Peace Vigil: Story 1
As it heats up, I am thinking-doing what I can. Write. Sing. These are the pieces.
I am feeling ourselves spinning into the events of our time and their significance is elusive but perhaps it will clarify, just as Rashi the poet predicted, one day we will come to see that it was as it is supposed to be, the deep significance of events will clarify and the events will release their deep significance just as Rashi the poet described the emek of Hevron, the valley of Hevron — it’s not a valley it’s the depth of events in the Torah Vayeshev — the depth of the story.
Do I understand the obstacles to peace making? No. But I have spent some time there, I have some experiences on the ground, I have sat with artists mostly and musicians and I have even been their student. I apprenticed myself to the world sounds. I went there to learn at the source.
Everybody I met in Israel wanted to know what I was doing there. I told whoever asked that I had returned to Israel to study and to play the oud. When I first came to Israel, in 1976, I was part of a rhythm and blues show that toured the country. I appeared all over Israel playing exclusively American music.
To most Israelis I met, that made sense, but my mission to learn the oud did not. “Why don’t you play the guitar?” one asked me. “”I do play the guitar,” I said. “The oud. . .” she said, “it has such a whiny sound. Is that racist?” she said to me. We concluded that it was just uninformed. At least she asked.
The Israelis I hung out with were exceedingly aware of racism and were working at the deepest levels of self reflection to work themselves clean of that corruption. I felt this everywhere. I feel that eroding now, and I am wondering whether we are in the it will have to get worse before it gets better phase.
The Israelis I met when I was studying there were curious about me, I am sure they thought maybe I was a little crazy, most wondering why the heck I was interested in learning this instrument from an Arab in the western Galilee. It seemed like such an unlikely pursuit.
One night, I was having dinner in Jerusalem with a group of Israelis. It was Shavuot, as a matter of fact, we were getting together and then we were all going to hear Aviva guide us to Ruth, learning until dawn, walk to the Wall, and say the morning prayers as the sun came up. It was the thing to do in Jerusalem on Shavuot.
At the table, there was an Israeli academic sitting next to me who had just returned to Israel after having spent half a dozen years getting his Ph.D. at Penn in Indian Vedic philosophy. “So,” he asked me, “what are you doing in Israel?”
I began to tell him about the instrument, about the music I had come to learn, and half way through my exposition, I stopped and asked him, “how interested are you in this story?”
He said something beautiful and true to me. “When you love something, when you know it in depth, at its essence, every something becomes Everything. Every part of the story becomes the whole story, every part the Whole.” I told him everything.
But that is not why I am telling this story now. This story is being written as a reminder, a purely personal reminder, to me because I need it now. I need the memory of a time when I moved across the borders that now separate and isolate, when I wandered fearlessly between cultures that are now warring with each other, when I entered the mind of my estranged relations in the East, without knowing anything at all about them, them about me, but connected through something greater than our differences.
We met beneath our differences, before the exile from each other, we met at the intersection of the common sound we made, the music in our hands, and if we could find our way to each other through music, could peace be far behind?
How far? How long?