It’s Sad for Our Country

Rabbi Daniel Gordis has an excellent essay about Sharon’s stroke and some of the changes facing Israel. I have a couple of excerpts to share with you.

It’s a horrible way for Sharon to end his life. And a terrible way for Israel to close the era of its founding. Micha was right. It’s sad for our country.

And that, I think, is how it feels here now. Just … sad.

Sad about Sharon. And sad about Iran. Sad that 75 years after Nazi Germany was ignored by the world until it was too late, state-sponsored racial hatred of the Jews is thriving again. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran’s President) denies the Holocaust. Relative silence. He says that Israel must be wiped off the map. Silence, again, for the most part. He continues the development of nuclear weapons that will be able
to wipe half the world’s Jews off the face of the globe with the push of a button, and the world … refers the matter to the Security Council.

In the end, no one else really gives a damn. And the strange thing here is that there’s nothing much we can do. We’re watching, and waiting.

But there’s something deeply disquieting about being able to do nothing but watch. With Iran creeping closer and closer to the day when they’ll have the bomb and we’ll be in the crosshairs, I was reminded of that morning, not too long again, when we were worried not about Ahmadinejad, but about Saddam. I still remember that morning when army command said that it was time to open the masks we’d been storing for weeks. It’s time to open them, the army said, and to get the kids suited up for school.

There’s not really much you can say to your eleven year old kid to camouflage what you’re doing. He knows what the masks are, and he knows why we might need them. So we just did it. When Micha came downstairs that morning in early 2003, we told him that he didn’t have to wear his mask, and that he probably wouldn’t have to, but that he had to take it to school and keep it with him at all times.

“During recess”? he wanted to know. Yes, we told him. “And if I go out of school to the kiosk to buy a snack?”

“All the time,” Elisheva told him, with an edge to her voice that I knew she didn’t intend. “You don’t go anywhere without this mask.” And starting to cry, and not wanting him to see her crying, she sat down on the stairs he’d just descended, and left the assembly of the mask to me.

There’s not much to it, it turned out. I broke the paper seals on the box, took the plastic seal off the filter, and screwed it into the face of the mask. Then, the harder part. We helped Micha fit the mask to his face and tightened the straps behind his head. I placed my palm over the filter so no air could enter, and told him, “Breathe in a bit.” He did. As it was supposed to, the mask stuck to his face, and no air
got in around the sides. Sealed.

“I can’t see,” he said, a barely perceptible quiver in his voice. I looked at the mask, which was now all fogged up. Having no idea what to do about that, we took the mask off. “If you need it, the fog will go away,” I told him. Would it? I actually had no idea. “Anyway, you won’t need it. Just keep it in the box. And don’t take it out unless a grownup tells you. OK? It’s not a toy. It’s really important. And don’t forget it anywhere.”

He nodded. Breakfast, and then it was school bus time. Up he hopped, a backpack, a water bottle, and his gas mask draped over his shoulder with its black plastic strap. I walked him out of the house to wait for the van to pick him up.

“Bye, Abba,” he said, as the van arrived.

“Have a good day, buddy.”

“Abba? Don’t forget your mask. OK?”

Outside on the sidewalk, people were coming and going, pushing a stroller or chatting with friends. And they all had their boxes, slung over their shoulder. One or two had decorated their boxes with colored markers, as if the mask was now an apparel accessory. Surreal. A city functioning pretty normally, waiting to get gassed.
Later in the day, I realized that I’d left a file at home, and I needed it. It’s only about a five minute walk home, so I figured I’d just go and get it. On my way out the door, my secretary said to me, “You forgot your mask.”

“I’m only going to the fourth floor,” I lied.

Out the door I went, and walked the few blocks to the house. The streets were sparsely populated, but not deserted. And everyone else had a box, a mask. I was the only person without one.

For a moment, the thought that I’d done something very stupid gave me pause, and I actually stopped, wondering whether I should go back to the office to get it. But I was halfway home by then, and it didn’t seem worth it. Anyway, I told myself, I wasn’t that far from my office. “If the siren goes off, I can sprint and be back to my mask in a couple of minutes. We’ve got to get at least a few minutes warning, no?”

I actually had no idea.

I got the file, and started back to work. And wondered why it was that I’d left work without my mask. It didn’t take me long to realize — I wasn’t going to carry that mask. Not that day, not never. I just wasn’t going to do it. The Zionism I grew up with wasn’t about sitting around waiting to get gassed — or nuked. The myth of Israel that I grew up on was that finally we were taking our destiny into our own
hands, and that we would take matters into our own hands whenever we had to.”

And one more

“And if Sharon, and Iran, and Hamas were not enough, there was also Amona. An attempt to destroy nine illegal (and uninhabited houses) went completely awry. Teenage settlers, grief-stricken at the death of their dream of a “whole land of Israel” (now that the August disengagement has destroyed it), used violence against the police. And police cavalry charged the teenagers. At the end of the day, people from both sides were in the hospital, some in very serious condition. The civil strife
we feared we’d see in August finally arrived.

Which was, I think, the saddest part of all. Because whatever side of the Amona dispute you’re on, what Amona forced us to confront was that ours is a society filled with rage, overcome by hate. We don’t talk to each other any more; we just hate each other. Settlers don’t even know leftists for the most part, and vice versa. Religious and secular people rarely speak to each other, and most Jewish Israelis couldn’t point to the name and phone number of a single Israeli Arab in their contact list. We’ve retreated, all of us, each into our own bubble. A safe haven, from which we can judge, and loathe. The specter of this country slowly beginning to be threatened from within and without for so many years has left oceans of rage, just now beginning to boil over.”

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1 Comment

  1. Datingmaster, Jerusalem February 16, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    come over and meet my Mama-I’ve told her a lot about you

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