Sunday, July 23, 2017

Touchstones

I recently returned from my first trip to Israel as part of a tour group from my synagogue. I'm still processing it, but was able to capture some of what it meant to me in the following poem.



Touchstones

From the concrete and glass of the airport
To the plastic and fiberglass of the plane
Crowds and hushed whispers and sleep that would not come
It was night and then it was morning—twice over
The first days

Venturing out into the heat
I am awestruck by this city of stone
Modern yet historic
Creating new technologies
While honoring those who fought for this space
From start-up to start again
Failure is but a step
Along the path to tikkun olam
Inspired by an idea
Brought to life with a speech
As we rise and sing.

Tunes familiar and different
Yet the same genuine smiles
We welcome Shabbat
Though we speak different languages
To say the same words
We want to learn and understand and know
What do you make from your life?
Are you ever separate
from the bedrock of this place?
And it was evening and it was morning. The third day.

Words of Torah
Written in sand, in stone
Who are we if we act based on what we fear
Instead of who we know ourselves to be?
On the shores of the Mediterranean
We look into the past
And see ourselves.

Driven by a vision
A thirst for both water and freedom
Hiding in plain sight
Fighting to make an idea manifest
A homeland
A makom kavua for am Yisrael
One volunteer at a time
One bullet at a time
While the giraffes look on

I stood in this place
Where they sang about peace
Only to be silenced by a gun
I touched the stone
And was moved
Then it was evening and morning
The fourth day.

A morning talk about happiness
About haves and have-nots
One thing is clear: when we have ice kafé
We are happy

From the serenity of biblical gardens
We share our gratitude by planting trees
Hope for the next generation
While honoring the walls
That keep us safe
As we travel deeper into the mystery
The visions of the merkavah
As we place ourselves in the sefirot
And ourselves become the Tree
Planted long before
And it was evening and it was morning
The fifth day.

An oasis of beauty
Leads to more stone
Solid walls of justice
Through the gate that bears
The language of our ancestors
And our new friends
A stone that proves we were here
In ages past.

I want to touch it
To connect here to there
Now to then
But there is no need
I am here
In this place
It is enough.

Loud booms shatter the stillness
Smoke etches the sky
As hate wreaks more destruction
We watch, safe on our mountaintop
As the air shudders around us
And we remember
Peace is a choice
In every moment.

Then with wine and chocolate and water
We celebrate with our Muslim cousins
There can be laughter
As we navigate the rapids
Of our lives.

And a shared meal
With friends we hadn’t yet met
Brings us back to our center
The why of it all
It is the connections we make
That bind us together
And it was evening and then morning
The sixth day.

From the youth of today
To the leaders of tomorrow
From the graves of those who came before
Who left us to be the caretakers
Of their children, their legacies
To the stages that once teemed with Jewish blood
And now resonate with music
We travel the last leg home
Ready to embrace the stone at the center
The heart and soul
Yerushalayim
And it was an evening of lights and a morning of light
The seventh day.

We slip into a tunnel
Beneath the heart
Surrounded by stone
Silent with the weight of history
Layers upon layers
It serves as a reminder
That connection with the holy
Requires we go deep.

As we approach the Kotel
The energy is thick
With prayer and emotion
All of life’s struggles
That are too heavy to bear
Are brought here to this wall
Seeping into the cracks
Our hopes and dreams and longing
Becoming the mortar
Touching stones worn smooth
With tears and caresses
And words uttered in pain and joy
Never meant for human ears.

There are claims upon these stones
Sacred places, sacred lands
And the lines are neither simple nor clear
Truth can be a mirage
Not found on any map
As the sun sets and rises again
The eighth day.

A song of descents.
Even as we rise
In the blistering heat
From the top of a camel
To the top of a mountain
Our tether to this place
Tenuous as a cord
We ponder martyrdom
And the price of freedom
And what it means
To truly fall.

Mountain to sea
Dry stone to sticky mud
We descend until there is no more to go
And for this moment
As we rest and lean back
Peace floats around us
And it was evening and then morning
The ninth day.

Every gain has required loss
Every hope comes on the heels of despair
And this Hope
This place
These stones
Mark both ending and beginning
Their memory haunts us still
We honor them
With a place and a name
And will never forget.

As Shabbat comes to us again
It sinks into every sense
Everything we have experienced
Every food tasted
Every song sung
Every stone touched
We will carry with us always
And it was evening and morning
The tenth day.

It is art that speaks of who we are
Who we were
The lives we led
So it is fitting that we end our journey
With art that gives purpose and brings joy
The art of architecture and the art of love
Knowing that the shreds of who we were
Can be molded into new strength
And become the touchstones of our lives.

As we begin the long flight to the west
Home now has two meanings
And I can live in both
No matter where I reside
And it was evening and it was morning.


Copyright ©2017 by Sheyna Galyan
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