Later On

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A Jewish view of modern-day Jewish political culture

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Very interesting excerpt from Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism that appears in Salon:

I remember walking back with my grandmother one night from synagogue, past the loquat trees of Sea Point, South Africa, the most beautiful Jewish ghetto in the world. I was a kid, and boasting about the United States, the country to which her daughter — my mother — had immigrated. She grew annoyed. “Don’t get too attached,” she announced. “The Jews are like rats. We leave the sinking ship. One day, please God, we’ll all join Isaac in Israel.”

Isaac was her brother. They had parted ways four decades earlier, as the ancient Jewish community of Alexandria, Egypt, broke under the strain of economic depression, Arab nationalism, and world war. My grandmother’s family were Sephardic Jews. They took their name, Albel-das, from a Spanish town cleansed of Jews five hundred years ago. From Spain, her ancestors crossed the Mediterranean. Her father hailed from Izmir in what is now Turkey, her mother from the Isle of Rhodes in what is now Greece.

When the Jewish community of Alexandria collapsed, everyone in the family except Isaac went south, to a corner of the Belgian Congo where Jews from Rhodes were congregating. A few years later, the Jews who still remained in Rhodes found themselves under Nazi rule. The Nazis rounded them up, stole their possessions, extracted their gold teeth, stripped them naked to search for hidden jewelry, starved them, and put them in cargo ships and sealed cars for the two-week trip to Auschwitz. Virtually the entire community — which dated from the second century B.C.E. — was murdered. Now there were no more Jews there either.

When the war ended, my grandmother moved again, this time to South Africa, where she met my grandfather. Fifteen years later, the Congo erupted in civil war, and the Jews there fled. Now, in her old age, racial violence was bloodying South Africa, too, and all around her, Jews were again packing their things. Only later did I realize: My grandmother had spent her life burying Jewish communities. So had her parents. She suspected I would do the same.

Yet she was at peace, because of Israel. She never joined Isaac, who ran a store in Haifa. But Israel’s existence calmed her, comforted her, rooted her. It made her feel that Jewish history was more than an endless cycle of estrangement and dislocation; it actually led somewhere. It made her feel that not all Jewish homes need be temporary, that all the running had not been in vain.

My life has been very different from my grandmother’s. But I have seen enough to understand how she feels. When I was thirteen, I watched footage of thousands of emaciated Ethiopian Jews, isolated from the rest of their people since the days when the First Temple stood, trekking through the Sahara to reach the planes that the Jewish state had sent to take them home. When I was fourteen, I saw a squat, bald Russian named Anatoly Sharansky — fresh from eight years in a Soviet jail — raise his hands in triumph as he descended the steps at Ben-Gurion Airport. In those soul-stirring scenes, I saw my grandmother’s Zionism — the Zionism of refuge — play out before my eyes. It became my Zionism, too. Like her, I sleep better knowing that the world contains a Jewish state.

But not any Jewish state. Roughly eighteen months ago, an Israeli friend sent me a video. It was of a Palestinian man named Fadel Jaber, who was being arrested for stealing water. His family had repeatedly asked Israeli authorities for access to the pipes that service a nearby Jewish settlement. But the Jabers have little influence over the Israeli authorities: like all Palestinians in the West Bank, they are subjects, not citizens. Partly as a result, West Bank Palestinians use roughly one-fifth as much water per person as do Jewish settlers, which means that while settlements often boast swimming pools and intensive irrigation systems, Palestinians fall far below the World Health Organization’s recommended daily water consumption rate. In the video, Israeli police drag Fadel toward some kind of paddy wagon. And then the camera pans down, to a five-year-old boy with a striped shirt and short brown hair, Khaled, who is frantically trying to navigate the thicket of adults in order to reach his father. As his father is pulled away, he keeps screaming, “Baba, Baba.”

As soon as I began watching the video, I wished I had never turned it on. For most of my life, my reaction to accounts of Palestinian suffering has been rationalization, a search for reasons why the accounts are exaggerated or the suffering self-inflicted. In that respect, I suspect, I’m like many American Jews. But in recent years, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I had been lowering my defenses, and Khaled’s cries left me staring in mute horror at my computer screen.

Perhaps it is because my son is Khaled’s age. He attends a Jewish school, has an Israeli flag on his wall, and can recount Bible stories testifying to our ancient ties to the land. When he was younger, we thought he would call me Abba, the Hebrew word for father. But he couldn’t say Abba, so he calls me Baba, the same name Khaled calls his father.

One day, when they’re old enough to understand, I’ll tell . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2012 at 9:02 am

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