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October 19, 1990 - Image 46

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-10-19

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

WORLD vs. ISRAEL

sher; they are Iraqi Jews and
know all too well, Malka
often reminds us, what the
Arabs are capable of;
Malka's father was
murdered by an Arab
neighbor with a hammer
during Nazi-inspired Ali
riots in Baghdad in 1941, in
full view of his wife. Malka
was about three and has no
memory, not even a photo, of
her father.
Z., our contractor, a re-
ligious Zionist who lives in
Gush Etzion (regarded as
one of the ideologically
moderate West Bank set-
tlements), also refused to
believe that N., with whom
he had worked for years, had
done it. He was "sick," Z.
told me later, when Malka
showed him the screw. He
asked to see the pot she had
served the soup in, and saw
at once that the wooden
handle had a screw missing.
How wonderful to discover
our fears unfounded: does
not the Talmud say that the
Second Temple was
destroyed because of
baseless hatred?
For a few weeks, things
were better. Thanks to my
job on a new magazine I was
now in frequent contact with
Israeli insiders, especially
journalists with access to
military and intelligence
sources. Obliquely I would
take their pulse: hey, I'd ask
with nonchalance, are you
personally stockpiling
water, taping your windows
yet? Nah, they'd say; and
this would allay my fears a
notch.
I have been in Israel not
even two years, never during
a war, and I don't know how
nervous to be. I am still
thinking like a Diaspora
Jew, and from the telephone
I know that our friends in
the Old Country are worried,
some even beginning to be
scared stiff. Also I am very
new to fatherhood: Daniel,
our first, will be a year old in
December — and the
thought of strapping a gas
mask onto his tiny face is
almost more than I can bear.
It wasn't the announce-
ment that the government
would be handing out the
masks that put me over the
edge, however. It was a chat
I had in the oddest of cir-
cumstances, on the set of a
movie whose script I co-
wrote back in Hollywood, an
American flick which, as it
happens, is being filmed in
Israel.
The star tells most people
he's happy and unafraid to
be here, and this is the most
important role of his career.
But to me he confides that he

keeps his passport and a fat
wallet on his person always,
and if things get dangerous
he will pay someone with a
boat to zip him away from
Tel Aviv, pronto.
"You're an American," the
star says to me. "Don't you
ever think to take your fami-
ly to L.A. for six months till
things cool out?" Nah, I say.
My friends in the know tell
me everything's fine.
"What about what's going
on in East Jerusalem," he
says, and I reply that things
heat up all the time; it's
safer than America; there
are neighborhoods you don't
go to in any city.
He says, "Really. Like I
don't go into South Central
L.A. and say, 'Here's the
white boy, wanna see my
Rolex.' " We laught and I say,
lookit, Saddam isn't crazy,
he just wants to be the next
Saladin. I launch into a little
riff about the Crusades, and
the movie star's eyes glaze
over and he says, "Catch ya
later, I gotta go to my
trailer."
A few hours later I switch
on the TV, and discover that
the star knew something I

didn't. That morning, Arabs
on the Temple Mount had
thrown stones at Jews at the
Western Wall below, and
when the shooting stopped,
21 Palestinians were dead.
Jerusalem becomes Belfast.
Saddam says he will avenge
the martyrs. Apocalypse
buffs quietly rejoice —
Ezekiel's Battle of Gog and
Magog bids fair to arrive
before the Thanksgiving
turkey.
I take my son in my arms
and squeeze him very tight.
He is too young to die. For
that matter, so am I. The
German Jews who in 1935
were smart enough to get
out begat families who today
are alive and well in the
Five Towns and Beverly
Hills. Am I condemning my
baby by keeping him here?
Over coffee on the morning
of Simchat Torah, I am sit-
ting in my sukkah reading
the Hebrew papers. An edi-
torial speaks of the unex-
pressed fear that is rampant
in the land, of Jewish
mothers lying in bed, staring
at the ceiling with worry, of
the hideous irony that ultra-
Orthodox Jews are impor-

e•ous Liaisons

The author, who made aliyah from Hollywood to Jerusalem.

ting from Germany special
gas masks that can fit over
beards.
The State of Israel has
been existentially threaten-
ed before — but now, just at
the moment of German
reunification, it is the sym-
bols of the Holocaust that
return. Zyklon B, say hello
to the Temple Mount. How
can anyone, I ask myself —
any Jew — ignore the de-
terminative role of symbols
in history, in the rebirth and
destruction of nations?
I am still reading the
paper when my friend G. ap-
pears at the door. He has liv-
ed in Jerusalem 20 years,
and his five kids are no
longer babies, but he is
scared, too. Scared one of the
workers in his factory, men
he has drunk coffee and jok-
ed with for eons, will
suddenly, impulsively, take
out a knife and stab him in
the back. He does not own a
gun but thinks he will get
one. He and his family, like
so many others, have
stockpiled food and worked
out emergency procedures in
case we are attacked.
"I would rather," he said,
"die here with my family
than run back to America.
You have to have a little
emunah, a little faith. Look
at the miracles we have seen
in the last 50 years."
How can we have emunah,
I reply, after the Holocaust?
How can we say, Protector of
Israel, He Who Revives the
Dead? Our history proves
that nothing is so bad that it
can't happen. "I could never
live with myself," says my
friend softly, "if I went back
to America and Israel were
destroyed."
There are many differ-
ences between now and
1935. Germany was an espe-
cially nasty Diaspora; Israel,
however flawed, is, at last, a
country of our own. German
Jews had no physical or po-
litical power, we in Israel do.
And survivor guilt, as awful
as it has been for many who
escaped Europe alive, would,
as G. said, be so overpower-
ing as to require — of me,
anyway — an irreversible
exodus from the Jewish peo-
ple. Only as a gentile could I
rationalize escaping the fate
of my people.
I have a close friend in the
States we'll call Tom, a
blond Midwestern Protes-
tant, a fellow writer and
sterling fellow overall.
When he was nearly 40 he
discovered that his paternal
grandmother, a Hungarian
Jew, had returned to
America in the 1920s from a

visit to her home town. Con-
vinced that unspeakable
horrors awaited the Jewish
people, she demanded that
the entire family convert at
once to Christianity. For the
first time, I begin to under-
stand her.
Though Tom is proud to
have discovered his
ancestry, he feels no urge to
claim it. And why should he?
As an American he has
become exempt from the
Jewish community of fate.
This choice beckons all
American Jews, and I often
imagine that if I had not
made aliyah then I might
have assimilated for keeps;
certainly my children or
theirs would have been at
least as likely to do so.
For Jews in Russia, even
the godless, blending in is
not so simple. The fact that
it's now, as Saddam rattles
his missiles, that the new
immigrants flock to our
shores from Moscow and
Leningrad may be coin-
cidence, or may be another
reason for emunah.
So when G. and I finished
our coffee, I put Daniel in
the stroller and we walked
down to G.'s shul. The
building was empty; the
Simchat Torah festivities
had spilled into the street,
and the whole congregation,
dancing with the Torah
scrolls, was a block away,
about to invade en masse an
old-age home — an annual
tradition.
Wrapped in a talit, with
my son in my arms, I climb-
ed from one floor to the next,
bringing holiday cheer to
these frail champions who
had survived into their 80s,
90s, and beyond. Most were
surely senile; none seemed
to notice my adorable child;
but when teen-agers from the
congregation brought the
Torahs to them, the old peo-
ple leaned over in their
wheelchairs and kissed the
scrolls, as if to say, this we
remember: this is what has
kept us alive.
I am not one of those for
whom emunah lasts. Like a
glass of good whiskey, it can
keep me going for just so
long till what I perceive as
reality comes washing in.
During the times to come, I
expect paranoia to flourish,
baseless hatred to spread in
the world, even to the edge of
the West. But I won't soon be
running back to America.
Nor will I ever forget my
son's first Simchat Torah,
when I was called to the
Torah and recited, like a Bar
Mitzvah once more, the an-
cient blessings with the kid
in my arms.



THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

47

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