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BLOOD OF THE MACCABEES

March 28, 2014

 Today’s morning run in Jerusalem Forest revealed the appearance of this season’s Blood of the Maccabees, the scarlet tips of blooms peeking from their protective sheaves, awakened since last week’s long-awaited rains. Local lore has it that each flower marks a spot where blood was once shed. They grow on the ridge beside the ruins of an Arab village, which borders on the Valley of the Communities at the holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. Vanished, vanquished Arab residents, their homes in piles of rocks, the carefully constructed terraces where they grew their crops, still in tact. Did the people flee, 65 years ago? Were they driven out? Does it matter? And the countless Jewish communities of Europe, decimated 70 years ago, each town’s name inscribed there on massive, silent pillars of stone. All this blood – separate Jewish and Arab suffering, joined in these delicate blossoms. 

The winter began with a colossal snowstorm, and then became a draught, one of the driest winters known here. I’ve always suspected that one of the ways God expresses her/himself is through the weather. If so, and if it is also true that God sets the table while we cook the meals, I wonder what might be the message of this desolate winter. When our hills and trees and flowers and crops should have been drinking, they have been parched, in a survival mode. Are we being punished, or perhaps warned? I tend to think we are.

 For years, we on the left have longed for an American administration that would intervene into our endless avoidance of peace and push us and the Palestinians to do what we must. And here is John Kerry, with Barack Obama behind him, unshaken by the repeated provocations of our “leaders,” willing to go way out on a limb to usher us to the agreement that is not “one way of looking at it” but is the only way we will get to the peace we crave – two states, land swaps, Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, a gesture to Palestnian refugees – there is consensus among more than 60% of Israelis that this is the way. While all the Israeli anti-peace camp has to offer is the grim assessment that the best we can hope for is to “manage” the status quo, cementing this intolerable reality in the settlements that multiplied twice as fast in 2013 as during the year before.

During the coming weeks, the die will be cast. This moment will yield either an opening to a bit more time for negotiation, for talking and listening, for hope, or else we will see the catastrophic collapse of what may have been our last chance to salvage the solution to our drought. Failure now will lead to a new and terrible round of blood-letting on both sides.

 As winter ended, we finally got a week of rain. God now whispers, “See how beautiful is your land! Fulfill the promise!!” The hills of Jerusalem and the Galilee are alive with wildflowers. Pesach, the celebration of freedom, is two weeks ahead. Will we get to celebrate the coming of liberation from slavery? Will we dance through the hills to Song of Songs’ melodies of love, will we witness freed prisoners welcomed home, earnest negotiators doing what they must as we move forward together to earn the earth’s springtime?

The botanical name of the Blood of the Maccabees is Helichrysum sanguineum, whose Greek roots combine “to turn around” and “gold” and “blood.” It is time to turn around, to embark on the golden age of the Middle East, and to leave the blood, a sad reminder of what once was, in the lovely flowers on the ridge.

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