It started simply enough. I went with my loved ones to a band shell in the park. The usual arena rock stuff was there, the loudspeakers the size of city buses, the phalanx of video screens.
Still, you could take your loved ones to concerts the world over for the next hundred years, and never experience one like this.
You could feel it on your skin even before the house lights came down. Four generations together, steeped in turns of phrase as twisted as pretzels, singing at full throat for two solid hours and more. The music, which samples everything you have ever heard and sounds like nothing else, is not only in their bones. The music is their bones.
Welcome to a reunion of Kaveret.
Welcome to the temple of fanatic ambivalence.
Welcome to the cathedral of the merciless funhouse mirror. Welcome to a congregation that encompasses among the very best that Israel has to offer, and excruciatingly intimate knowledge of the worst.
Welcome to an Israel that knows it may not survive the lifetimes of the seven aging people this crowd has come to see. Welcome to the Israel which, nonetheless, in spite of everything, keeps the flame of what is still good in this place, alive.
Welcome, in a place as often terrible as this is, to the heroism of plain decency.
Welcome to the difference between the world as it is, and an Israel that was and, by the grace of God's sense of justice and humor, might yet be.
The words and the music carom from the syrup of nursery rhymes to the sinkholes of adulthood. The insight does not come in the guise of innocence, but as full partner to it - shrewd, sardonic, standup-fierce and tragic. Ambivalence as the first lesson of life, the sweet every bit as real as the acrid.
This is the Israel we will never show you on the news. We can't. This is the Israel that explains why Israel survives.
“You haven’t changed a bit,” says singer Gidi Gov, a member of a band which broke up in 1976, to the crowd of 50,000.
There is an inexplicable bedrock of optimism here. It's not hidden behind the cynical and the dark in the words and melody, nor in the virtuosity, or the originality, or the miraculous harmony. The optimism is right beneath every bit of it. An act of levitation.
On stage and in every corner of the crowd, there's a bizarre photosynthesis going on. Seven terminally cynical performers are taking in fear – their own, to begin with - and breathing out hope.
On the stage, and in every corner of the crowd, people are taking in shame and weakness and darkness, and breathing out pride and strength and, even at 10 and 11 at night, the sun. They are taking in sourness and bitterness and disappointment and fury, and breathing out an invitation to healing, to coexistence. To life.
What is love of Israel? It's not what you may have been led to think.
This – these cynics, this crowd, this surge of bittersweet joy - this is love of Israel. This is as Israeli as it gets: this music, these people and, more than anything, the hairbreadth, invisible, entirely invulnerable thread that binds them all together.
It is the might of unapologetic, indomitable love of one's family. It is the power of undying, unassailable love of one's friends.
It is a profound understanding of the connections between people in a very small space. You don't need a word for intimacy here, because there is, if anything, too much of it. You don't need a word for alienation here, because it borders on the impossible to achieve.
There are those who scoff at the very concept of love of Israel. They didn't go to see Kaveret last week at the park.
If they had, they would have learned that love of Israel is as real as the love that Israelis have for one another. And that the test of it is as simple and as scary as the test of any true love: What it does to you.
Pain hurts more. Joy thrills more. Support means more.