Israel

Winter 1981

(Note: Instead of one of my normal travelogues, I am putting in an article I wrote about my stay in Kibbutz Shoval in Israel. I spent several months there, working among the kibbutniks along with a dozen or so other foreign volunteers. It was an excellent way to get to know the Israelis and to see the country -- I took trips to Jerusalem, the Red Sea, Masada, Dead Sea, and other places. I like this article, even though it is less travelogue than "mood piece," so thought I would "reprint" it for you.)

 

The desert glowed with orange as the sun sank towards the hills. It was winter, so the normally bare, sand-colored slopes were sprouting a five o'clock shadow of think grass.

Where I come from, the land turns green in summer, not winter. The difference intrigued me for awhile and I set my foot up on the slick, marble bench. I had wandered here after spending Autumn traveling from one European country to the next. Many lands that I once thought only my imagination would soar to, my feet had now tread.

From the top of the rise, I watched the red sun. Out here in the barren lands, it seemed to move quicker. Maybe that was because it had so much more sky to cover.

It was supper time and I was waiting outside the kibbutz's central dining hall. A few residents drifted up the walkways. I nodded to those I recognized and mumbled, "Shalom." I had told a Finnish friend that I'd wait for her. She was a foreign volunteer on the kibbutz, like me. As I thought of her country, a new set of pictures flashed into my mind. I saw snow setting beneath a canopy of dark green pines. The stretches of sparkling lakes, the wide cheerful faces of the Finns and the stiflingly-hot but cozy saunas -- I pictured them all. I had never been to Finland, but fueled by Sari's stories, my imagination had.

My imagination had been to many places. As a matter of fact, it had driven me to take this trip. I remembered what I told a friend at home in Columbus, Ohio, as he asked me why I'd want to backpack across Europe by myself. "I want to be able to spin a globe and stick out my finger," I had said. "Where it lands, I want to be able to look at and say, 'I've been there.'"

Leaning my head back and staring at the pink sky, I realized I had already covered part of that imaginary globe. If my finger were to land in England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria or Switzerland, I could say I'd been there. And now, Israel. A grin spread across my face as I smoothed my hands over my "Arab shirt." White, yellow and orange spirals ran down the front of the brown shirt, from the V-neck to the untucked edges. The intricate threadwork shone in the red sunlight. Jerusalem, and the face of the portly Arab shopkeeper who had sold it to me, floated back. "You my friend," he had stuttered. "You kibbutz, you student, I give to you for 30 shekels."

Red sandstone crusader castles, swaying palms on the shore of the blue, crystalline sea and the scrubby thorns and view from the Mount of Olives were all images I would cherish of Israel.

Strangely, as I stared into the sunset, the strands of a song echoed in my head.

"Nights in white satin,

never reaching the end...

Letters I've written,

Never meaning to send."

I had heard the song last night in our improvised dance club. However, the pictures it had created were not of a love-torn man -- which I think the song is about -- but of something completely different. I had seen the wide, lonely desert and one figure moving across it. The white surcoat, gleaming steel helm and red cross on the shield stood out clearly. It was a knight in white satin. He was galloping across the sands searching for something.

Last night, I had attributed the dreamlike thoughts to the Maccabee beers and chill night breeze. The image came back with the song, though, and it seemed etched upon my mind. I could not shake it. The sheer romanticism of it struck me and I took a deep breath. Looking out over the reds and purples of the horizon, I felt myself searching for the knight

I sank into daydreaming. Why had my knight left Europe and wandered into the Holy Land? My fertile imagination began to film the story in my mind. I viewed his horse carrying him past pyramids down amongst the black-skinned people of Sudan.

Smiling, I thought of the pyramids. They were only a few hundred miles from here and it would be a shame to come this far and miss them. However, I had planned on going to Greece, first. Then, I hoped to go to Egypt and down south into Africa. Images of the Serenghetti Plains panned before my eyes. Lions stalking, giraffes loping across the hot ground, antelopes...all there for me to see.

The words of the song floated back, but now they had been changed slightly.

"Knights in white satin,

Never reaching the end..."

I felt my chest expand. Perhaps, that was it. I was the knight. Like him, I was fated to roam the wide expanses, searching. The thing I was looking for was less tangible, though. As a matter of fact, I don't know what it is. What made me want to see every place that to others was only a name on a map?

My thoughts shifted to my adventurous knight. Maybe there was a clue there. What eventually happened to him? I rested my chin on a tanned fist and scanned the panorama below me. The story unrolled in my head like a yellowed scroll stored away in a windswept abbey in the Alps.

I want to be able to spin a globe and...