What happens when the “New Jew” meets the “Old Jew”?
How does the Israeli, the New Jew, feel when he visits the land of his grandparents – the land of the Old Jew?
What does it mean when the tanned Sabra, the olive-skinned kibbutznik, the Haredi, the hi-tech professional — visits the ghetto Jew, the Mila St bunker Jew, the Umshlagplatz mother-with-her two-children-and-suitcases Jew, the Nozyk Synagogue Yeshiva-bochur Jew?
How does the Tel Aviv history-began-in-’48 Jew reconcile with the ‘I’ve been here for 1,000 years in Ashkenaz’ Jew?
How does the Palmach-pilot-Sayeret-Matkal first-Rambo-since-Bar-Kochkba Jew understand the Mordechai Anielewicz never-giving-up fight-till-I-die Jew?
How does the A.D-Gordon-loving, Moshav-field-plowing, living-in-the-Aravah Jew look upon the Shtetl, chicken-raising, cow-milking, growing-potatoes Jew?
How does the sock-hat and low-jeans-wearing, green-stuff-smoking, originally from a Yishuv but now Datlash Jew ponder the deep-in-concentration Talmud-Torah-of-Chelm, Volozhin Yeshivah peyos-waiving Mitnaged-but-don’t-confuse-me-for-a-Chossid Jew?
How does the Peleg Yerushalmi, Kikar-Shabbat-protesting, Meah-Shearim-living, ain’t-not-speaking-Zionist-Hebrew Jew view the secular-Yiddish-theatre-attending Moses-Mendelsohn-admiring, ‘kish-min-tuchus if you have an issue with my bare head’ Frankfurt Jew?
How does the Haaretz-reading, post-Zionist, Breaking-the-Silence-donating Nakba-meetup-organizing, making-Aliyah-to-Berlin Jew cope with the survived-Buchenwald, dressed-in-striped-prison-uniform, blue-and-white-flag-waiving, Exodus-1947-passenger, interned-in-Cyprus Jew?
How does the Netanya beach-volleyball-playing, Mizrahi-music-blasting, hair-shaped-like-a-landing-strip, clubbing-till-dawn Jew relate to the Freiburg philosophical, Baruch-Shpinoza-contemplating, first-generation-allowed-to-attend-university, considering-converting-to-improve-professional-ambitions Jew?
What happens when the new, powerful, comfortable, sovereign Jew stares into the abyss of the downtrodden, starving, Torah-learning or Haskalah-embracing, sometimes-passive sometimes-resisting only-70-years-ago Jew?
And when the Old Jew is his grandmother and grandfather, and the New Jew proudly boasts that his nation today is ‘one like any other’, with banks and diplomats and crime and inflated rent costs and politics and the occasional ‘Sinat Hinam’ (at least less often than not) and a seat in those nice buildings in New York and Geneva with all the flags of the world?
And how his grandfather must ponder in amazement – on tales of faraway Zion with Jewish police officers and Jewish garbage collectors and Jewish Supreme Court judges and Jewish prostitutes and Jewish university deans – and of white Jews and black Jews and brown Jews and Asian Jews, and Jews from the Goldene Medina that arrive for the High Holidays to their empty, luxurious Jerusalem apartments, and of those Jews less lucky, who have no choice but to come and stay, and of those Jews who forgot their Yiddish, Ladino and Arabic, but now speak Lashon HaKodesh infused with slang from the languages of the world.
And when this New Jew boards his “safest airline in the world” kosher-food-plane painted-with-a-Star-of-David for-all-to-see effortlessly travels 3.5 hours to the Altneuschul dwarfed by expensive, high-ceiling European apartments and to the Nozyk Synagogue hemmed in by a parking lot and trendy Polish cafes and to the Umshlagplatz bisected by a kindergarten – and, standing alone, he notices that they’re all empty of Old Jews, eerily quiet and shockingly peaceful – then, then he realizes that they, the Old Jews existed for him, that they dreamed about him, that they hoped he would come for 2,000 years – their grandchild – and that although he may be a new type of Jew, as a Jew he is still very, very old.
Inspired by a trip to the land of the Old Jew. Written in Warsaw, October 2017.