One morning in the midst of all the angst and distress at what is happening in this country, a friend of mine lent me a book he believed I would find entertaining, telling me as he handed over the brightly colored volume: “This is funny. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.”
It was a Hebrew translation of a book by a writer named Tzvi Fishman. On the cover were the words Yemot Hamashiach (The Days of the Messiah), on the back was a picture of the long-bearded gentleman himself, sitting at a table beside a pile of books, smiling, a fatherly, kindly expression on his face. I noted that this Tzvi had written a number of children’s books and had been awarded a prize from the Israeli Ministry of Education for his literary work.
I opened the book, flipped through the pages until I found the story that gave the tome its name and began to read. I wish I hadn’t.
I found in what I read the roots of some of today’s evils in this country. Presented as a kind of satire imagining the end of days, the story describes what must be the wet dream of many religious Israelis on the right. The author is a ba’al teshuva (a “born again Jew”) from the USA who left a career as a screen writer in Hollywood for the world of Merkaz Harav Kook.
Looking again at the cover of the book, I see a a bearded man wrapped in a tallit (prayer shawl), rifle in hand, standing next to an Israeli flag, in front of a multi- colored dawn sky. The sun is rising above a new age, as in the 1969 Beatles song “Here comes the sun!” But this sunrise looks a lot like my idea of a sunset – the coming of darkness, not light.
The vision in this supposed satire is of an exchange of populations – American Jews arriving to replace the Palestinians leaving for America. The story relates the miraculous destruction, from Heaven, of the mosques on the Temple mount, leaving behind only some gold dust on which the messiah – left undescribed – proceeds to organize the building of the Third Temple. This is followed by an attack of all the Arab and other Muslim nations against the Jews, who, with God’s help, easily win the war. They then celebrate the much-awaited exchange of populations that is the focus of the narrative.
The protagonist, Dr. Elliot Miller, is a rich American Jew who, inspired by the events, decides to join the massive return (a little of the author’s personal biography creeping in) of American Jews to the land of Israel. He arrives in a jumbo jet and travels with his spoilt and reluctant wife to their new home in the Gaza strip. They reach Gaza to find the extensive ruins of Palestinian buildings, whose former residents have been transferred to North America en masse, to be replaced by people such as themselves. Dr. Miller, envisaging a glorious future by the sea, is ready to contribute to the rebuilding of Jewish settlements there. On seeing this. the wife balks and decides to leave the good doctor, revealing at the airport, as she is about to board her plane home, that, in fact, her mother wasn’t biologically Jewish after all, but (horror of horrors!) a Reform convert.
Nevertheless, the story has a happy end: At the airport, after the wife leaves, our hero meets his just-arrived childhood sweetheart, who, like him, has been caught up in the great messianic enthusiasm and left her non-Jewish husband for Eretz Yisrael. They leave hand in hand for their new home in Gaza.
This story facilely solves all the problems of the greater Land of Israel crowd – no more demographic problem, no more assimilation, no more Muslim presence on the Mount, and no more security challenge in the area.
Perhaps I’m supposed to laugh at the demise of spoilt, self-indulgent American Jews in this story. Reflected here is a blindness to the rights of other religions, of other versions of Judaism, an expression of extreme self-righteousness and ethnocentricity. The situation in Gaza today and the talk, in government circles, of population transfer, makes this story sound like a formula for a future disaster of epic proportions.
People with this kind of ideology are currently in power and have made deep inroads into education in Israel. They have already contributed to our current nightmare in this country. They must be removed from power as soon as possible, before it is too late. “Their God is not my God,” I’ve heard said, and I concur. Ethnocentric religious nationalism is, in my eyes, a kind of Avodah Zarah – false worship. The true God is not blind to humanity. We should not be, either.