Monday, September 1, 2008

appraising 43 years of questions.

sent Sept.2008
Recently, a close friend and relative asked to interview me as a prelude to deciding whether to engage in a study of secular Americans who made aliya. The question she and her group were thinking of investigating was the reasons for secular American Jews to leave the land of endless opportunities for the land of milk and honey. Some time during our talk I told her that I think the great majority of secular Americans came because they thought of themselves fulfilling a Zionist destiny. I ventured that the reasons for coming were not so diversified among this minority group of immigrants to Israel. It seemed to me that a much more interesting study would be to see the diversification of attitudes today towards their original Zionist decision. I said this of course because it’s a question which I think I’ve grappled with throughout the years since coming in 1965. I proceeded to give her a very short synopsis of my own attitudes.

In some sketchy form it would appear like this:

1. I grew up as a naïve social-Zionist who saw in the creation of Israel the embodiment of a revival of the Jewish people and the ability of our nation to exemplify to the world the meaning of social justice.

2. I came to Israel to be a builder of that revival and joined a kibbutz in order to work via the highest expression of social justice. As far as I was concerned Israel and the kibbutz were headed in the right direction.

3. My first years in Israel were occupied with adjusting, working and raising a family. I remained a naïve social-zionist clouded to the various processes developing around me.

4. My first awakening jolt came as a result of the war in 1967. No. not the war. And no, not the military occupation itself, but the rude and disturbing public awakening for a Greater Israel during the years after the war, accompanied by frenzied settlement in occupied territories.

5. The Israel of my youth began crumbling as through years of military occupation and harmful settlements, through years of having four sons serving in an army of occupation, Israel became a country with more and more people resolved to an environment of violence, extremism, discrimination, hate and corruption, while becoming consumer and dollar oriented led by the 20 or so families who control the country’s finances and have created one of the widest schisms between the poor and the rich in the western world; and less and less a country whose priorities are the search for peace, education, social welfare, and being a light unto the nations.

6. Having been a Yeshiva student from a secular home till the end of high school, I’d always seen the Jewish religion as part and parcel of my Jewish secular life. After years of seeing how the Israeli religious establishment and its followers have become the backbone of Jewish divisiveness between Jew and Jew, the mentors of hate and discrimination in the occupied territories, the supporters of illegal settlements, the teachers and preachers of right-wing extremism, and one of our main obstacles to learning to cope with our neighbors and enemies, my respect for our religious fellowship in Israel crumbled to ashes.

7. For many years I saw the kibbutz as a bulwark of a different society, a society where human value is measured in behavior rather than in wealth. I joined the effort to build and deepen such a society. In my own kibbutz, as in many others, that effort was waging a losing battle against the seeming opportunities of the consumer world and the kibbutz’s own inability to cope with individual aspirations within a diversified community. My model community slowly lost its meaning through internal disintegration, and then quickly turned into something else as it was consumed and assimilated by the larger surroundings.

8. The disappointment and frustration in the dissolution of my expectations and dreams regarding the triad of my younger naïveté, my religion – my country – my model society – did not succeed in driving me away from a hope that all three will eventually tread the golden road. Naïveté melted over years of reality while expectations were mellowed with the knowledge of uncertainty in the struggle to fulfill earlier and present hopes.

9. It is a moot point to ask whether I would still come here “then”, if I had known what I know today. “Then” I would still be younger and naïve without having the perspective of time. Even if I knew the situation of “today”, I would still not realize the difficulty in the struggle to change reality. Nor would I know the surprising abruptness of some changes in reality. At any rate, I’d like to think that the younger me would still hop on the boat for Israel with the challenge of changing the future.

10. The inertia of life molds some of the boundaries of our possibilities and opportunities. In the 1980’s I was already disappointed with the reality of my kibbutz community, from a community with vision to an empty shell of a kibbutz framework. I saw little hope in changing the direction of that reality. I was looking over the fence and probably would have liked trying other places, meaning other kibbutzim. By that time, in our 40’s, we had four sons and four elderly parents to take care of. We were anchored. We also thought of taking a leave via “shlichut” abroad for a few years, both as a mission and as a “breather”. That too was scuttled by the need to care for elderly parents. I don’t think at any point were we contemplating “leaving” the country. I don’t remember it ever even being an “if we could”. Nor was I ever going to leave the ideal of a kibbutz. Anyways, we were anchored. In the end, of course, the kibbutz left us and we were turned into a suburban center of the nearest town. The inertia of life has fairly impenetrable boundaries. Within them rest our possibilities and opportunities.

11. For many years now, I’ve entertained another important question: Knowing what we know today, and being frustrated with the possible future of our country, what would I suggest to my children? I am deeply worried for my four children and eight grandchildren. In 1982 when Katyusha rockets fell heavily around us for a period of three weeks before it was possible to silence them, we took our selves and our children into underground shelters never thinking of running down south to a safer haven. In August of 2006, when rockets were again pounding our area for over a month and most of the community drove south, Iris and I knew we weren’t going anywhere. We stayed put. Two of our children living here, now married and with two of their own, drove south and returned only after the war was over. I was very glad they went. But, I was also sorry that the feeling of “we shall not be moved from here” which was so natural in 1982 was almost totally missing in 2006. I know, there are reasons for it, and times have changed, and don’t judge one period thru the lens of another. Nevertheless, I think I silently rebuked my children for having “run away”. And yet, I was glad they went. These are conflicting emotions with no need to ease the conflict between them.

12. I could never leave the country unless I saw all hope for a future gone, or was forcibly driven into the sea. We live under the constant prediction of war. We are threatened with possible nuclear destruction. We are at the forefront of the storm brewing between Islamic fundamentalism and western civilization. All this goes far beyond the frustrations of religion/country/society gone sour. In reality, it is a perilous existence. Yet, I won’t leave. Through vision or delusion, I have hope. But what of our children and grandchildren ? Am I willing for them to gamble on my hope ? No problem….they’re grown up and make their own decisions. But should I tell them that I’d like them to leave for safer shores ? …….just in case……?........perhaps they’re not totally aware of the risk…..? Of course, if they were to leave I would probably silently rebuke them for “running away”, but perhaps I would be somewhat relieved that the family line has a better chance for a safe future. No matter…..I’ve never raised the issue out loud with our children. I probably never will. It’s a subject which will remain as one of my silent conflicts.

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