Harish, Israel I thought the

May 17th, 2002

Harish, Israel

I thought the devotees here lived more toward the middle of Israel, not less than three kilometers from the border of the Palestinian-controlledd West Bank. I can see the settlements of the Palestine Authority clearly from my window, meaning that most of the suicide bombings occur in thee towns and cities near Harish, the village where I am staying. If I knew the geography of Israel better?if I knew that I’d be so close to the border?I might not have come. Harish, however, is a very small development with a few hundred attached houses in the middle of the wilderness. There are no markets, malls, or hospitals for people to assemble, so the devotees feel safe that it is a very unlikely target for a terrorist attack. “If someone is going to sacrifice their life,” they say, “they want an adequate return of carnage. They will only attack places where masses of people assemble, not here.”

I am the guest of Gunavatar Prabhu and Varshabhanavi-devi, the mainin preachers in Israel for over twenty years. Gunavatar is an Israeli, but he joined ISKCON in Amsterdam in the mid-’70s when Locanananda Prabhuu was president. He soon left with him to initiate the Hare Krishnaa Movement in Israel and Varsabhanavi was one of their first recruits. I first met them in 1988 at the Maha-Kumbha Mela in Prayag where I was in charge of preaching to the Westerners at the ISKCON camp. We becamee friends and they invited me to Israel. I went that year, and then again in 1996. This is my third visit.

Preaching in Israel is especially difficult. Since enemies surround thee country on all sides, the very survival of Israel depends on a strong sense of national identity as Jews. Because Krishna consciousness is a cultural revolution, it threatens that identity and thus subtly threatens the country’s survival?at least in the mind of the common citizen. Thus to become a devotee in Israel, one must not only overcome one’s philosophical doubts, but also a sense of betrayal to one’s country. Because of this,few people here commit themselves to Krishna consciousness, even when they accept its philosophy. I remember at that same Kumbha-Mela in 1988 convincing a young and dynamic couple from Israel to take to Krishna consciousness. They even returned with me to Vrindaban for a month of training and studies under my direction. I was certain they were fully convinced. So I was surprised when I later inquired from Israel about their welfare that such apparently sincere devotees had soon joined the Yeshiva (a school where one studies the Torah). Although I had convinced them about devotional life, apparently the pain of giving up Krishna consciousness was not yet greater then the pain of the seeming treachery to their identity, family, and people. When I inquired from Gunavatar about this he described it as a common phenomenon in Israeli preaching. He then related a meeting that he had with a dynamic and progressive rabbi who, to his surprise, was actually very favorable to Krishna consciousness?even to the extent of inviting the devotees into his community. Gunavatar was amazed to find out how many of the rabbi’s followers had some previous contact with Krishna consciousness. A few of them were actually members of ISKCON in the late ’70s, and one even told him his initiated name!

The people in general, however, except for a minority of Orthodox Jews, are very secular. When I first came to Tel Aviv in 1988, I was expecting the people to be reserved and conservative, but instead, was shocked to see how immodestly the ladies presented themselves in public?more so than in New York or any other city I have seen. The common Israelis, who are quite secular, do not even like the more Orthodox Jews except for the fact that these religious Jews exemplify the national purpose of Israel to the citizens. This prejudice against Jewish Orthodoxy by the common Israeli is another reason why the obviously fundamental convictions of other sects, and certainly those by the Hare Krishnas, are abhorred. They’ve had enough self-righteousness to deal with in their own orthodoxy to tolerate other apparently fundamental groups that do not even represent the national interests of the country.

As if it wasn’t hard enough to spread the doctrine of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the face of such opposition, the Hare Krishna Movement in Israel has also had a series of serious internal crisis caused by the fall of their guru, Bhagavan dasa, and a consequent succession of weak leadership. By the time I first visited Gunavatar and Varshabhanvi in 1988, the Hare Krishna Movement had been reduced to a single couple in a rented house in Osafia, an obscure Druze village.

From that small rented house, however, Gunavatar and Varshabhanavi
determinedly translated and published most of Srila Prabhupada’s important books into Hebrew, personally distributed them, maintained an outpost of Krishna consciousness for the remaining devotees scattered over Israel, and eventually recruited and trained some new people to assist them. I am so happy to see that fourteen years later, despite almost insurmountable obstacles, Krishna consciousness is now again flourishing in Israel with a good core of committed devotees, a progressive Vaisnava community in Harish, a growing congregation of intelligent Israelis throughout the country, and a general acceptance of the devotees in the society in general. How is it possible for one couple to do so much against all odds? Purity and surrender breeds a type of efficiency and competence. Because Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has much work to do all over the world, when he finds such sincere and competent souls he naturally works through them to do His unlimited work. I am happy to be here in their association and pray to become such a devotee.

I meet the devotees today at 6:30 and spoke from the Brhad Bhagavatamrta.

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