by Susan Weinberg
Tonight began with a geography lesson. The Torah is quite specific about the boundaries of our covenant with God. First we are promised in Genesis 28:14 that "thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth and spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north and to the south." Meryll pointed out that the Hebrew word doesn't actually mean"spread", but rather "to break through," a much more incendiary interpretation.
What boundaries do you live with? she asked.
"A house, our body, our city, our counties, our states" we replied.
Our attention was drawn to a very specific passage in Numbers 34:3-12
which lays out the boundaries of Israel. We were directed to the handout (The Covenantal Promise) where we found a map (p4). As we traced the parameters outlined in this passage we noted the promised border and how it related to the real border. It encompassed a much larger section than the actual Israeli border reaching as high as Damascus. The borders of the covenant are defined by where people lived ( Genesis: 15:18-25 ) and by a triangular relationship between God, Abraham and the land (Genesis 12:7). So why this variance between promised and actual? Perhaps the Israelites didn't deliver what they were supposed to? Or perhaps it does match more closely than we acknowledge for Ishmael was Abraham's seed also. Rabbi Benjamin Segal attempts to answer this question noting that because of this triangular bargain with God it always straddles "the real and the ideal".
We began to trace the history of modern day Israel beginning with the UN's partition plan in 1947 on the handout (p8). It was an odd way to shape a country with Palestinians in the middle dividing the country into many separate segments, an untenable structure from the standpoint of security. Apparently this division reflected concentrations of where particular people already lived. I found myself thinking of our recent election with divisions between cities and rural. If we were to divide our country by those divisions it would look quite similar to the Israeli partition. This same pattern is found in Africa, India and Pakistan, also areas that were once under colonial rule.
Maps, maps and more maps. We turned to the map of the separation barrier (p11) Meryll noted that sheep are not bound by the wall, for there are underground passageways for sheep to graze. We zoomed in even deeper to look at Jerusalem (p12) and the mishmash of neighborhoods that composes it.
Prior to our session we had been asked to observe the live cam of the Wall. What were the divisions we witnessed? The wall itself, the plaza, the wall between the men and women, the tunnel by the wall by which Arabs can go to the Temple Mount. Many boundaries are defined by gender and religious identity.
Now it was time to imagine our own map of Israel. how should it be divided, mapped and bordered? This was to be a dream map, but we struggled with the impracticability of dreams. What would we want? "Peace and safety," we replied. Then we shifted to city planning mode and decided on a pinwheel structure much like Paris. We would put the core services, green space and religious buildings in the center, serving the branches that surrounded them. Layers, we needed layers that would allow us to keep our differences, our culture and history, but overlap with our neighbors. Soon we had a multilayered structure rising into the sky.
Our neighbors had a different approach to this project replete with rivers, oceans, native land and music. Palestine and Israel were mirror images of each other. Still others opted for no borders with Lake Minnetonka in the middle.
Or perhaps fresh water on the borders and access to water routes to create an island. Even in this island of coexistence there were battlements, convinced we couldn't depend on the rest of the world to leave us in our bubble.
And then of course there were the post-minimalists, lost in discussion, who didn't breach that white surface that taunted them.