After Exodus 15:1-18
As the waters parted before them
they sang their songs of praise:
Some sang to the one who
shattered Pharaoh’s army
with a mighty right hand,
some sang to the god of their ancestors
who remained faithful to them
and them alone.
Others sang to the one
who redeems the oppressed
so that the world may know of his might:
who is like you god of war,
consuming the enemy like straw
incinerated with one awesome
mighty blast from on high?
Some sang a hymn of praise
to the god of vengeance
who shamed the Egyptians
hurling them all like stones
into the heart of the churning sea;
still others sang out with hope
that the peoples of the land
would now melt away
as god’s people went forth
to dispossess them.
As they marched on
their voices joined into one feverish song;
a tuneless wordless howl
echoing on through the depths
never to rise to the source
of their liberation.
Every Tu B’shvat,
on a hill just west of Jerusalem,
almond trees are blooming their white blossoms
down a rocky terraced hillside.
Stone rubble is laced here and there along its slope –
the only remaining traces of the village
they called Khirbat al-Lawz.
Not long ago this place was populated by
hundreds of villagers who grew
olives, grapes, figs and tended farms
with sheep and chickens.
On the hillside there are two springs
called Ein al-Quff that sent water
down ducts that led to a well
built into the hillside.
Generation after generation
the farmers of the region
would parcel and share this water
to grow their crops.
Every evening after work, it is said,
the men of Khirbat al-Lawz
would gather near a carob tree
in the village center
to talk, smoke, drink and sing
late into the evening.
This life vanished forever on July 14 1948,
when the Haganah occupied and expelled
the people of Khirbat al-Lawz during a military action
known as “Operation Dani.”
The villagers remained in the nearby hills
hoping to return at the end of war,
but soldiers from the Harel Brigade
forbade their return
on pain of death.
Soon after the Jewish National Fund
built a thick forest of non-indigenous
evergreens around Khirbat al-Lawz
and the neighboring village of Sataf.
Today, the JNF website tells us:
This site offers many stunning walks in nature,
where you can also see olive orchards
and agricultural plots on
ancient agricultural terraces.
The two springs that emerge
from the site serve as a reminder
of an almost vanished Hebrew culture
dating back thousands of years.
Here, as in the days of the ancient Israelites,
irrigated vegetable gardens grow
alongside vineyards, olive groves and almond orchards
that need no artificial irrigation
and color the countryside green all year round.
Hikers today will surely not notice it,
but not far from these well groomed trails
you can still find the village center of Khirbat al-Lawz.
The spot is marked by an ancient carob tree
rising out of the thorns and dead grass –
bent and tilted to the side, but still growing.
According to the Jewish sages
it takes carob trees seventy years to fully bear fruit.
When we plant them, they say,
it is not for our own sake,
but for the benefit of future generations.
So this Tu B’shvat, think of a hillside
just west of Jerusalem
where the almond trees are blooming
down a rocky terraced hillside
and a sacred carob tree grows sideways
where a village center once stood.
Then close your eyes and imagine
the wind breezing through its leaves,
whispering to future generations:
you are not forgotten,
the time will yet come
for your return.
Stop for just this moment
the roads you are traveling
will not lead you to my kingdom.
You journey so proudly
through this barren land
and I can abide it
Your false piety
has become unbearable to me.
You look up to the skies,
you say all the right prayers
yet somehow you cannot see
that the world is coming apart
all around you.
You look for me endlessly,
you ask me to show you the way;
how can you be so eager to know me
yet so unwilling to see my face
in the one who is standing
right next to you?
You fast on this holy day of yours
while children go hungry in your own city
and families line up for bags of grain.
You pray for your martyrs,
you recite Yizkor and Kaddish
then sell handguns and Apache helicopters,
and profit from the blood they spill.
You call for inclusion and compassion
while you build a system of racism
and oppression that grows
You march for peace
but refuse to see the difference
between the hollow peace
of domination and control
and the true peace
of justice for all.
You advocate for human rights
in far off lands
and yet you lock up and shoot down
black and brown bodies
in your own backyard.
You chant from your holy texts:
“do not oppress because
we were once oppressed”
while you occupy another people.
You wield your legacy of victimhood
like a weapon
as you expel and expropriate,
build checkpoints and demolish homes.
You preach of freedom
and yet you treat the world
as your personal fiefdom.
you topple governments of nations
that refuse to serve your interests,
prop up tyrannical regimes
to ensure your hegemony.
Your fast today is meaningless to me.
Do you really think this is the fast I desire:
to forgo food for one day
to intone the same prayers
to confess the same sins
year after year?
Do you believe such a fast,
will make a difference?
No, this is the fast I desire,
dismantle your systems of oppression
open wide your prisons,
tear down your separation walls,
destroy your weapons of death
let justice rule in your streets.
Open wide the vaults and
share your abundant wealth so that
all are fed and clothed and sheltered.
Bring in the immigrants,
let the refugees return home
at long last.
These are the sacred sacrifices
I have been asking of you all along.
Do you think you are up to the task?
Will you offer them to me?
Will you let go of your old ways,
your hollow meaningless rituals
and find the courage to worship
with offerings that I truly require?
Are you ready to spread my healing
across this broken bleeding world,
to stop looking forward and behind,
and venture into the dark places
you would never dare to tread,
only to realize that you have been
dwelling there all along?
Do you have the strength to say
to the ones whom you find there:
here I am, here I am,
here I am.
These sacrifices you offer up to me
cannot possibly be sustained.
Your well will run dry,
the source of your very lives
will be depleted and soon
you will have nothing left to give.
So let these wells dry up,
seek out the springs that give forth
life giving waters without end.
Restore the foundations of my world
Tear down the walls you have built,
Rebuild the homes you have destroyed
Erase the borders that you have drawn.
Open your sidewalks and pathways,
your roads and highways,
clear the way for all
to find their way without fear
and you will discover a place
you never dreamed could
ever possibly exist:
the place where the low is brought high
and the high is brought low:
the kingdom of heaven
that dwells right here
while the refugee collects
scrap metal and copper wire,
the man in the cubicle counts down the seconds
then watches the camp disappear
in a tiny puff of black and white dust.
that’s all you are, you know, just
a bureaucrat in a cubicle
moving your joystick to the right and left
looking down at the worlds
you create and destroy.
how long will you stagger
in this state of willful darkness,
blindly defending the indefensible and
rationalizing away the unthinkable?
how long will the judge of all the earth
behave so unjustly?
the refugee farmer spits on the ground,
looks up and squints into the sun.
smiling for a camera he cannot see
those who dwell on high
will die like mere mortals,
they will sputter and fall like
every other ruler before them.
though this injustice is too much for me
to bear, i will not break.
even as your hellfire missiles rain down
i patiently await the final verdict.
will you sweep away innocent with
the guilty what if there are
fifty innocent within the city will
you wipe out the place far be it from
you to do such a thing to
bring death upon the innocent the
M-69s which released 100-foot streams of fire upon
detonating sent flames rampaging through
densely packed wooden homes superheated air created
a wind that sucked victims into the flames and
fed the twisting infernos asphalt
boiled in the 1,800-degree heat with much of
the fighting-age male population at the war
front women children and the elderly
struggled in vain to battle the flames or flee
like other survivors nihei who escaped the fire with her
family intact said the bombing showed that war is
never justifiable those images in my mind can never
be erased she said i can see myself there the
flames all around me and i’m running for my
life shall not the judge of all the
earth act justly?
(Genesis 18:23-25 with AP article, “1945 Tokyo Firebombing Left Legacy of Terror, Pain” by Joseph Coleman)