Sunday, January 19, 2020 -
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Yes, a refuge

Netanyahu is sending a message to world Jewry, specifically European Jewry, that Israel is ITS home. And he is being criticized for it with anger, as if saying Israel is there for you as a homeland is a bad thing. “We say to you our brothers and sisters, Israel is your home. . . Israel is the home of every Jew, waiting for you with open arms.”

The response by French and Danish leaders? Rejection and criticism, as if Netanyahu were expressing a controversial thought, sparking conflict.

I can’t speak as a European, but as an American that for the most part shares the same Western values as Israel, yes, it is very much possible to be a completely loyal American with a feeling and commitment of fealty, allegiance and love for both of your countries, America and Israel, at the same time.

The question is, how do we approach Israel? Should we simply view it as a place of escape? Shouldn’t, ideally, moving to Israel be a choice for something, a running to versus a running from? Ideally, yes. It is always healthier to make choices from such a place. But if the choice of aliyah has to be made for security reasons, it may not be ideal, but thank G-d we are blessed in this generation with that choice. By all means, go!

Even without moving to Israel, her mere existence gives each and every Jew, consciously or subconsciously, wherever we might be, a certain degree of security and dignity, which we take for granted. Aliyah is a privilege and blessing our grandparents in Europe could have only dreamed of. And to think, in history, what a difference it would have made. If only. If only there had been an Israel…

Netanyahu is simply articulating what most Jews feel.

As the proud and loving Americans we are, as much as our hearts soar with the musical score of our powerful national anthem, as profoundly connected we are to this country and as abiding as our affection might be for our individual states, when we see what is unfolding all around us — JUIF on 20 cars in one day, swastikas on hundreds of headstones in a Jewish cemetery, a marred Bat Mitzvah in Copenhagen, a Jewish guard murdered in cold blood, his death likely preventing a massacre; and these examples are just from this past week! — doubts about our place, our purpose, awaken within.

Many of us are having conversations we never in our wildest imagination thought we would be having. After all, we were among the generation that came after the darkest conflict in human history, with Holocaust survivors living among us.

You bet, if I lived in France, I would be making plans to leave. And deeply grateful for that option. Would it be difficult and sad to leave my beloved birth country out of fear, for the life of an immigrant, even if in Israel? Absolutely. Picking up and leaving is not easy.

But, thank G-d for Israel, even if leaving for there from a place of fear instead of love is a complicated thing.

As steeped in Israeli life as I have been, it is not until recently with the pain and anxiety of witnessing anti-Semitic attacks rising in Europe that I have really truly felt in my gut the depth of what it means to have Israel as a place to go.

Suddenly I am thinking about Righteous Gentiles, about Europe circa 1930’s, wondering about how obvious the signs seem to be to flee. Wasn’t it the European Jews who heeded the signs of hate and got out before WW II while others thought they were neurotic, who were the wise ones of history? Of course, this is followed by your own gasp at yourself, even to have this running through your mind.

Recently, in a work context, I fell into a conversation with a pleasant Viennese man. He identified me as Jewish by my name tag, and asked me if I keep kosher. As a matter of fact, yes I do, I replied. We proceeded to have a very friendly conversation, him telling me he is from Vienna and how recently there has been a renaissance of Jewish and kosher culture in Vienna.

My curiosity was peaked as he explained to me that the local “Naschmarkt” carries special kosher beef. “On Thursday a Jewish butcher comes to the market and slaughters special meat so the Jews could eat it the next day on Shabbos,” he tells me. He rhapsodizes about Jewish food, even mentioning gefilte fish. He refers to a Mr. Eisenberg as the leader of the Jewish community of Vienna.

We get into a conversation about Austro-Hungarian pastries. I tell him about my Hungarian bubbie’s Dobos torte and even reveal her “secret” to slicing through the crunchy glassine amber caramel crowning the multi-layered chocolate buttercream cake — you slice rectangles or triangles of the vanilla genoise sponge in advance, and working quickly you pour the boiling hot caramel on the strips of pastry before placing them atop the cake.

If they are cut to the shape of triangles, they are fanned out like a flower upon a round cake. For rectangular pieces of cake, you lay burnished cake strip bars in a row across the high log. The slices are not graduated in length, yet the design gives off the effect of a xylophone.

The Holocaust comes up. He mentions that on one side of his family, they lost three grandparents in the war; on the other side, one of his grandparents was a Nazi. No talks about it in his family, he says. Carrying that is a big burden.

We talk about Simon Wiesenthal, about forgiveness . . .

He says, “we must be very very careful this never happens again.” To which I convey my serious agreement.

He then follows it with a comment, “those Zionists are dangerous, though, and illegal. What’s a Zionist? What do they need Israel for? It’s not going to happen to them again.”

I am floored. Flustered. Caught off guard. First, from the shock of the statement. Second, from the stunning disconnect and dissonance of the remark in context of our conversation.

I pull myself together and begin speaking with him about Israel, her legal, UN-sanctioned birth in 1947, as well as the thousands of years of Jewish history in that land. I concluded my response by saying what do you mean by Zionist anyway. “What’s a Zionist?” you ask. “I am a Zionist.”

He quickly, distantly, terminates the conversation, turning to the next person. We haven’t even had a chance to talk about the business purpose of our chat. I ask him something related to his company, when he shoves a catalogue toward me and says, “it’s all in there,” his back already turned.


I felt the sting of anti-Israel. And the faintest whiff of what that anti-Semitism stuff can feel like.

Netanyahu is right. Israel is our home.

France’s leadership is now saying, the exodus of a French Jew is a piece of France gone. That is true. It is also a bit late in the game to be addressing that. Once waves of anti-Semitism are rolling, the tide has already begun to turn.

We Jews may be citizens of the world, living and carrying our lives in beloved birth countries that we might even die for. Certainly, Jews — and every minority — should have security wherever they may be.

But when we pray, we pray toward Jerusalem. When we think of a place we can unselfconsciously be ourselves — no questions asked — when we think of a place we can live in harmony with a Jewish calendar, living saturated Jewish lives, when we think of where our ancestors sowed the roots of our people, when we think of the future of the Jewish people as a nation, we think of Israel.

We used to think, how did Europeans not see the signs? And if they did, how did they not pick up and leave? Now we find ourselves understanding the complex reality of picking up and leaving a place you love and call home and becoming an immigrant, even if it is to your own national homeland.

I am not suggesting a Holocaust is on the rise. But these thoughts have not been limited to my own mind. It is all too real hearing these types of conversations swirling about me. Which just goes to show, as much as we all live lovely American lives, how scarred we are deep down, knowing that at the end of the day we are only guests in this or any country, not knowing when the tide will suddenly take a dark turn.

On some level, being Jewish means living with a subconscious like that.

Anti-Semitism starts rising, and suddenly that safe facade is cracked, crazy thoughts leaking out of the fissures, be they rational or not.

And so, whether you like Netanyahu or not, when we can have a democratically elected Jewish leader of a Jewish homeland reminding us about it, and welcoming us with open arms, I feel grateful.

Very grateful.

If only our grandparents and great-grandparents had had that…

If only.

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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