KJ Hannah Greenberg

‘Them and US’ vs. ‘Us and Us’

I grew up in and lived the first portion of my adult life in the United States. Thereafter, my husband, my children, and I were blessed to move to Israel. These two climes look differently upon their contributors to their respective armed forces.

In North America, unfortunately, rather than operate as a united, integrated populace, who value good turns, not prestige, blue-collar professions are derided. Too often, persons holding white-collar jobs and advanced degrees consider it their prerogative that other humans are willing to risk their well-being for them. More exactly, military men and women, as well as police and national guards, i.e. all forms of protectors, have become “them.” Civilians, especially dunderheaded elites, with whom I, as a professor, once mingled, have become “us.” In the worst case, this anti-police/military sentiment has led to injuries and deaths—the disconnect among classes runs deep.

In The Holy Land, contrariwise, bravehearts are always “us.” They are our sons, sons-in-law, neighbors, and fathers. They are our doctors, our lawyers, and others of our “chiefs.” Participation in the Israel Defense Force is assumed to be a rite of passage. Young men vie to be part of the army’s minority, meaning, its kravi branch. In Eretz Yisrael, families are infused with pride whenever their members become combatants. Even more so, they burst with gratification when their dear ones are selected, among all fighters, to be special forces commandos, i.e., to be part of Sayeret.

This cultural disparity in attitudes toward soldiers can be explained by each ethos’s relative stance toward its residents. In the USA, locals, who live in a land that is enormous both per geography and population are strangers to each other. There, it often requires more than six degrees of separation before realizing that one knows another guest at a simcha, or that one is acquainted with an associate of their delivery person or electrician.

Moreover, in the USA, citizens are not tied together except for an alleged love of democracy and human rights, Americans are a heterogeneous crew. What’s more, given woke beliefs and additional, contemporary destructive forces, it’s hardly the case that brotherly love governs most American goings-on. In addition, since Americans vary demographically, by religion, national origin, race, gender, age, disability, and much more, despite politicos’ rhetoric, most denizens don’t regard themselves as truly belonging to a single community. Increasingly, America’s been referred to not as a “melting pot,” but as a “stew” consisting of unblendable bits. In America, numerous folks, insecure in their status, live by actualized pettiness. That mean-mindedness fuels much antimilitary sentiment.

Alternatively, folks who live in Israel see each other as family. Sometimes, Israelis experience “sibling rivalry,” but at the end of the day, Israelis are a cohesive lot. Weigh that Israel  is a relatively small nation in terms of geography and population. In Israel, it rarely takes as much as six degrees of separation, per se, before realizing one knows another guest at a simcha, is acquainted with the grandmother of their delivery person, or is familiar with the nephew of the fellow who’s come to upgrade their apartment’s electrical system to phase three.

Furthermore Israelis, overall, are tied together by a shared love of G-d, of Am Yisrael, and of Eretz Yisrael. Israelis might vary demographically, by hashkafot, place of birth, and even hair or skin type, but, more often than not, Israelis recognize that themselves as being one people.

There are strata in Israel. Nevertheless, except for insecure elitists, most individuals ignore these distinctions. Yesterday’s burger flipper often becomes tomorrow’s high tech entrepreneur. A timid salesgirl suddenly evolves into the wife of a  prestigious rabbi. An olah, who is initially illiterate in Hebrew, might transform into the nation’s Prime Minister.

Almost all of us are immigrants, children of immigrants, or grandchildren of immigrants. Unlike the greater number of our American counterparts, we have recent memory of how precious it is for us to be living in a new homeland.

Sure, Eurocentric values have seeped into Israeli society. Sure, many folks compete for the latest gewgaw or thingamajig. However, every Shabbat, we sit next to each other in communal prayer. Every holiday, we rejoice in our shared heritage. Every night, we look into the same consecrated sky.

It’s of small wonder that in a locale where inhabitants suppose themselves deserving of privilege, service persons are “them” and salaried individuals are “us.” In contrast, in a realm in which inhabitants hold themselves fortuitous for walking their Four Amot, where we know that G-d grants us everything from our breath to the ability to find the correct button in our button box to fix a shirt’s cuff, troopers are “us” and civilians, all of whom benefit from their sacrifices, too, are “us.” In Israel, we make an effort to live by the Truth.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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