Ert & Bernie Continued: B-Boy explains the Holidays to His Shikse Former (And Future?) Soon-to-Visit-Israel Paramour

Dearest E-Lass,

So once again we’re using our old private names for each other. I take that as a positive sign. No more, but also no less. And yes, that Amos Oz has written a few other things. Why he hasn’t gotten his Nobel Prize in Literature eludes me. Or maybe it doesn’t, but I’ve never been one to scream Anti-Semitism without real evidence. Still, ya gotta wonder.

Wish you were here already, for various reasons. Among them – every April or May (Israel celebrates secular holidays according to the religious calendar) we have three special days. All are serious; all are awkward.

Yom Ha’Shoah commemorates the Holocaust. Israel’s attitude toward the event and the survivors has always been, well, complex. Then and now, Israelis ask themselves, “Why didn’t we do more to save them?” Then and now, Israelis ask the victims, “Why didn’t you do more to defend yourself?” It’s a question often intincted with contempt.

Two other complicating factors. Israel loves to proclaim that the survivors came here because no place else would accept them. The implication is that, had other places taken them in, they would have gone there. In truth, that happened. Many stayed in Israel only long enough to find homes elsewhere. Many others never really fit in, or wanted to. And now that the event’s fading into history and so few survivors are left, so much of the “remembrance” must be written off as self-serving PR, politics and hype.

Sad. Very, very sad. But also, predictable.

Today’s Yom H’Zicharon, Memorial Day. Actually, it began last night (Jewish holidays begin the evening before). Israel, you must understand, is a young country filled with ghosts. Everyone knows people who left us far too soon, in far too many violent and hideous ways. The price of existence, generation after generation, has been high, very high, and deep down no one can avoid wondering if the highest price is yet to be paid.

How many hurting people do you pass on the street, or sit beside on the bus, every day? Just about all of them, one way or another, I suspect.

Tomorrow’s Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Independence Day.  Fireworks. Laser light shows. Barbecues. Maybe even sales at the mall. I don’t know about that last. I don’t want to know.

Ernietta, before you come here and start flinging your judgments around (Sorry, but I know you very well) there are certain things you must understand about our history, because those things are still very much with us.

Today, the good and the evil are so inextricably intertwined that we cannot separate them. The most astonishing brilliance and accomplishment, the most astonishing stupidity and brutality. Thus has it been always. It will continue.

Also intertwined: For all those centuries when the Jewish people struggled to survive, the Jewish people also struggled to get away from each other. Unity sometimes, fissure, mutual hatred, political and sectarian violence, self-destruction the rest. The ugly politics here, the increasing distance between Israel and Diaspora, the ability to alienate the world over and over – it’s all variations on an ancient theme.

We’ve never governed ourselves for very long, or very well. We’ve thrown it all away before. More than once.

Perhaps that’s because, at least in part, Israel knows only herself and wants to know only herself. For all the trade and travel, for all the immigrants from everywhere, for all the dependence on America, Israel understands astonishingly little about the rest of the world. But how well do we really permit ourselves to know ourselves? Such a tandem of ignorance cannot bring anything but disaster.

Still, willfully, we see only what we want to see, and what we want to see is, far too often, only our virtues and the hatreds and the threats of others. We expect our friends, those who remain, to be totally, mindlessly, submissively loyal. As for those who would like to be our friends, and might appreciate a bit more encouragement from us . . . I doubt they even matter to us. Not enough to give them what they need.

OK, so when you’ve experienced total rejection, only total acceptance is ever enough. The fact that neither we nor anyone else will ever get it, matters less.

We? Us? Have I, Born & Bred in the Good Ole US of A, become an Israeli?

Honestly, I don’t know. Pretty much gone are the days when you were expected to leave your old identity on the dock or at the airport, then get with the program 110 percent. We’ve (we, again?) even gotten into celebrating diversity a bit, the old American food-court multi-culturalism mixed in with chunks and scraps of Ashkenazi Yiddishkeit and Sephardi grace. You’ll see what I mean, soon enough. But to ask it again, am I really an Israeli?

No more than I’m a Jew, I guess. But also no less.

Hardly a definitive answer, but it’s Memorial Day here and you can’t really escape what the holiday’s about. We remember what we’ve done and what was done to us. Perhaps we should also remember what we’ve done – and are doing – to each other.

Anyway, have a good trip over. See you soon.


About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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