rather than just a good idea.