Absolutely Extraordinary

I’d like to think that Herzl would have ordered the “Nastia” (Maker’s Mark Bourbon, spiced silan (date honey), lemon juice, za’atar and thyme), but I’m not sure if A.D. Gordon (the godfather of labor Zionism) would have chosen the “Raz” (with white negrita rum and a ginger infusion) or the “Meteora” (rye, Benedictine, honey and red chili). I am nearly certain that Rav Kook – the progenitor of Religious Zionism – would have had two glasses of the Olive Leaf gin with fresh za’atar, ground cumin and orange peel.

Those cocktails (and some extraordinary food to go with them) were on the menu at Pergamon, a vegetarian, vegan-friendly restaurant in Jerusalem. The playlist on the speakers was a mix of contemporary Israeli and classic American rock (I know, because I hummed with the former and knew all the words of the latter), the menu was Kosher and the waitstaff were multi-lingual.

It’s been a very long time since Israeli food was a choice between falafel and shwarma and mediocre-on-a-good-day pizza. Tel Aviv is a vegan’s paradise, Israeli wines regularly beat out their French counterparts in international competitions, and once-culinarily-sleepy Jerusalem… isn’t. At all.

Every time I’m here, I can’t help but think about the flag (based on a tallit) and the national anthem (…the two thousand year old hope, to be a free nation in our land…); the soldiers, the history embedded in every rock and hill. But the success of the Third Jewish Commonwealth can also be found in the proliferation of vegetarian restaurants, in a vibrant television industry that has birthed a slew of Netflix shows, and in a medical and scientific juggernaut that’s the envy of countries across the globe.

The Israel that Oasis will present to our students will be steeped in tradition – and modernity. While we won’t shy away from complicated questions – deserving of nuanced answers – about peace and security, we won’t constrict our students’ understanding and appreciation of this country to the wars and “the conflict.” The pair of Chasidim who regularly hang out by the midrechov (“downtown”) who do an amazing cover of Stairway to Heaven; the bakers who utilize 2,500 year old, Judean techniques to make their bread; the outdoor concerts that draw multi-generational crowds singing the same songs, grandchildren sitting next to their grandparents – those are also essential elements of Israel. The mystical silence that descends upon Jerusalem on Shabbat – the resuscitation of a “dead language” – the embrace of the challenge of having temporal power (aka, responsibility) after nearly two thousand years of exile – those are also the tiles that make up the Israeli mosaic.

Herzl said that he wanted der Judenstaat (literally, the Jews’ State) to be a nation like all others. I think he would be amazed – and quite happy – by what this miraculous, tiny sliver of land has become.

שבת שלום – Shabbat shalom,


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