After the Gaza Flotilla: Zeh Mah Yesh- It is What It Is

In what is probably an epic understatement of major proportions, there is much to say about the events of the past week in Israel. In fairness to my congregants, many of whom read this column but also are waiting to hear what I might have to say on the subject tomorrow morning during Shabbat services, I shall wait until next week to put into written, published words my own take on the flotilla incident. As it is, events are unfolding at a rapid pace, and diplomatic efforts are underway to try and find some kind of resolution to what has evolved into a major public relations disaster for the State of Israel.

What I would say now, without any reservation or hyperbole, is that this has been one of the worst weeks for Israel in my memory- not so much because of what occurred, but even more because of the implications of what occurred for the future of Israel and its relations with the rest of the world.

That is, I would hasten to say, terribly unfair to Israel. Much of the Israel-bashing that is going on is rooted in horrific hypocrisy, including from those whom Israel considers “friends.” But as Israelis themselves are fond of saying, “zeh mah yesh.” It is what it is, and there is no sugar-coating it. And Israel did, in some ways, contribute to the current difficulties.

In his seminal work on the Prague Spring of 1968, Milan Kundera wrote of the “unbearable lightness of being.” The title was actually a philosophical polemic against the thought of Frederick Nietzche, who believed that all events in the universe had already occurred, are recurring, and would continue to occur again and again (and hence the heaviness of being that that imposed on human beings). Kundera was suggesting that we live only once, and what we do in this life, for better or for worse, will not become the destiny of others- hence its lightness.

Once upon a time, Israel- for all of its troubles and all of its external threats- was a place where the “lightness of being” was a miraculous and tangible feeling. Its people sang their way through wars even as their men were dying, there was universal pride in the accomplishments of the IDF, and a general sense that the country was moving in a positive, forward direction. There was a time when Israel could do no wrong.

We have, sadly, entered a time when Israel can do no right.

Aside from the details of this past week’s events, the larger picture would seem to indicate that the Palestinian rejectionist camp has finally gotten smart.

Blowing up buses and slaughtering innocents was getting them nowhere, so they’ve figured out that by playing the “humanitarian card,” they can place Israel in a far more compromising situation vis-à-vis world opinion, and really put the pressure on. And Israel, in its seemingly endless capacity to tarnish its own image, has played right into their hands.

The larger game has changed as have its rules, and the players are changing as well. The big question is, how does Israel change without compromising its security, and its legitimate right to self-defense? What was once a beautiful and inspiring lightness of being in Israel is morphing before our eyes into a heaviness of being, and an awful sense- like the feeling Nietzche spoke of – that the same events will just keep recurring over and over again. Endless war, endless condemnations, endless fighting… Israelis are scared about the future, and who can blame them?

It is a time for a different vision in Israel, one that will once again give Israelis and Jews around the world hope that there is a possibility of a better future. Most of the world may indeed be against Israel, and it is extraordinarily unfair. But again- zeh mah yesh. It is what it is. It’s time for someone there to show real leadership.

Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is spiritual leader of The Forest Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative congregation

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About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.