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April 22, 1988 - Image 33

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-04-22

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ISRAEL AT 40

A Time To Cry And
A Time To Dance

HELEN DAVIS

Israel Correspondent

J

erusalem — It is three years
now since a panel of interna-
tional jurists assembled in
Jerusalem to hear testimony
against Josef Mengele, the
Angel of Death at Auschwitz. But I
doubt if anyone who attended those
searing sessions has forgotten the
descriptions of the slow descent into a
hell beyond human imagining.
What we heard there was a child's
view of Auschwitz, from witnesses who
had been 5 or 10 or 15 when they
entered the Kingdom of Death and
became the raw material of Mengele's
human experiments.
I had to hurry home after the clos-
ing session, at which a shattered
woman from Rehovot described how
Mengele had forced her to murder her
newborn infant. I was going to a party.
It was the kind of party at my
daughter's school that I, and thousands
of Israeli mothers like me, have attend-
ed so often that we groan in mock
despair at the prospect of speeches and
singing and dancing that go on and on
and on . . . But this day, as my excited
first-grader took the stage, my throat
suddenly constricted. It was as if I were
seeing these 30 little girls for the very
first time.
There was Tzivia from France and
Ruthie from New York, Etty from the
mountains of Buchara, Elisheva from
New Zealand. There were little sabras
whose parents or grandparents had
come from Yemen, Morocco, Iraq and
Poland and Austria.
And tiny Naomi, whose maternal
grandmother, a survivor of Bergen-
Belsen, comes twice a year from Sweden
to gaze at the grandchildren she calls
her "little flowers" — the only remnant
of a once large and flourishing family.
Thirty boisterous, beautiful, confi-

dent little citizens in their own land,
singing and chattering in their own
language, surrounded by their proud,
fidgety parents.
It was in that shabby school hall —
the lusty voices of a six-year-old Israeli
chorus line colliding in my mind with
the terrified, whispered tales of a
million-and-a-half dead Jewish children
— that I finally understood, really
understood, the meaning and miracle of
Israel.
We are none of us much good at liv-
ing with miracles and wonders. It is the
everyday that catches our attention; the
humdrum and the ordinary that
devours our thoughts and our time.
Israelis are no different. Four
decades of living on the raw edge of sur-
vival does not automatically translate
into a higher daily awareness of where
they are and why.
And for the post-war baby boomers,
the danger of taking it all for granted
is that much greater. We have not
known a world without an Israel. We
cannot imagine such a world.
We would not care to contemplate so
fundamentally terrible a prospect.
And for the next generation, for my
little first-grader and her kind, the
danger is greater still. By the time they
grow up, it will all be just history. There
will be few, if any, survivors around who
can cut through the dross and bustle to
remind them, in voices scarred with
memory, that Jewish children did not
always grow up secure in their Jewish
skins, names, faith, language and land.
Because once, just a heartbeat away
in time, there was no Israel. No
ridiculous sliver of land so tiny that the
map-makers have to write its name in
the Mediterranean Sea.
No place on earth that the Jews
could call their own.
We all know the history. We need
those who once lost everything to re-
mind us of the miracle.
The sad fact is that the House of

Israel is not in the mood for celebrating
miracles this year. It does not feel up to
dancing in the streets. It is beset by pro-
blems, riots, crises. It is tired, uncertain
and dispirited.
It is deeply affected by the discovery
that Israel is not a nation of soldier-
poets and farmer-philosophers; that it
is an awkward, half-grown society of or-
dinary people who make mistakes and
do not always behave as the world
thinks Jews ought to behave — or, for
that matter, as Jews think they ought
to behave.
The world is fed up with Israel and
its apparently insoluble problems.
Israelis are pretty fed up with them
themselves.
But if 40 years — which in Jewish
tradition marks the end of a period of
testing — is a good time to take stock,
let the books be balanced.
Let the record show that the debit
side — the side that is so often paraded
across television screens, debated in
editorial columns, agonized over in in-
ternational forums is not the total reali-
ty. For the achievements of the Jewish
state are nothing short of astonishing.
Forty years ago, 600,000 Jews, cling-
ing to an indefensible patch of land,
defied reason and a bitterly hostile en-
vironment to change the history of their
people.
Those 600,000 have now grown to
four-and-a-half million, living in health,
wealth and security beyond the dreams
of Israel's founding fathers. You do not
have to regard it as a miracle to be
impressed.
In the years since 1948, Jews from
more than a hundred lands, speaking
almost as many languages and practic-
ing almost as many customs, have built
a society of rare vitality and common
purpose._
Israeli achievements in agriculture,
solar energy, communications, rural
development, medical diagnostics,
defense technology, computer science

and a host of other fields have become
an international by-word for innovation
and excellence.
Let the record show that Israel
makes its nation-building expertise and
experience available to other develop-
ing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin
America, without being too particular
about whether the recipients recognize
the Jewish state or support it at the
United Nations.
Let the record show, to Israel's ever-
lasting credit, that this nation which
has lived its whole life in a state of war,
has clung tenaciously to Western,
democratic standards.
It has maintained a scrupulously
fair and independent judiciary, a free
and outspoken press, a parliamentary
system that gives a platform to Arab
communists, Jewish racists and every
possible shade of opinion in between.
Not least among the beneficiaries of
Israel's steadfast, commitment to the
rule of law are its 650,000 Arab citizens
who, alone among the Arabs in the Mid-
dle East, enjoy full civil rights —
freedom of expression, religion, peaceful
assembly, movement.
There is still much to be done to
close the social, educational and
economic gap between the Sephardi and
Ashkenazi populations, but the new
generation of Sephardi cabinet
ministers and Knesset members,
mayors, labor leaders, generals and
academics, musicians and businessmen
attest to the fact that this is one pro-
blem that is on the way to a solution.
Imagine a world where Jews do not
have to worry about the trials and
temptations of wielding sovereign
power because they have none to wield.

The world is not perfect, nor is
Israel. But since when did the world
have to be perfect for Jews to pick
themselves up, shake the dust from
their shoes, and dance for the sheer joy
of being alive?
_ , 4111111/1111111111MONMINIONI
maK-

FOURTH PRESIDENT: Ephraim
Katzir, 1973-1978.

ISRAELI FIRST LADY: After
leading Israel as prime
minister and as a symbol of
strength, wit and common
sense, American-raised Golda
Meir died in 1979.

PEACE WITH EGYPT: After President Carter helped negotiate an agreement at Camp David the
previous summer, Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt
signed an historic peace treaty at the White House in March 1979.

FIFTH PRESIDENT: Yitzhak
Navon, 1978-1983.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

33

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