Nothing New Under the Sun

“Antisemitism is on the rise”, shout Jewish activists, hoping for someone to pay attention. While Israelis perpetually acknowledge and prepare for the inevitability of the next war, many optimistic Jews abroad plead to those who rule over them for protection as citizens of their respective countries, equal under the law, and, supposedly, in the eyes of their neighbors. They echo the insistent sentiments of Persian Jewry, of Weimar Jewry. Of the Jews of Granada in the 1000s, of England in the 1100s, the Jews of Fez massacred in 1033, and throughout Morocco in the 1860s. Of the Jewish communities that maintained a presence in the cities of Hebron, of Safed, Jerusalem, Gaza, Tiberias, under imperial occupations as the land changed hands. Of Alfred Dreyfus, of Solomon Mikhoels, of Jewish veterans of the First World War who fought with the Prussian army.

“This time is different,” say the Jews, “this particular regime will be better,” as they depart Rome for the Rhine, fleeing to Poland from the Crusaders, leaving Babylon for Al Andalus only to be displaced by the Almohads, escaping Spain for North Africa or for the Balkans… after each exile or massacre yet again searching among the nations of the world for refuge. The assurances of security are not original; they are repeated in every golden age we experience. Once more we tell ourselves that the more cultured, the more compassionate; the more enlightened, the more ethical; the more educated, the more rational; the more powerful, the more invincible. Forgetting that all culture brings is stronger passion for preexisting civilizational ideas; that all enlightenment brings is expanded technological capabilities, and that humanity writes its own ethics according to popular preference; that all education brings is the furthering of whichever narratives are being propagated; that all power brings is a number of years of prosperity. All coils of the spiral of history cut off, time and time again, as if the world has been born a second time afresh with a mind emptied of all the patterns woven into the DNA of the “Old World”. Tides of an ocean may have distinct curves and force, every one comprised of unique molecules, but the tsunami rises from the same source as each of them, and the devastation of the crash should not come as a surprise to those residing near it.

The latest version of “the other Jews are giving us a bad image…” going around now with the minority of Jews opposed to Zionism, too, is recycled: now it’s the Israelis, commonly it’s the “backwards” religious, at times the impoverished Jews or the rich Jews, the Jews who are politically loud or the ones who are too quiet. Instead of blaming the persecutor who does not differentiate when shouting Deus Vult, Khaybar, or Hep Hep, they prefer to seek the approval of the enemy and complain: if only young Herschel Grynspan hadn’t assassinated the ambassador our homes would not have been looted, if only the Orthodox Jews would forget Jerusalem we would be seen as loyal to the civic nationalists, if only those Jews abandoned Judaism, if only these Jews would accept their subjugation, if only they would bear suffering in silence, if only they would commit national suicide for the greater good, if only they would subject themselves to impossible standards to suit whatever moral construct is trending, if only.

Re-appropriation of the Holocaust is no revolutionary development, either. Jewish history, culture, and trauma have always been weaponized against us by a world that worships dead Jews and tries to bury the living ones. It’s no coincidence that many a sword driven into the heart of a Jew belonged to a foreign man bearing a crude transliteration of the name of one of his own ancestors. So too, those today who invent fantasies of being “the real Jews” to claim our history are just another manifestation of those theorists of supersession, a principle that attracted billions of adherents who believed it had fallen in their hands to reinterpret our texts and assume our history as their own, our ancestors as their saints, our land as their right, and our existence as their responsibility to terminate or humiliate.

Israeli Jews will continue to stand by their policy of doing whatever it takes for their brothers and sisters around the globe, as they do at home, when the occasion arises. Nonetheless, realistically, if the absorption of millions at once were to be required it would take nothing short of an open miracle to accomplish, especially if it were to occur in the midst of unrest or crumbling alliances where diplomatic routes would be limited. The concept of Israel as a “last resort” is therefore unfair in many ways. It has blossomed into so much more than its bomb shelters.

The story is always the same, only the variation in the modern edition is a significant one: the ingathering of the exiles and the possibilities it has presented both in terms of self-defense and of being able to choose to tune out what the rest of the world is saying. To mute the libels and the threats, and flourish. Considering how much the world gets wrong about the Jews, it’s doubtful how reliable the rest of their assertions are. And like the Judeans of the First and Second Temple Periods, of the Babylonian exile and the Roman one, and of the ghettos of the Middle Ages, we keep our own diary. They can go on ranting about us; we have ceased to listen.

They can keep ranting until their voices fade with the winds of history, until their towers collapse into the earth, until their own descendants and disciples blot out their pages and rewrite their chapters in another language. The only words that leave a sting are those of the renegades, lost in their chase after false promises of salvation, putting the leech to their own veins in remedy to the Jewish question they so resent. It is our blood they so recklessly spill, and still their perceived disease will remain to haunt them.

Our history is inscribed deep into the earth, its fruits flowering again after every winter, its branches reaching to the heavens. The skies and the mountains, the valleys and the deserts we were torn from, the ruins and what once stood in their place, the flame of the civilization that refuses to be extinguished, the fires our ancestors have walked through, the searing cries of the Shema affirmation from the lips of the tortured Jew, are engraved into the Jewish soul.

I will never be ashamed of my identity nor of my people, regardless of world opinion. I am a Jew, and no matter how many times it has been used as a slur, and in spite of the obsessive slander, my pride will never be lessened. It is my inheritance to embody four thousand years of Jewish history and civilization and an eternal future. I am a Jew in 5781 and it is my privilege to stamp out the name of every emperor, every king, every general, every dictator, and every conqueror who has tried to destroy our name, our lives, or our legacy, every time I step out into the streets of the only Jewish home in the world and every time I wear the uniform of the first Jewish army since Bar Kochva and Mar Zutra II. To share my destiny with the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, of the tribes of Yisrael and of the priests, the prophets, the royalty of Jerusalem, the followers of Moshe, Yehoshua, Devora, Shmuel, Daniel, Hillel, Rabi Akiva. The torchbearers of Aharon, Shlomo, Ezra, Yehuda haMaccabi, Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, Rashi, the Maharal, Rambam and Ramban, the Vilna Gaon, the Baal Shem Tov. To carry on against all odds the names, the lives, the legacy, the loyalty to each other, to our laws, to our culture, and to our God.

So, the “right side of history” can continue to be determined by the kingdoms of arrogance, exalting temporary victors of human conflicts who impose their own codes of law deemed superior, drafted anew after every contradicting societal shift. We will faithfully go on ignoring each edition and passing the living memory of every one of our past generations carefully into the care of our children, imbedded in their hearts and minds and those of their children after them as much as they are in ours. Then, now, and forever, that is our stubborn lot as Jews.

About the Author
Rivka Atara Holzer made Aliyah from Miami Beach in 2015. She served in the IDF and studies at Midreshet Lindenbaum.
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