In the City of Solidarity
How readily the phrase rose to their lips: ‘They, the Israelis’, instead of ‘We, the Jews.’ They did not remember that the ancient blood that soaks the ground of Israel was their own. I saw the cultural disconnect between American Jewish children and their Israeli cousins, I saw the abysmal state of Hebrew literacy in America, I saw American Jews’ lack of involvement with the political upheaval in Israel, and I despaired of American Jewry.
I thought to myself, “To them, Aliyah is a fanatical statement, an eventual theory never meant to be proven. They can hardly string together an intelligible sentence in the language of our tradition. The new generation of American Jews does not remember a time we had to fight for the kotel (Western Wall). They do not remember the Intifadas. They do not even remember the terror of 9/11. They have no idea what it means to live under constant threat, nor do they attempt to understand it.” I saw how, when Americans visited the Jewish State, they hid in enclaves of familiarity; American pockets surrounded by exotic, raucous, weather-beaten, opinionated Israeli foreigners. I had seen all of this and I had despaired.
And yet, as I shook my head at the false divide, I participated in it, priding myself on my Israeli-ness. I insisted I was always closer to the heart of the battles, ideologically, emotionally, socially. Wasn’t I? I am an Israeli citizen. I have family in the Golan Heights, Be’er Sheva, Tel Aviv, Efrat and Jerusalem. My Saba and all of his sons served in the IDF. Two of my cousins are currently in combat on the front lines. My younger cousins must dismantle Sukkahs in their neighborhood because fathers have joined the fight. My aunts had to stock their bomb shelters with three days worth of supplies as explosions sounded overhead.
But Israel is the Jewish State, not the Israeli State. I had forgotten. The Jewish State is populated by lone soldiers, students in yeshivot and seminaries and families who made Aliyah, all of whom understand living in fear far better than I, a “true Israeli,” living safely in the United States. It is wrong to hoard suffering that belongs to us all.
When the nightmare began, all existing divides of language and nationality vanished. American Jews remember afresh that when the Jewish State is threatened, all Jews are threatened. We are not merely related to the victims in Israel. This war is being waged against our entire nation. Hamas craves the death of every single Jew; they do not discriminate as we do.
Jews in the Diaspora have always felt self-conscious about exhibiting their Judaism. But now we are not self-conscious, we are conscious of each other. Every Jew in New York bears the weight of two crowns. One is a crown of weeping, the other a crown of defiance. Returning to Stern College after the Chagim, my accusations dissolved in our mingled tears; my churlish disgust went up in smoke. No, cultural divisions did not exist in Kishinev:
ARISE and go now to the city of slaughter;
Into its courtyard wind thy way;
There with thine own hand touch, and with the eyes of thine head,
Behold on tree, on stone, on fence, on mural clay,
The spattered blood and dried brains of the dead.
Kishinev was a horrifying massacre of unimaginable scale, immortalized in Bialik’s poem “In the City of Slaughter.” Jewish idealists wielded the Kishinev pogrom as an accusing finger, a withering criticism of Jews in Europe for being defenseless and weak.
This week we witnessed the most brutal slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, unprecedented in a time when we have a state of our own. As sickening, vile, gruesome reports of this pogrom are flooding social media, I shudder and think of Kishinev. Look at us. We thought humanity had learned. We thought we were living in a new age.
“Evil in our times is different. It is well-intentioned,” we said. “Or at the very least it has the sense to mask its true face.” But no one is hiding now. Evil is real. We see it in the gleeful clips of savagery and torture, in the blood-soaked baby cribs, in the hostages set aflame. We recoil from the devastation in disbelief, but cannot tear our eyes away from it.
But the age of Jewish shame is behind us. We do not lower our eyes in self-contempt or mortification. Through our tears, our faces are shining with pride. At Tuesday’s pro-Israel rally in Manhattan, the Orthodox Union and the Union for Reform Judaism stood side by side, throats raw and eyes ablaze. Gone is the self-abasement, the victim-blaming, the internalized antisemitism. World Jewry has come very far since Kishinev; we are loud, we are warriors, we rally behind a flag of our own. At all of the rallies and protests I attended in the past few days, I heard the same chant over and over again, “Jews, united, will never be defeated!” I have never seen more Jewish unity in my life.
Please God, may Hamas be crushed thoroughly and swiftly, once and for all. Please God, may we be unified through harmony and peace and not through desperate sorrow. Please God, may we be able to live safely and freely in our land, a land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Photo Caption: Pro-Israel Rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on Tuesday, Oct. 11
Photo Credit: Tamara Yeshurun