Jews and Guns: Snippets from an Israel Journey

July 24, 2013
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The kibbutz library is an old bunker. It’s filled with books about farming, eco-villages, compost, and spiritual philosophy. The wi-fi is a bit slow, but I can’t begrudge them that, because the tea kettle works just fine and project art about the walls makes the space quite nice.

I remember hearing that one day some of the kibbutzniks had to go out for military reserve drill training. When they got back they said it was fun, a load of laughs, nothing too serious.

Bullet holes are unmistakable; that perfectly conical imprint in stone with a shallow, flower shaped spray surrounding it. Patterns across walls recalling scenes from Die Hard in my mind. I wonder if the hero made it away that time? The holes are so old, any stains of the day had long washed away.

A bulldozer is not a gun, but it’s a slow moving bullet.
A stone is not a gun, but it can do the same job.

Outside of Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Museum there’s a giant statue commemorating an uprising the Jewish people made against their oppressors. There are stories of starving people in rags standing up to tanks. There are stories of food being shared with many, though portions were enough for but one. There are stories of transporting children out in crates, and hiding people in cellars, making false documents and using their talents for good. Most of them died there. The statue is a cold grave.

Leibel Zisman made it through Auschwitz, raised a large family, stormed the decrepit gates of hell some 68 years later to share his soul with a bunch of green kids trying to figure out what it all means, knowing they should care but aren’t sure how to, and wondering if it’s the camp or the hangover affecting them most that day. Leibel died this week, he fell, and I’m sad. Even though I didn’t agree with many of his views, my heart loved him and my awe for his courage will never fade.

Leibel told me months ago that he still held deep, perhaps violent anger in his soul towards his former oppressors. This too made me sad, but how could I blame him?

I hoped that one day my kids would be able to meet a man like Leibel – because if anybody was going to make it that long it was him. The man who had more pep for his mission than we had for nearly anything yet in our lives. Leibel wrote a book. I hope I get to read it one day. I hope it gets translated into many languages and is given standard to every Israeli soldier as was his dream.

I hope we don’t need soldiers in the future. If there are soldiers it means more guns are being made, and that means people need to be defended from the soldiers, or will be killed by them, and there will be more people forced to become like Leibel, angry and powerful, because he had a right to be angry, and the ones that weren’t strong enough just didn’t make it at all.

There are a many wars in the Torah, but no guns.

If someone started shooting at me, I would shoot back, but some part of me would wish that I’d miss, and that they’d run out of bullets and just decide to leave and not come back.

If we forget the peaceful dream, our struggle, Leibel’s struggle before and after the camp will be lost.

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Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social good project developer as well as a recent graduate of NYU's Environmental Conservation Education masters program. Lee has also studied at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, Israel and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently he has been leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a program of The Sustainability Laboratory seeking to design a new and innovative, international sustainability masters program. Other projects include: developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in connection with the Earth while helping others to do the same. At heart Lee is a poet, traveler, musician, and philosopher with a deep curiosity for new experiences, unfamiliar cultures, learning languages, and often dancing to the beat of a different drummer. As student of yoga, meditation, and spiritual arts, Lee aims to connect the inner journey with the outer one, hoping, as he can, to share what is learned along the way, enjoying the journey.

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