Monday, January 6, 2014

Assimilation Past and Present

By Jake Albano '15 and David Stahl '14

Today we visited Mt. Herzl and the military cemetery located there. The first stop, Herzl's tomb, was a large black box adorned simply with his name in gold. The memorial stood alone in the middle of a large square. Behind, there was a scenic mountain overlook. 

Herzl, whose story we were told in great detail for the past few days, had by far the most space dedicated to his memory. But it was not his grave site, nor Yitzhak Rabin's, nor Golda Meir's that created the biggest impact for me. These people are celebrated heroes with thousands of visitors each year, as illustrated by the mounds of pebbles and rocks placed upon their tombstones. As we moved further into the cemetery, the signs no longer directed you to specific memorials of the nation's heroes. Instead, plaques served as somewhat of an index, like the signs in large parking lots that help you remember where you parked your car. The tombstones were marked in hebrew, which I admittedly cannot read or understand. The only marking I could understand was the number on the bottom row, which I came to understand marked their age at the time of their passing. Unlike any cemetery I had ever visited, these graves did not celebrate the long and fruitful lives of grandparents who were no longer around. The vast majority of these soldiers were between the ages of 18 and 24. These young men and women had lived to my age, but this is all they had. 

We were told that almost every Israeli knows at least one family member or friend buried there. Hearing that, seeing the rows upon rows of graves, and, most strikingly, noticing the lack of stones and pebbles that decorated the vast majority of them was enough to help me fully process how different life is over here.

We then left Jerusalem once and for all and headed north to the Sea of Galilee. Along the way we stopped for lunch and some experienced McDonald's for the first time in Israel. #mcshwarma. We were entertained by the fact that the largest burger on the menu was called "the American."

We got to Tzipori, an old Israeli town that was taken over by the Romans, where Jews were pressured to assimilate into the culture while struggling to maintain their faith. We went into a presumably Jewish home and saw a beautiful floor mosaic depicting the Roman mythology of the god Dionysus, with gaps where the sofas had been. I thought it was really interesting that mosaics could be made of either stones that were painstakingly selected as the right color or could be colored to fit the scene (the latter being cheaper). This one was made from stones used in their original color which was amazing given the details of the many scenes depicted. Also, some of the scenes in the mural were of Dionysus engaged in competitive drinking games, which we college students could relate to. 

In Tzipori, we also visited a roman amphitheater at the top of a mountain, where we acted out what life would be like for a Jew attending a Roman play. Thus one was written by "Carlius Raeus Jepsenus" #callmemaybe. Through this we learned what it would be like to live in two different, sometimes conflicting, cultures. 

This transitioned perfectly to the evening discussion we had after dinner at our new hotel at Kibbutz Ginnosar. We talked about the role of a Jew in modern society with many cultures. Do we want to be considered "normal" or "special," and if we are in fact special, what type of burden does this entail? We also discussed times we had felt like the "other" and how we dealt with assimilation and celebration of our "specialness."

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