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October 27, 1989 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-10-27

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Zen And Zionism

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lence, peace becomes less like-
ly — but the public is hedg-
ing the bet. Like Wall Street
traders, whose lives are
founded on risk but who can-
not abide it, many Zionists
have become arbitrageurs,
with our security (as opposed
to securities) as the stakes.
My pal Todd is another
good liberal American Israeli.
an administrator who moon-
lights — everybody here
moonlights — as an interna-
tional basketball referee. Over
beers with his counterparts in
Zagreb or Barcelona, he says,
people, tell him the Israelis
ought to wipe out the intifadw
the old-fashioned say, with
tanks, and he tells them this
is ridiculous. But back in the
States, he reports, "I'm
always under attack" from
fellow Jews who want Israel
to pull out of the territories
tomorrow and end this dread-
ful, insupportable situation.
He finds himself dwelling on
the kinds of security-oriented
arguments he'd seldom make
in Jerusalem, where every-
body knows them by heart
Not long after the Jaffa
Road stabbings, I took a trip
to America. In 1bxas I went
jogging with -two professor
friends, former colleagues,
liberals of course. It was a
beautiful Sunday morning, on
a landscaped trail by a lake,
and I was amusing them with
absurdist tales of my new life,
writing for Hollywood and liv-
ing in Jerusalem — scribbling
while Rome burns so to speak
— when one of them said he
had read in the paper that
some sort of awful milestone
had just been reached in the
intifada. I said I had read it
too, the Associated Press
reported 500 Palestinians had
been killed. We all 'agreed this
was terrible, and then I add-
ed — almost involuntarily —
that this was not quite as
many people as had been kill-
ed in the drug wars in Los
Angeles in the same period.
"Listen to you," said one of
my friends, and the subject
was quickly dropped, not
worth ruining a nice day over.
There's no escaping it. The
liberal in me is dedicated to
fairness and justice and
human rights, the patriot to
the security and survival of
the Jewish people — and
when they clash, I refuse to
choose between them.
Nor need I. Negative capa-
bility has been intrinsic to the
Zionist enterprise from its in-
ception. The very idea of the
Jewish State is messianic,
meta-historical, a romantic

fantasy of the first order. Ben-
Gurion demonstrated his kin-
ship with Keats and Coleridge
when he struck a deal with
the Orthodox rabbis, grantng
them hegemony over mar-
riage, divorce, and other sec-
tors of Israeli life, for the sake
of ahavat yisrael, a love for all
Jews that he thought would
transcend our differences.
Just as Israel must absorb all
Jews, it's as if one's mind
must entertain all of their
opinions, daunting as that
may be — becoming, like the
State itself, cluttered and
claustrophobic in the process.
David, King of Israel, was
both poet and conqueror, and
as the song goes, he is chai
v'kayam, alive and kicking.
We are a nation with armies
and a religion with the loftiest
values. We inhabit a land that
is two countries at once —
ours and the Arabs,' neither
people acknowledging the
other's sovereignty but living
in a state of astonishing in-
timacy, like two families in
the same apartment. We are
at peace and at war simul-
taneously, not only since the
intifada began, but from at
least the beginning of the cen-
tury. How many nations, 41
years after statehood, cannot
take their existence for
granted? Even Argentina
knows it will be there when it
gets up tomorrow morning.
Thank God I have lost no
sons or brothers or friends in
Israel's wars, nor has anyone
I know first-hand been a vic-
tim of terrorism. Having
grown up in Brooklyn and
lived in Los Angeles I long
ago developed the ostrich
neck and tortoise shell of the
fearless urbanite. I worry
more about getting smashed
to kingdom come by a fellow
Israeli driver on the highway
to Tel Aviv that I do about
Iraqi chemical weapons or
Shi'ite suicide bombers, Yet
-there is something very scary
about living here, from an ex-
istential point of view. Month
by month, I sense it more, like
a distant drumbeat just be-
coming audible.
This is the Middle East —
not some miniature America,
a Jewish Disney World her-
metically insulated from
ayatollahs and other demi-fic-
tional bogeymen the Ameri-
can mind can imagine only as
characters on a screen, not as
the man on the street. Haifa
and Beirut are as close as
New York and Hartford.
Then what are we doing
here? Are we crazy? The
answer is yes, of course. If we
were rational and foresighted

we might have chosen a dif-
ferent spot to build our na-
tional house: not Uganda —
that crazy we're not — but
perhaps Western Australia,
which was also on the docket.
But the dream was of Zion —
not just any metaphorical
Zion but the genuine article.
After two millennia Of wait-
ing in line, we would accept no
We have returned to the
East, and I for one say make
the most of it. Negative capa-
bility seems completely apro-
pos here, the perfect tool for
the art of Jewish living. Ac-
ceptance of simultaneous op-
posites is a hallmark of East-
ern thinking; long before the
Romantic poets there was Yin
and Yang. If Zionism is a
volatile amalgam of mysti-
cism and pragmatism, vio-
lence and holiness, beauty
and brutality, it has come
home to the correct address.
With Keats, I am prepared
to revel in our contradictions,
yet never despair of resolving
them, even though no rational
resolution is at hand. I am
content to concentrate on the
process of peacemaking, even
if it seems fruitless; to view
confusion as the seedbed of
progress; to dance on the lip
of the volcano. Sometimes —
see what ten years in Cali-
fornia does to you — I think
of this as the Zen of Zionism.
Poppycock, say the profes-
sional doomsayers — and
they are in generous supply,
in Israel and abroad. The
diagnosis is all too plain:
creeping conservatism or,
worse, fatal ambivalence,
depressing evidence of the in-
tractability of our problems.
I must confess that I myself
— in keeping with my own
negative capability — occa-
sionally wonder whether I am
not confecting a highfalutin ,
metaphor to conceal a politics
of pure jello.
But zeh ma she'yesh, an
Israelis say, this is what is.
Until proven wrong I will con-
tinue on my waffling way, and
expect to encounter many
friends, in Israel and Amer-
ica, en route. At • the very
least, negative capability, as
its name suggests, encom-
passes both the Jewish pen-
chant for gloominess and our
proven history of spectacular
achievement. It enables you
to be pessimistic and optimis-
tic at the same time, waiting,
as Talmudic tradition has it,
for Elijah the Prophet to set-
tle insoluble disputes — or for
the next Begin and Sadat to
make an illogical leap toward

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