The Road Goes Ever On...

Tomorrow I head out on an adventure, to two lands that are alien to me yet have taken up an unbelievable amount of my headspace.  I’m going to spend a month in Israel. But first, I’m going to Atlanta.

I’ve always been obsessed with the Civil War, and know Atlanta best for being the starting point of Sherman’s March to the Sea.  I’ve said some bad things about Sherman in the past, mostly that he was too much of a moderate. I also hate the Braves.  So the history of Atlanta, and the South as a whole, hangs over me. 

 The same is true for Israel. As an American Jew of the liberal variety (i.e., a pretty normal American Jew), I am very conflicted about Israel. Not because I don’t like the idea—especially the early socialist-kibbutznik dream which has always seemed to me the closest Jews have gotten to getting back to Eden.  But the reality, well, it’s a little more complicated.  Despite the complications, I’ve been able to pontificate about the situation there in discussion with my (left leaning, hard) rabbi, with my (left leaning, if less hard) professors, and with my (sometimes actually right wing) Jewish (and non-Jewish) friends. 

And God knows I’ve also spend a lot of time studying the settlement patterns and shifting urban layouts of ancient Palestine; I even wrote a paper for a grad seminar one time about Caesarea Maritima and it got an A-.

It’s also important to note at this point that I’ve never been to the South, or the Middle East (I could theoretically count New Orleans, or Texas, or the Northern Virginia DC suburbs, but I won’t for the same reason I’m not counting Morocco).

So tomorrow when I get on that flight to Atlanta, and when I get off in Tel Aviv a week later, I’m going to have to do something that stings me as an academic: put my theories right up against reality.  And while I don’t think two days in the heart of the old Confederacy (even in its modern city guise) or a month on a combination of Birthright and excavation are going to 1) give me a real sense of the place or 2) change my mind at all about my deeply held beliefs, I’m feeling a little trepidation.

For now, I just think about what Gandalf told Frodo:

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

But that’s good—every once and a while you should let your world be shaken up, and not just in your physical location. When you think about things too much, you sometimes need your thoughts to be swept off somewhere you don't know. When I get back, I’ll share my thoughts, and see how the sweeping went. 

© Henry Gruber 2013