As I currently sit in my 8:30 am lecture on “History of Current Events: British in Palestine, 1939-1948,” I get this strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. While learning about those years leading up to our independence, after 2,000 years of exile, it’s only natural that my first instinct is to feel an overwhelming sense of pride. And that I do. The story of the Ashkenazi Jewish people outside the land of Israel is one of persecution, anti-semitism, pogroms, and, of course, the Holocaust. In contrast, the story of the Jewish people within the land of Israel is one of independence, security and safety, and national expression. My story–from my ancestors in Eretz Yisrael, through Babylonia and Europe, to Ellis Island, up until August 27, 2014 when I made aliyah–is just one expression of the greatest story of an exiled people, whose aspirations to return to their homeland have been expressed three times a day in prayer and on every Jewish holiday for literally two thousand years (!!!), who have finally come home. How can I feel anything other than pride?
And yet I do. The truth is — I feel nauseous. Two opposing forces are burning in the inner core of my being and it’s literally making me physically ill. In contrast to the pride that burns deeply within my soul, a sense of great shame has begun to creep up on me these past few years. My story which revolves around the principle of not oppressing others “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (which appears 36 times throughout the Torah, more than any other commandment by the way!) seems to have been lost. For a people in which to “remember” has been central to our culture (whether it’s the exodus from Egypt, revelation at Sinai, Shabbat, etc.) and “never forget” are words we are all too familiar with, we seem to have forgotten.
4.5 million people live in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria and Gaza–men, women, and children. People. 4.5 million of them who have the human desire to taste freedom, return home, and live lives of self-actualization and expression. They are our neighbors and therefore we have a responsibility towards them. My shame is that we have exempted ourselves from this responsibility–that we have justified, excused, blamed, and thus given up any responsibility towards our neighbors. My shame is that 4.8 million people mourn the day that I dance the streets of Tel Aviv.
Politics are not my forte. Nor do I believe it needs to be our focus. In any great fight for freedom, it wasn’t any governing power or signed document that brought about a people’s’ independence. Rather, freedom was demanded by any person who was either a) not free, or b) any free person conscious enough to realize that all people are worthy of being free. Perhaps we are told to “remember” in order to awake this consciousness. To grossly summarize Arendt’s theory “the banality of evil”–evil occurs simply when ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances stop thinking. I think we have stopped thinking and more than that, I think we have been paralyzed by fear.
This is not the fear of “terrorists” and security (although that too paralyzes many). This is the fear that my shame is one that conflicts with every fiber of my full-fledged Israel-loving being. I proudly drive down Route 1 to Jerusalem with two Israeli flags flapping wildly in the wind on both sides of my car–but my shame? Well that is buried deep in the trunk of my soul. I fear that if I become fully conscious of my shame, I will no longer be able to celebrate my own freedom. How will I continue to dance and barbecue on the 5th of Iyar when I am fully conscious that Palestinians mourn that same day on May 15th, a day which for them is when they lost all freedom?
Where I go from here, I am not quite sure. I know that I will not take the flags down from the windows of my car. I will unload my shame and allow myself to be fully conscious of it. And I hope that my nausea will only drive me forward in bringing about greater consciousness of our current situation.