Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Imshin, Imshin, quite contrary
I remember walking past the closed door of my parents bedroom, late one night, when I was a teenager, and hearing them talking. As a neurotic teenager, my instinctive reaction was panic. “Oh, no. They’re talking. It must be about me. What have I done?” Years later, remembering this as an adult, still neurotic but less so, I thought, “They were talking. That’s nice.”

It’s nice to be privileged enough to be married to your good friend.

I have always thought of Bish and myself as opposites (as in “opposites attract” and so on), but lately I’ve been coming to the conclusion that we are a lot less different than I previously believed. For one, we both dislike being told there is a right way to do something. We have to see the logic behind it ourselves. We can’t take someone else’s word for it. We don't run with the pack. I always assumed that this contrary aspect of myself was a result of my not being born in Israel. But Bish is, what, fifth generation Israeli?

The minute I started my Hebrew blog through Isra-blog I felt myself under pressure to conform to some collective concept of blogging. The Kibbutz is dead! I thought to myself, Long live the Blogibbutz! I realize that I was probably magnifying what was really happening, but I immediately and instinctively rebelled. The result is that I have probably alienated most of my potential Hebrew readers, but I'm much happier. Free at last! Free at last! I'd rather have four and a half readers, who accept me as I am, than five thousand that are trying to pressure me into their way of thinking on my comments. Was it Gil that once said that there are few Israeli blogs that discuss current affairs? Well, now I know why. It's easier to steer clear of provocative subjects and write amusing anecdotes to entertain the "Hevre" (the gang), than deal with recurring shark attacks.

Unity is necessary in difficult times. United we stand, divided we fall... blah blah blah. And I can understand the human need for conformity, especially in a society continually needing to fight for its very survival. But isn't unity possible without a straightjacket?

The thought suddenly crossed my mind that, although the Kibbutz was created as a rebellion against life in the Shtetl, it was, in practice, a direct continuation of it. Instead of ancient religious laws, the stern guidance of the Rabbi and the unforgiving gossip of the neighbors, the Kibbutzniks had strict Socialist ideology, the tyranny of The Collective and the just as unforgiving gossip of the neighbors. It's no accident that Jews were the ones that managed to realize this experiment of collective living and succeeded in pulling it off for such a long period. Life in an enclosed society with fierce peer pressure and groupthink as a norm was the reality and survival tactic of Jews in the ghettos of Europe for hundreds (thousands?) of years.

Left wing pundits in Israel ridicule the Israeli masses who still perceive voting Likud as a protest vote, even though the Likud has been in power for the large part of the last thirty years. I ask myself if this protest is not partly a rebellion against this very "Shtetl Collective" mentality; against this groupthink that insists that if you don't hold my views you are stupid, crazy or an enemy of democracy (or all three).

The Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries) often explain their animosity towards the Israeli Ashkenazi (European Jews) establishment as stemming from traumas from the period of their absorption in the country in the fifties. I have always found this aggravating when I think that in the same period the country also absorbed a multitude of Holocaust survivors - shells of human beings that had lost everything and everyone and had experienced unspeakable horrors. These people held and continue to hold no grudge to speak of, although they were sometimes treated very badly, considering what they had been through. But the thing is, in the fifties, the "Shtetl Collective" was law of the land in the young Israel; Socialist groupthink was all pervading. The Holocaust survivors, with all their psychological baggage, most of them having originated in the Shtetls and Ghettos of Eastern Europe themselves, were probably better equipped to handle this than people who had come from a far less suffocating society. Mizrahi Jewish society in the Diaspora, I am told, was much more accepting and forgiving than its Ashkenazi counterpart.

The "Shtetl Collective" no longer rules Israel. I’m glad. I believe we are better for it.

We may feel threatened by our differences. We may be saddened by the changing face of our country. We may wring our hands in desperation because of we don’t all see things in the same way.

Or we can enjoy our rich diversity, and revel in the freedom that allows us to enjoy different cultures, different ways of life and different opinions, all in the same little country we all regard as home.