Saturday, November 06, 2004

I know how you feel. I’ve been down that path
When I was young, I was often excited and intrigued by the strangeness of having experienced Israel both as a foreign visitor, a tourist, and then, by contrast, as an Israeli, as a local.

I visited Israel twice as a small child, before we made Aliya. The country left a deep impression on me. I had sensed something fresh and vibrant that I loved.

There was an apartment building that was being built as we drove up Sea Road in Haifa in the taxi. The sound of the workers hammering; the bright summer sun; the wind in my face through the open windows of the taxi, still with no air-conditioning back then; the strong smell of the natural Mount Carmel vegetation. I was intoxicated.

When we came to live in Haifa a few years later, I was already filled with love for the place. For years I tried to relive that first drive up the mountain, and identify the exact apartment building that I had witnessed being constructed.

What I was really trying to recapture was a moment filled with excitement and freshness and happiness. It was one of those rare magical moments, a moment of love and awareness.

* * * * * *

I recognize the sentiments expressed by those opposed to Bush, crushed by his success at the polls. I recognize the frustration, anger, and sadness they feel, faced as they are with the stupidity and ignorance of people for not voting for the right candidate. I’ve been there myself.

In our case, not only had they elected the wrong guy, they had done it just a few months after someone from their side had murdered our prime minister.

We couldn’t help thinking, like the prophet Elijah who said to King Ahab, all those years ago in this very same land, “Hast thou killed and also taken possession?” (Kings I, 21, 19)

They had murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, they had murdered peace, and now they were electing into office the very man who had stood up on that balcony above Zion Square in Jerusalem, as the crowds below him held up banners of PM Rabin in an SS uniform.

Can you imagine the bitterness and bewilderment, not to mention the fear for the future?

It is a privilege to have been in the position to see things from more than one angle.

I have been a tourist in Israel, experiencing the country as a foreigner; and I have been as a native Israeli, the smells and sights so familiar, so ordinary, my previous life as a non-Israeli fading into a hazy memory.

I confess to having harbored a secret frustration that democracy gives the same vote to me as to ignoramuses and imbeciles who cannot be made to see sense; who are not controlled by the same moral values as I am.

And I have come to see how arrogant and foolish and narrow-minded I can be, thinking that I know better, thinking that I have the mandate on common sense and on knowing what's right.

“Are you sure”, Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh urges us to ask ourselves at all times.

I know that if I answer yes, I am lying to myself. It’s just that, far too often, I forget to ask.