Kidnappings. Murder. Riots. Missiles. And all that is still going on albeit much of it not reported in the media every day. So much of what we see and hear on the TV news, or read in the newspapers or trolling through the internet, makes one want to throw up one’s hands and say, “G-d, what the hell have you wrought?” In the Middle East, if you believe 10% of what you see and 5% of what you hear, you might be right 2% of the time,
There is an old Jewish adage, actually, a sentence written by the great Yiddish author, Sholem Aleichem, who wrote about a traveling salesman’s woes and agonies while trying to eke out a living, shlepping his goods from shtetl to shtetl-“If I sold umbrellas, it would stop raining, if I sold clocks, time would stop.” Sounds like it could be the motto of Israel’s poorer than poor public relations department. But, in our hearts, we all know that if some Israeli scientist found a cure for cancer, it would be boycotted(especially if, G-d forbid, the scientist made the discovery at a medical center in “Occupied West Bank”) or it would be labelled a Zionist plot by our enemies to control the human race through the manipulation of the international healthcare system. Nu, why don’t we all be “good” Israelis and admit that we all should have stayed in the Exile and let this land revert to its pristine, empty, desert, full of denuded hills and malarial swamps. Then, the world would go on persecuting Jews for no other reason except we don’t worship their versions of faith, or because we like our pastrami sandwiches on rye bread with mustard instead of (ycchh) white bread with mayonnaise( oy).
Ah, I’m digressing, but I was always accused of that by many a social studies or English class professor when I got tired of the monotony of insipid poetry or ridiculously inept historical rants by professors who, otherwise, would have been tossed through the plate glass windows of many a bar for their opinions. I don’t even want to go into what I did to escape the ennui of classes in geometry or algebra, except for the fact that I always tried to find the seat behind the girl with the nicest rear end (don’t be shocked-if you were a 15 year old boy, what would you prefer to look at? A gorgeous girl or the math teacher with the hairy upper lip and wart on her nose?).
Since the horrific murder of the three yeshiva boys and the incessant rocket fire from Gaza upon our southern communities, my phone hasn’t stopped with calls from my nervous sister and mother. Like the dentist in “Marathon Man” I get the question-Is it safe?
My answer is what is safe? Is anything in life safe anywhere? There are more murders in a week in some American cities than there are in Israel in a year? Kidnappings don’t happen in the US? Come on folks, I used to see parents in the malls with plastic chains and handcuffs on the wrists of their kids! Riots? Even sporting events in the US cause agitated fans to burst out of the stadiums and wreak havoc on cars and shop windows and people do get hurt, sometimes, trampled. Missiles? What were the aircraft on 9/11, but jets turned into flaming rockets? What is safe? Nothing is safe anymore. But, at least here, I am protected, defended, and I sleep very well-even in the middle of the Judean Desert surrounded by Arab cities and Beduins.
But there is always the eternal query from my family-why did you move to Israel, the most targeted piece of real estate on Earth? Really? Maybe there are thousands of rockets pointed at my head from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, but you don’t have Iron Dome or Arrow 3 or a permanent combat air and sea patrol-you can’t even stop illegal alien kids from swarming over your southern borders! Oh, and you really trust the former Soviet KGB thug, Putin, from keeping whatever nuclear missiles he still has or railroad cars from pointing at New York, Washington or even Los Angeles? And how many good, decent people never venture out of their homes at night to go to a movie or a play without some trepidation-especially into neighborhoods that are deemed, no longer as safe as they once were.
I have never felt more at home in my life than I do here, in this Middle Eastern desert cauldron. Everyone here is in the same boat, as rickety as it may be, with a sail full of holes and a constant leak that forever needs pumping. Because we have to bail the water, sew the holes in the canvas together and we, as we have learned after 20 centuries of relentless slaughter and persecution, we can only depend on ourselves, we can only rely on our fellow Israelis, on my neighbors, to keep us afloat.
Sure, our fellow Jews in the Exile have helped us enormously. Unlike many Israelis who toss off the assistance of American and European Jews as “guilty conscience money” or “insurance policy premiums” I know the value and the extreme generosity of our fellow Jews and of well meaning and supportive gentiles. I have often got into heated debates with some of these obnoxious Israelis and I tell them that the next time they need a hospital’s facilities, take the time to read the names on the plaques on the walls and see where the money to build their health facility came from. Sure, their Israeli taxes sustain the place, but there would be no place albeit for the billions, yes billions, of dollars, pounds, marks and francs that were so generously sent here. All Jews are responsible for one another, geography be damned.
Someone much wiser than me once compared the security situation in Israel and United States very succinctly during the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War and the after effects of the Six Day War. I can’t recall his name (even this writer when it comes to history, sometimes forgets things, must be age creeping up on me, or I drank a little too much wine at Friday night dinner yesterday) but what he said then, makes just as much sense today:
“In America there is day to day security, but general danger. In Israel, there is day to day danger, but general security.”
I don’t look at the beautiful blue, cloudless desert sky during the day for Israeli Air Force jets flying overhead, usually they are way too high and too fast to notice, although you can hear them from time to time. I just enjoy the sun shining on the small bit of independent, Jewish sovereign land in 2000 years. I know that there are young men and women in the ground forces that are on patrol to keep me safe and I worry for them as I worry for my own children. But these soldiers and border police do their duty to protect me as well as their own families. I also know that our Navy is keeping watch on the seas and making certain that no enemy vessel endangers our long coastlines.
When I go up to Jerusalem, would ya believe to the, ugh, dentist, I don’t look over my shoulder to see if there is someone lurking behind me to attack me. I see my people, working, shopping, or going about their daily business, and the weirdest thing for me, still, is knowing that they are Jews just like me.
I’m home, WE are home. It has a beautiful sound, the word “home” to a people divorced from their ancestral land for centuries. Yes, there were always Jews living here. No, we didn’t all come after 1945 no matter what Hollywood movies like “Exodus” or “Cast A Giant Shadow” seem to portray-with their scenes of immigrants leaping into the water and avoiding British patrols. The never ending Arab propagandists whose eructations of nauseous fabrications full of hate, ignorance and bigotry fill the all ready too accommodating anti-Israel atmosphere into the atmosphere. The simple, plain truth is that Jews have always been here and always will be here. Hopefully, millions more will join us in the homeland.
I can’t lie, I miss the Bronx of my youth, my friends, family that has long since passed on, games that I played in the “guttah” (that is “street” to you non-Bronx folks) and all the people I knew. That’s only natural as one grows older, to romanticize about one’s early life and childhood.
I am grateful to America for rescuing my grandparents from a devastated post-World War One Europe, that taught me the love for freedom and liberty and the supreme benefit of individual rights and love of country. No, I do not hate America, I love America because growing up in the USA, made me a better man and a better Jew-it made me a Zionist.
The late Felix Frankfurter, a justice on the US Supreme Court, who became very active in Zionist affairs, was asked why an American Jew should be a Zionist-why should he believe in the redemption of Israel and the rebirth of a sovereign Jewish state. He said:
“To be a better American, I must be a better Jew, and to be a better Jew, one must be a Zionist.”
So, why do I live in this land of turmoil, incessant terror and existential threat? Because, well, I like frankfurters.
Shabbat Shalom from Maaleh Adumim im liberated Israeli Yehudah, guarding the eastern approaches to Jerusalem, the eternal, united and indivisible capital of the Jewish people.