Friday, December 26, 2008
Kever Benjamin City takes his phony name from Benjamin´s Tomb, which is its most authentic feature. The Tomb we are talking about (pic) is a very old Ottoman compound, unknown and untended for generations, that is experiencing a revival and winning a following among the lumpen. Lumpen in Kever Benjamin City? Yes and also the inhabitants of the nearby yeshiva (religious educational establishment) for recovering drug addicts and miscellaneous jailbirds, and of the Shalwata (a large institution for non violent lunatics). When I used to explore the area on bycicle, used to meet strange figures singing and shouting in the wilderness, and maintained interesting conversations with spiritually disturbed mystics. All these people have found their home in the teachings of the mysterious miracle rabbi Nachman, who lived in the shtettl of Uman, Ukraine, in the 18th Century. Nachman was a follower of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism, but he took a mystic turn looking for the redemption of his soul. He never married (unheard of a rabbi - he may have been hermaphrodite or homo), he left no writings and is the sole Hassidic rebbe that has not left a dinasty. His teachings were rediscovered as they fit well into AA´s twelve steps and offers answers to troubled and tortured souls. Nachman has a large and growing following in Israel.
Benjamin´s tomb has been adopted as a sacred compound for celebration of non-conventional religious rites. The place is alive at night, specially on ¨rosh hodesh¨(beginning of the lunar month) when candle lit ¨hitbodedut¨ (prayers and meditations in isolation) and ¨tikkun¨ (reparation, because the world and the human soul is in disarray and needs to be repaired) religious exercises are carried out. They carry out ¨tikkun layla¨(all night prayer and meditation) and tikkun hatzot (midnight prayers and ceremonies), and they used to spend days and nights in the sacred compound. As the place adquired fame and following, it has been taken over by the Government´s Administration of Sacred Places, which dislikes the kind of faithful that have been more or less living in the compound and put a night watch to keep them out. The watchman is having a difficult time, and his car was burned down and his family, menaced.
The tomb is near the Newe Yamin moshav, which is Nebi Yamin (the prophet Yamin, Arabic name of Benjamin son of Yakov). It was built 700 years ago by a Mamelukes leader, the Emir Hankaz Al-Hussamy. A thousand years before, the place had been a Roman bath cum bordello for the comfort of the legionnaires securing the Via Maris, the international seaside road.
According to the Bible, Benjamin died in Egypt and was placed to rest there. His descendents, the Tribe of Dan, took his bones when escaping from Egyptian slavery, and built them a tomb near Jerusalem, which is within the borders of the Benjamin people´s tribal lands. During the Middle Ages another Tomb of Benjamin appeared in the Galilee, and our own Nabi Yamin tomb was forgotten and abandoned till the 21st Century, when a nearby city was renamed (by me) the City of the Tomb of Benjamin. But sacred places never die and the Tomb is taking life and once more, people are once more bringing their offerings. All in all, I take this phenomenon as a sign that we Jews of the newly created State of Israel are no longer artificial implants but we are reconnecting with our ancient roots in this Promised Land.