Walk in the Land of Israel

Wisdom is knowing what we don’t know. When I made Aliyah I discovered that although I am Jewish and was raised in a Zionist household, I knew nothing about Israel.

Nothing. That was a painful discovery.

I was 13 and the culture shock was enormous. It took me years to reorient myself and be able to articulate what I didn’t know or understand and why it matters.

I was raised in a Zionist household. We weren’t religious but we observed Jewish holidays. Or so I thought. I attended a Jewish school and Jewish after-school daycare and even so – I knew nothing about Israel.

I don’t remember Israel ever being mentioned in my school. I thought I knew Hebrew (after moving here I discovered I didn’t). I knew what I thought were the basics about the Jewish holidays, but no one had ever pointed out the intrinsic link to the Land and to the fight for freedom and sovereignty. The most Zionist holidays either weren’t ever mentioned (like Shavuot or Tu B’shvat) or the elements of Zionism in them were simply ignored (like with Hannukah).

I knew we were different, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. Reverence for books and education was the air I breathed. I knew about the hate. I knew my grandmother was a fighter for Israel. And with all that – no one ever told me that the pillars of Jewish identity are the connection to our People, our Land, and the Torah. As secular Jews, our connection to the Torah was tenuous. We were connected to other Jews in our area but not in a way that was much different from other friends. You celebrate holidays with these, you do other things with those. And our Land? I had absolutely no clue.

Going to an Israeli school as an American ignoramus was difficult. Class trips were a big issue. Everyone seemed to love them. What was instinctive to my classmates was incomprehensible to me. We didn’t go on a trip to a museum or some similar location. We got on a bus, drove someplace, got out, and – walked. It seemed pointless to me. Why walk for hours, up and down hills, just to get back to the bus? That’s where we started off from so… why?

What it means to walk the land of Israel

In his song “Get up and walk the Land” Yoram Taharlev articulates why – something every Israeli seems to know on a non-verbal, instinctive level and I, in a terrible disconnect from our heritage, did not.

Taharlev, an astoundingly prolific writer, articulated the primal truths of what it means to be part of the greatest love story ever documented – the love story between this Land and her People, between the People and our Land. That’s why his writings have become Israeli classics. We tend to think of classics as old cultural works, but they do not become classics by being old, they grow old by being profound, by conveying messages that are valuable and worth passing on.

That’s why it is worth studying his words. They can fill the hole in the Jewish soul that does not understand the full meaning of who we are.

In this song, Taharlev instructs us to walk in the land, put ourselves in the tools of hiking (backpack and stick), and let the paths of the Land embrace us. Walking is a way to physically reintroduce ourselves to the land that gave birth to our People. A way to remember that all the splendid buildings were built on top of a very old dream that is still there. It is also a way to remember that the places we walked as soldiers are full of children and homes, beauty, and life (which is exactly the reason why we were soldiers, to make those things possible).

Walking in the land is a way to connect with this unique entity that gave us our identity, that gave us a home, and is always ready to embrace us. Getting up and walking in the land is a way to remember the dream that ties the Nation of Israel to the Land of Israel.

THAT is the point.

Below is my translation of his song. I wish he was still with us so I could ask him about the nuances in his choices of language. May my words give justice to his.

Get up and walk in the land
Northern Command Band
Lyrics: Yoram Taharlev
Composer: Yair Klinger
קום והתהלך בארץ
להקת פיקוד צפון
מילים: יורם טהרלב
לחן: יאיר קלינגר
Get up and walk in the land
In a backpack and a stick.
[did he use the “in” rather than “with” for the rhythm of the sounds of the letters or because he was suggesting we put our soul into the tools of hiking?]
You will surely meet on the way
The Land of Israel again.
Her paths will embrace you
[The paths] Of the good land,
She will call you to her
Like to a cradle of love.
This is indeed the same country,
This is the same land
And the same piece of rock
Burnt in under the sun.
And under the asphalt
[Under] the showy buildings,
The homeland hides
Shy and humble.
Get up and walk in the land…
And vineyards of olive trees
And the hiding place of the spring
Still keeping her dream
And our old dream. [she and we are two separate entities, part of the same story].
And red roofs on the mountain
And children on the trails,
Where we walked
With belt and packs. [The words here work on two levels. Due to the choice of the plural form, to me, they seem to suggest the tools of soldiers rather than those of the hiker described at the beginning of the song – the belt of a soldier and bullet casings rather than backpacks. Bullet casings rather than bullets, to mirror the word used in the beginning of the song.].
Get up and walk the land…
קום והתהלך בארץ
.בתרמיל ובמקל
וודאי תפגוש בדרך
.שוב את ארץ ישראל
יחבקו אותך דרכיה
,של הארץ הטובה
היא תקרא אותך אליה
.כמו אל ערש אהבה

,זאת אכן אותה הארץ
זו אותה האדמה
ואותה פיסת הסלע
.הנצרבת בחמה
ומתחת לאספלט
,לבנייני הראווה
מסתתרת המולדת
.ביישנית וענווה

…קום והתהלך בארץ

וכרמי עצי הזית
ומסתור המעיין
עוד שומרים על חלומה
.וחלומנו הישן
וגגות אודמים על הר
,וילדים על השבילים
במקום שבו הלכנו
.עם חגור ותרמילים

…קום והתהלך בארץ

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