Wednesday, May 07, 2003

A bit of Yom HaAtzmaut autobiography

When I was a young student in Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn I had repeatedly heard the party line about the evils of Israel, the evils of Zionism and the evils of the government of Israel. Israel allowed movie theaters to be open on Shabbos, they allowed abortions and autopsies. This was all appalling.

The rabbeim promoted this view and expressed it whenever it came up. Naturally we did not say Hallel (special holiday prayer of praise), like they do in more modern Orthodox synagogues. Naturally we did not march in the parade or have an Israeli flag in School. For that matter, we had no flag in school whatsoever.

Like much of my school career, I spent a lot of time not really getting it. I never made sense why we would not like Israel. Israel is what we learned about in the Bible and Talmud. We prayed facing Israel, and we obsessed over Israel's relationship to God.

If we were to ask about this incongruity, which apparently didn't exist for most of us, there was some vague references to God not wanting us back there and the government being full of wicked people. I always wondered what made my teachers think that God did not want us there. If he didn't want us there, I thought as a fifth grader, we simply wouldn't be there. But we were, so He did - right? Apparently not. There were some references to the three promises that God made, one of them alluding to the fact that Jews would not be back in Israel until the messiah was here.

Then there was all this stuff about movie theaters and autopsies. Somehow that never rang true, and I was unable to take it seriously. Moreover, I was never clear about who they actually wanted to run the Israeli government. There were all these religious people there. If they didn't want any of them to run the government, who did they want to put in charge? Arafat?

Inevitably, Ben Hecht's famous book Perfidy came up. Perfidy was a book that is (still illegally reprinted by Satmar and related sects and) widely distributed. Ben Hecht was a famous early Hollywood Movie writer and producer. He was very much disturbed by World War II and the treatment of his fellow Jews. He once went so far as to take out an add in the Times advertising that there were Jews for sale, who could be purchased from Nazi Germany for a few dollars. Perfidy, one of his many books described the treatment of some Jews (mostly religious holocaust survivors) by the early Israeli and proto-Israeli government. Much of the critiques relate to Rabin, the Altelena incident, and the Kastner trial. This too struck me as a big ad hominem against the Labor factions of the government. (As I got older, it dawned on me that it is really a critique of left-wing socialism, but that is a whole other story.)

As I got older and rebelled, I rejected a lot of the anti-Zionist rhetoric of the Yeshiva world. It made so little sense. It was always the place where the shearit ha'pleata (the remnants of the Jews) of the Jews went after the Holocaust. It was the place where being Jewish was normal, not "different". Israel was the only place in the world where Jewish was not a minority. There ought to be a place in the world for everyone where they can go and not be a minority. All peoples should have a right granted by the world to have at least one place where they are not an ethnic minority, at least until there is little stigma to being a minority. Being Jewish was never easy for anyone. (Here in the US we have it pretty good though, but it would be easier to not be a minority.) Es is Schver tzu zein a yid.

As I got extremely lax about much religious observance there were some things I still held on to. My support for Israel did not waver. My reasons have changed, as to why I support the country. I have never rejected the belief that given the way the world is, and given world history, Jews need to have Israel. However the reason Israel needs to be supported is because of its rather decent democratic tradition, and its staunch support for the US and values that I as an believer in freedom, autonomy, liberty, democracy and Jewish values, holds dear. Israel, in its many successes and accomplishments, is a positive force in the world that deserves our respect.

Chag Sameach everyone.