13 May '16..
Before Holocaust Remembrance Day last week I wondered in my column how the descendants of those who survived the concentration camps could possibly stay at a central Berlin hotel, on a street whose German name has the power to punch your gut, and then post photos on Facebook. How is it that these days, for many Israelis, Berlin and Warsaw are hot vacation spots with great deals and excellent food and beer? The response to my article made it clear to me just how deep the gap is between my view and that of the so-called "enlightened." An old friend of mine, who lists Berlin among his favorite vacation destinations, asked me: "What do you want from them? It's been 70 years! The Germans of today committed no crime." These kinds of remarks were echoed by many of my friends, who viewed my column as vindictive, fearful and fascist.
My first response to these friends was that religious Jews have long memories. We remember what Pharaoh wore on the night that every Egyptian firstborn died. We remember the names of those who destroyed the Temple and the names of their accomplices. We gather every year at our synagogues to hear about what the people of Amalek did to the Israelites. We don't forget.
My second response was that my perception is a collective one. It is true that no individual German national personally transgressed against my family, and that is why Johann's or Paul's personal redemption is of no concern to me. I have a much larger score to settle, and it doesn't have to do with individual Germans. The German nation committed an inexcusable crime against my people. There is no redemption. I remember the Holocaust despite not having experienced it myself firsthand. I cannot forgive the Germans of today even though they did not perpetrate it themselves firsthand.
The truth is that we all owe some debt to the fact that our culture sees everything through a national prism. It is what yielded Zionism. It is what sends youngsters full of life to serve in combat units to defend their country. It is what sent the pioneers to settle the land. It is what allows us to live with the intellectual paradox of offering citizenship and absorption benefits to a Jew who had to fly 19 hours to get here, but offering nothing of the kind to a Palestinian whose family has lived next door to us ten generations back.
Israel's Independence Day, be it its 68th or its 2,000th, is an opportunity to ask what this is all about, actually. Why does a man need to feel like his nation is his family? Why should we care about our fellow Jews, when they speak a different language and live on another continent?
Every man is a singular creature, and we were all created in the image of God. Every person has the free will to choose what he does regardless of nationality. But every nation also perceives itself as a kind of extended family. I would donate my heart and lungs to my children. I wouldn't give my vital organs to save the neighbor's children, though. It's only natural, which makes it a moral choice. Communism tried to undo the concept of family, putting everyone's children together in a communal children's home in an effort to build a society where one's own children do not enjoy any special, discriminatory treatment. But I love my son in a much more profound way than I love the neighbor's son, and I know that the neighbor feels the same way about his own son, and that is the foundation of human morality. Without this powerful foundation, made up of concentric circles, society would not be better -- it would be robotic. If I care equally about everyone, I actually feel equal apathy toward everyone. I can recall a study conducted in the U.S. that found that the less homogenous a neighborhood was, the fewer acts of kindness and charity that occurred in it.
My extended family is made up of everyone who lives here, speaks Hebrew and waves the Israeli flag. It is also made up of every Jew in every corner of the earth. That is a steadfast Ben-Gurion principle: The return to Zion is an industry. The official ingathering of exiles.
And my family is also made up of those who chose to join it because they identify with our family ideals and our commitment. Last Shabbat I welcomed Ina and Maria to my home. Ina and Maria are two non-Jewish IDF soldiers who are converting to Judaism. They are choosing to belong to this persecuted people. They are choosing to adopt the (heavy) burden of the Jewish commandments. And they understand that this process is irreversible. When the key means agreeing to tough ideal, a nation is built on truth. It is not built on lies, like the empty slogans one often hears at the U.N. about a new world order.
Do you know the story about the wise man who wanted to prove that he could overcome nature and trained his cat to be a waiter? The moment a mouse appeared, the cat tossed his tray and chased his prey. You can try to try train reality, the way Europe has been trained to believe in the union, but if you look closely you will see that it doesn't really hold. People are naturally inclined to identify with those who resemble you and who are close to you. The world is still reeling from the trauma of Nazism. It recoils from nationalist sentiments as if they were a curse. But erasing the concepts of identity, belonging or closeness is not the solution.
The Jewish people share a unique, powerful experience: having survived exile. In Hungary and in Yemen, Jews dreamed of one day living together, and the ethos was to preserve ourselves so that one day we would reunite in the Land of Israel. The Zionist idea appealed to everyone because of our collective aspiration to reunite with our brothers and sisters. And indeed, the 1995 census bureau report revealed that one quarter of all Israelis were children of mixed heritage parents. That means that within four decades, we managed to effect amazing integration. There are still isolated enclaves here and there, but the integrative power of Judaism has been generally triumphant.
The so-called enlightened ones are trying to blur the differences between the different groups, and that is exactly like undoing families. You can't build an emotional world on the perception that every man is the same. Families generate the most important feelings -- commitment, unconditional love, honesty. We will be the first to send a rescue team to any disaster area in the world, but we will save our own people first, and anyone who doesn't operate in this way is turning his back on his nature.
The gap between the right and the Zionist left in Israel has never been unbridgeable because it is clear to all the that despite the differences, both camps are motivated by a love for the Jewish people. I get the depressing feeling that, in the name of "enlightenment," the extreme left is lacking any identification with the family. It is trying to make caring for your nation illegitimate. The enlightened are making every effort to distance themselves from the nation. They have turned caring for someone because they are Jewish into something immoral.
This is the profound debate that we live in. It consistently impacts every news story and every national controversy. What camp do you belong to? What is your point of view? Are your people an incidental, marginal thing, or the prefix to your name? A man will be a man. And yes, you can call me a part of my people.
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