Getting Up In Tel Aviv (X Marks the Spot, Part 1 of 2)

HKLI X – Up in Tel Aviv – Graffiti / Street Art

By Adam (Garen) Greenleaf

“I’m really proud to ‘get up’ in Tel Aviv” – Abu Harry

“One doesn’t fall in love. One rises in love. And one rises to Jerusalem” – Avraham Infeld

“We’re on a mission from God” – The Blues Brothers

Have you ever wondered what the words “Tel Aviv” mean? Or what “Jerusalem” signifies? Why do we say that a person makes aliyah (rises) to Israel? And why would a person be proud just to “get up” in a place?

These questions were introduced (and answered) during our travels in Israel. I’ll share with you the answer to one of them now: “Tel Aviv” – as I now understand it – translates to “Hill of Spring” – but not just that; it refers to rather specific kinds of hills, which are mounds made by the hands of humans, for example: in the form of archeological mounds made by the excavation of ancient ruin sites, or (maybe) to the disintegrated mud-brick or stone elements from a building that may be collected and refashioned into new structures, such that the buildings of a city are formed by layers of civilization. (Not a very American idea!)

It’s also – and forgive me if this is “old news” – the title of Nahum Sokolow’s 1902 translation of Theodore Herzl’s utopian Zionist novel (published as Altneuland – literally, “Old New Land”) into Hebrew, at a time when Hebrew was scarce and Herzl imagined German as the language for a Jewish state; and it’s a city founded in 1909. Interesting, I hope – and all the more so by way of graffiti and street art. Trust me: we’ll get there… But first, let me share this with you:

I left for Israel with a question in mind. (Two, actually. Stay tuned for the second.) It’s a different kind of question, and one that concerned me more than the kind you might find in a trivia game:

What’s this “mission” people keep speaking about?

You see, our trip was described as a “mission” and – while I know that “trips” are often referred to as “missions” – the closest context I have for a (palatable) “mission” comes from Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi; plus, if you can’t already tell: I’m a literalist (to a fault), and the word “mission” derives from “message” –

What’s the “message” we’ve been charged to carry?

This question (like all the good ones) really, really bothered me – and I started bothering others with it. “Why do we say mission?” I asked Infeld for another word… He gave me “Shaliach” – it’s Hebrew, OK – but same problem: what’s the message we’ve been sent with?

The answer – I think – is in the graffiti; and it’s why I, too, am proud that we “got up” (slang for a tag) in Israel. But before I try (and fail) to share it, let me say this: questions of this kind (the best kind) can’t be answered – really – through explanation; they may only be answered – really – by lived experience. To quote Rilke:

It is a question of experiencing… At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually . . . find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.

So, that’s what we did!

You see, on our very last day together in Israel: those of us still standing planted trees. While we were planting, our guide expressed her gratitude to us: first of all for bringing ourselves to Israel, and second for using our hands to leave a part of ourselves in the soil.

That’s it! That’s the message. HKLI (X) marks the spot!

No, graffiti isn’t Torah; but it does speak with, and draw from the deep wellspring of our people – with an eye towards the future. (One of the pieces we saw showed an image of Herzl with words in Hebrew: “We don’t want your dream.) No, it’s not traditional – but it is ritual. No, it’s not “THE WALL” – but it does touch a wall; and it overwrites that wall with a new layer of civilization. Very Tel Aviv.

What this tag signifies – for me, at least; and I pray for our hosts in the land of Israel, as well as people living in Syria and Gaza (with whom we shared the same message in different form, from afar) – is that there are people living in Minnesota who are rising in love with Israel, and who are in love with peace. That is our message.

But our message to people in the faraway nearby is only the tip of the iceberg. What I’m starting to realize is that the frame of a mission to Israel missed the major part of this (which I’m grateful to Harry Kay, Lauren Kaplan, and our leaders at HKLI for helping us to fulfill, in part, through this blog – and which if you haven’t already, please read):

You see, we’re back now (well, most of us are) and intend to continue our mission. And since most good things are better in relation to Star Trek, I’ll say this: while the Enterprise got going with a time-bound mission, it really got good in The Next Generation: a “continuing” mission.

For our part, what this means is that our continuing, reflexive mission (hitpael, as explained by Avraham Infeld) is just beginning; that yes, we were on a mission to Israel – but now, we’re on a mission from Israel; a com-mission, if you will: to share our discoveries, and to fulfill Harry Kay’s vision of service as leaders in the Twin Cities’ Jewish Community.

So, that’s what we’ll do!

Our return isn’t the end of HKLI X, but the End of the Beginning; and as a start, let me say this next-to-last thing: participation in the cohort and trip to Israel were hardly foregone conclusions for me, and I daresay other X’ers. Reading blog posts from members of Cohort IX, reaching out and listening to them: that’s what made the difference. So I hope you’ll forgive the length of this post, because we’re on a mission from Harry… (By the way, “Abu Harry” is both an honorific for Harry’s progenitor, and a pseudonym to protect the artist’s anonymity 🙂

To Cohort XI: we want you to get your “I” up on the wall. We want you to be present. Reach out to us, and we will help you in any way we can. If you’re considering participation but have some questions, please accept this invitation to live yourself into their answers. Because we want you to say: “this one goes up to 11!” (Ditto, XII tribes… XIII B’nei Mitzvot…)

Finally, in case Star Trek didn’t do it for you – and because I can’t resist, and for Andrea’s sake:

🎵 Cue Vanilla Ice 🎵

All right stop, collaborate and listen

Harry’s back to continue its mission –

Do the extreme and get up like a vandal

Spray paint the wall, come back light Shabbat candles

Word to your mother