The thistles scratch at the threads in my hiking pants as I lead my 10th graders across the Lavi Forest. A map in my hand. A song in my throat. I am their tour guide, and more often than not, their life guide. They start a new cheer, screaming that the ban on wearing leggings on hikes forces them to wear pants that resemble ones of terrorists. My neck finds itself contorted backwards in appall and a few minutes later, I’m joining in on the “moralim.”
A voice beckons my attention. Another student obsessed with my ascent, my story, my insanity in coming here. He’s sure that I’m drunk off of some funky kool-aid. In his mind, America= perfection. And to leave such a paradise to come to this *#$@!, is a shame. I ask him what he wants out of life. I inquire about his dreams and his family. I interrogate him on this truth that he clutches in between his iPhone and bag of Doritos. And when he tells me that he’s leaving this place as soon as he finished the army at age 21, I tell him that his 3 years of service is just the starting line. He laughs and ask me to marry him so he can get a green card. I respond in my Israeli teenage slang, “sweety, your living in a movie.” …..So fine, why should I stay here?
The colors of spring glitter around me. I can feel a spiritual awakening within my bones as the sun adds a few more freckles to my beaming skin. I breathe in the air of change and re-center myself. The beauty around me is simply distracting. A worm coming to say hello. A tree welcoming me for a nap. A bird singing a love song. I remind my students, and myself that our hiking is a fulfillment of a commandment. We are marking our territory, fulfilling the need to retreive the gold in every four steps. I tell them that a gift only transitions into the recipient's property when you start to utilize it’s potential. I shriek out my commands for hydration and they roll their eyes, unaccustomed to the taste of unsugared liquid.
We meet a carob tree and I introduce them to my friend. I recite my appreciation for Hashem’s fruit and take a bite of sweetness. I ask them to open up the fruit to inspect the seeds. All exactly the same size. I quiz them on my friend’s abilities and attributes. In the Talmud, theres a dude who plants a carob tree. Everyone laughs at him for planting a tree that will only bloom in 70 years, way after he passes away. Why plant for something that you won’t even reap from? A student shouts, “Duh, it’s for his kids.” Investing for future generations. That’s why I’m standing here with you instead of in California. I’m planting Jewish trees. What are you planting for future generations?
There are several trees in this country that make me stop walking. The tangy red of Erythrina trees continuously disturb my strut. Their flowers cluster together like the feathers on a Las Vegas costume. The stocky petals command my attention at every meeting. I guess we are mightier as a bunch. And against a dark bark, we blaze in a fiery contrast. My students start chanting “Talya, the queen!” I guess thats my hint to move on. On my next explanation, I call upon my students to be my teachers. The more they involve themselves with connecting to this land, the more logical is my story. I am here because I am a Jew and Jews live in a Jewish country. If we didn’t have a Jewish country, we would just be praying for and working towards starting a Jewish country. So now we have what to start with. The seeds are already blooming.
“Nu, how much longer?” I promise them another 20 minutes…. because 20 minutes is always the perfect answer. And at the seder table last week, we all finish the 4 hour hike through our history with the exact same answer. “Next year in Jerusalem.” The thorny purple flowers and the blazing red trees, that’s our answer. We defend and make our identity present, standing high with whoever will join us, harvesting our potential until we can fully broadcast our freedom.