After arriving two weeks ago in Tel Aviv, I can say without doubt that I had no idea just how absurd peacocks were until the last few days. A peacock in full array is an ostentatious display that’s practically comical to view. At nine in the morning, as I round the corner of Bina before class, I look to my left and I see Ruben, our track coordinator, and Jen, my roommate, standing on two plastic chairs, intently focused on the roof to our right. I turn to see the focus of their careful preoccupation, and lo and behold are three peacocks in the midst of courting.
The male peacock’s feathers fan out proudly, but neither of the females seem to have any interest in his show. The display is put on at various angles for the next five minutes or so before he finally gets a response, by which time much of the rest of our group has shown up to watch the spectacle. As we are silently peering, trying not to alert the peacocks, I find myself marveling at the sheer absurdity of peacocks – how evolution shaped something so immeasurably beautiful and preposterous amazes me.
I sometimes feel like the peacock since arriving in Israel. I ended up here through a series of unpredictable turns, crazy last minute planning, and sheer good fortune. Honestly, I’m still in shock that I am actually here. But whatever mishaps of fate lead to the peacock and his display or to my arrival here, it is beautiful, and I am in awe.
In the classes we have had up to this week, one particular message has stuck with me: When we speak of Jewish peoplehood, what does it mean to exist as a people with a 2,000 year continued narrative, and why does it matter? Whether or not you believe in the narrative of an unbroken lineage of Jews from biblical times until today, whether or not you hold to genetic testings or Torah as historical proof, the absurd reality is that as Jews today, we are continuing one of the most fascinating, complex cultures and religions to exist. Cultures and traditions formed in diaspora have intermingled here in Israel, and we now have in this country a situation very unlike anywhere else in the world. Just sticking to the ideas of a Jewish people living together (rather than attempting to delve into the incredible complexity of Israel as a state itself), Jews now are in a place to create and form a new intentional history, one that hopefully reflects the beauty of mitzvot and of the larger world that Judaism exists within. I’m not yet sure where I fit in that narrative, or how my time here can make a difference in the larger reality of Israel or of Jews, but I cannot wait to find out.
The past two weeks have served as an introduction to the program, Hebrew, and Tel Aviv – intensive ulpan, Jewish study, and tours of different volunteer organizations have filled my days from beginning to end. As the first non-orientation week begins, I am so excited to begin my own exploration and work here. I’m not sure yet what it is that I will find, or what I will accomplish, but however inexplicable it may be, I hope that it as beautiful and as wild as the peacock and its improbability.