Saturday, April 05, 2003

Flashback episode
I am not in any way what could be called an observant Jew. I do not spend Shabbat as my religious brethren would have me spend it. I do not pray. I do not go to a synagogue. I do not read the weekly portion of the Torah, although I did one year, not for religious reasons, but because it was an interesting, enriching experience. In some mysterious, magical way, the weekly Torah portion was always extremely relevant to the week's events. Maybe I'll start doing it again, sometime. I eat kosher because I am a vegetarian, not because of my faith. I don't partake in most of the Jewish ritual that would define me as "religious". In Israel the boundaries are quite clear. You are either religious, or you are not.

However, I light candles every Shabbat eve. Why do I do this? I'm not sure. Is it because it makes my secular Shabbat special? Is it because my mother and my grandmothers and my great-grandmothers did it?

I am a Jew because I was born a Jew, not out of conviction. But as such, my Jewishness is at the very core of my being. It's more than a religion.

Down the centuries, all you had to do, ostensibly, was to change your religion, to revoke your Jewishness and you could change your destiny. But could you really? Spinoza did it, and he was still regarded a Jew, although shunned by his people. Dizraeli did it and he is probably remembered to this day a lot because he was a Jew. The Inquisition helped people purge themselves of their Jewishness even after they had turned their back on it.

And there were the Nazis. For them there was no escape, no absolution, no mercy for those that had committed the terrible crime of being born a Jew.

It was different in Islam, I'm told. The Muslims wholeheartedly welcomed those who had seen the light. Now, I hear, we are monkeys and pigs. Should we convert, do we cease to be monkeys and pigs? How does this happen, exactly?

My Jewishness is more than a time and a place and a ritual.

Is it right to define oneself as others would define one? Maybe not, but isn't this often the case? A mother is a mother because her children make her one, not because she feels like a mother.

I could keep quiet about my identity, pretend to be something else, "play it down". I know people who do that, people who don't live in Israel. I once met a very sweet American girl whose family had been doing that for so long that she really didn’t know anything at all about Judaism. For her being Jewish was synonymous to being a nice person. That was more or less it. I live in Israel. I don't have to feel apologetic about being Jewish. I can be nice just for the sake of it, not to prove anything. Even better, I can be not nice without feeling I am somehow damaging all Jews everywhere.

I don't want to be religious, but I still want to sing at the top of my voice and bang on the table at the Passover Seder for all to hear. No, not Next Year in Jerusalem - This Year in Jerusalem! We have ceased waiting for the miracle. We have made it happen ourselves.

I have read elsewhere that Israel is not necessary. That America is the place where Jews can be free and safe. Well I don't know about that. My green card hasn't yet arrived in the mail, and even if it does, I doubt I'll make use of it. This is my home. This year I will sing at the top of my voice and bang on the table and so will my neighbors on all sides.

Ah yes, about your neighbors, I hear you say. What about the other ones, the ones that won't be sitting down to the Seder table to sing about freedom?

What about them?

I've written quite a lot about my neighbors. Round about Yom Kippur, I wrote this:

In the eighties, before and during the first Intifada, I felt ashamed and embarrassed by the occupation.

I did reserve duty in the Gaza Strip (pretty unusual for women at the time) and got a good look at Rafah, Han Younes and Gaza City. The result was that I suddenly understood the demographic problem. Round about the same time, I was shocked to see a 12 year-old Palestinian boy washing the floor of a Tel Aviv restaurant at one o'clock at night, and it wasn't even summer. A young Palestinian construction worker confided in me that his deep ambition was to be a policeman, but that they didn't have a police force.

My feeling that something had to change intensified during the first Intifada. When the opportunity arose for Palestinian self-rule which was to gradually become (as I saw it) Palestinian sovereignty in the territories, I was all for it.

The feeling was euphoric. No more shame. We were finally doing the right thing. At last we would be able to be on equal footing with the people we share this country with. It felt like the Messiah had come.

* * * * * *

This time around I have no feelings of shame or embarrassment. I have compassion for the Palestinians' suffering. I'm sorry about innocent Palestinians being killed. I feel for their families. I wish it could be different, but I feel no guilt.

They had their chance and messed up big-time. The blame is theirs, not ours.

And round about Hannuka I wrote this in answer to a detractor:

...The thing is, I am sad about those Palestinian children. I am deeply saddened by the suffering of the Palestinians. I often think of the Palestinians I have met in my life, and I wonder how they are getting along. I am sad, no, I am much more than sad, I am heartbroken that my dream of coexistence and peace was shattered in September 2000, when the Palestinians, having turned down the best offer they could possibly have hoped for (had they really meant to make peace), turned to violence in the hope of getting more.

Go away and leave me alone. Go back to your orderly world of good guys and bad guys and simplistic ideas of justice for the world's oppressed. You may mean well, but your good intentions could very well leave my family and myself homeless and defenseless, if we're lucky enough to live that long. Not that that would bother you. We had it coming after all, especially my seven year-old.

I am too weary to care what people like you think, or have to say, anymore.

I don't know how personally involved you are in this conflict or how the outcome will affect your life. For me, the Palestinians are not some faraway victims of heartless oppression; nor are they symbols of an heroic struggle for world peace and justice; they are not an exotic people fighting a wicked, cruel colonial power that is out to annihilate them, either.

The Palestinians are my neighbors, and I am fond of them, as one is (or should be) of one's neighbors. I am sorry that they are suffering and I am prepared for painful compromise, as one is (or should be) with one's neighbors.

Up to a point.

If my neighbors interpret my generosity and openness to compromise as weakness; if based on that interpretation, my neighbors try to force me to accept their demands at gun point; if my neighbors try to terrorize me out of my home (and I'm not talking about the territories) - they will find that I have ceased being a "nice" neighbor. They will find that I am just as determined and resilient as they are, if not more. They will find that I will never give in to their extortion.

I truly believed we could live side by side in peace and equality, sharing and growing together. I still hope (more than anything) that the Palestinians will put down their arms and cease their violence, and then we can once again renew our difficult but not impossible historical attempt at working out our differences peacefully.

Until that time, we are at war.

This war is not some sort of sick game we play for our enjoyment, as you seem to think. The soldiers in this war are protecting their homes and families (nearly all in pre-1967 Israel). And they know it. They know only too well, that if they don't catch (and if necessary kill) that suicide bomber, hiding in that alley, surrounded by women and children, it could very well be their eleven year-old sister on her way to school in Hadera or in Netanya or in Tel Aviv who is blown to smithereens next. What would you do in their place?

As usual I started writing about one thing and seemed to have wandered off in the middle. I have some more thoughts about Passover, which I will keep for another time.