A recent trip to Israel for a conference on neuroplasticity and cognitive modifiability presented another opportunity to reflect on boundaries and identities. Israel, of course, is paradigmatic of boundary issues, and Jerusalem elicits (around every corner) the paradoxes of identity. More than anything, however, Israel continually raises questions.
Apart from the most obvious issues of political boundaries, Israel points to emerging environmental issues as they relate to boundaries. How will climate change impact political and religious conflicts? Though currently water and food secure, Israel is in a precarious downstream position. Climate change in addition to new dams and irrigation to the north may compromise this security. Israel is downstream from Syria, but Syria is downstream from Turkey. How will various nations respond to water shortages?
While Israeli agriculture is the most advanced in the world, food is mostly water. Water and not technology is the sine qua non. Indeed, environmental factors are likely to be a deciding factor in the future of the Middle East. “Without bread, no Torah; without Torah, no bread.” Without water, no bread. Will environmental crises alleviate or exacerbate national conflicts? Will neighbors realize their dependence on one another or redouble the rhetoric of identity and difference?
And will those of us in North America acknowledge and address our own climate change and related boundary issues any time soon? Will we realize that there and them reflects here and us.
My conference panel was on materialism and spiritually in neuroscience. The second presentation, by Yohanan Grinshpon, a Professor of Indian Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, reminded me that self-referentiality is not merely a Western, liberal fetish, but also a means to bracket neurotic and egoistic impulses. The mindful meditator reflects on the self in order to transcend the illusion of separateness. When I shared this insight with a friend in Karmiel (a former rabbi who relocated from Chicago with his family two years ago), he said that this rest from the ego was a definition of the Sabbath, but that our unique identities were also important.
After lunch in Karmiel, my husband and I drove to Tsfat (or Safed) in the Golan Heights. Though we arrived long before sun down, we found the town closing down for Shabbat. Within half an hour almost everyone was indoors with their families. As we attempted to navigate the labyrinth of the old city, we wandered into a gallery with a conspicuous “Open” sign on the door, and discovered the most marvelous Kabalistic art and artist. See David Friedman at Kosmic Kabbalah Art here. The work resonated with much that I had been thinking about for the last few days. And this apparently was a general characteristic of the work. One visitor, we were told, saw the word Allah in the tetragrammaton (the Hebrew name of God); another saw the chakras in the same work.
Identity or connection? I am or I am not? Particle or wave?
Image: David Friedman, Waves and Particles (see link above)