Monday, April 20, 2009

Yom HaShoah

Saturday night, I went with friends to see Defiance. After the movie ended, the four of us left the theater. Three of us raved both about the movie and the story behind it. How the hell did the Bielski brothers manage to pull this off? It is simply mind-boggling. The fourth member of our group was silent. Finally, she spoke. "I just found it difficult. You know, here we are, comfortable, safe…and watching a movie about the Holocaust. They really suffered…."

I know what she means. At least I think I know what she means. Oh hell, I do not know what she means. All I know is what I mean and what I feel, when I find myself wanting to say what she said. A movie about the Holocaust—the movie itself—is fiction. People do not die in the making of the movie. But the events on which the movies are based are not fiction. People suffered, horribly. People died, horribly. The world was quite simply wiped off the face of the earth. And now, some sixty-four years later, here I sit—well-fed, cosseted and protected—in my comfortable chair in my comfortable city in my comfortable life. In which, any time I want, I can choose to go to our quite elegant Cinemateque, where these events, the living, breathing hell that is the Holocaust, will graciously provide me with …entertainment?

Or is that too strong a word? The movie, after all, was not a documentary. Yes, the story instructs and yes it inspires and yes, it should be told but at the same time…they stuck Daniel Craig and his gorgeous blue eyes in there for a reason.

So I feel guilty. But it is not only that. I also feel very, very fragile.

I know a Holocaust can happen here. I know a Holocaust may happen here. I know this even without watching movies about the Holocaust. The movies just remind me. And honestly, I would rather not be reminded. I would rather not walk around for days and days with this knowledge in the front of my mind instead of at the back of my mind, where I normally try to keep it. I would rather have this be a sort of "theoretical" knowledge. As opposed to imagining my well-developed country, with its lovely buildings and smooth roads and full supermarkets, turned into a pile of rubble. As opposed to imagining myself desperately trying to hide from enemies and fighting some other starving soul for a scrap of bread. Telling myself that I would be noble and share when, in truth, I would probably just turn into an animal, like most everyone else. Do I really need that level of detail? Is it contributing anything to anything?

Is it not sufficient for me to just know, really accept, that it can happen here?

They did not accept it could happen in Europe. There is a scene in Defiance where Tuvia Bielski asks another refugee "what were you doing before the war"? "Studying" is the reply. "What were you studying?" "Music", she says, with a wry smile. They thought they were living in the type of world where studying music made sense.

We here in Israel are living in that type of world, but who knows for how long? Stability is a mirage. Safety is a mirage. It can change in an instant—the amount of time it takes for a nuclear warhead to fall. That is especially true in this part of the world, where so many of our neighbors want nothing more than to wipe us out. Can we depend on the rest of the world to defend us? The answer is to be found in actions. Sixty four years after the end of the Holocaust, davka on Israel's annual Holocaust Memorial Day, a brazen Holocaust-denier who has called for the destruction of the State of Israel was invited to give the opening address of the United Nations Anti-Racism Conference. In his speech, he once again called for our eradication.

That sounds like a resounding "you are on your own" to me.

How long can we hold the wolves off? How many close misses will there be before something hits?

I should point out that am not afraid. This is not to say that I am brave. Not at all. Apparently, surviving a bombing does not result in a better grasp of reality and/or statistics and I am just as stupid as the average Joe in my assumption that of course I would survive the deluge. I choose to allow myself this luxury of delusion. It allows me to survive the waiting—the constant gnawing knowledge that the veneer may be scraped off at any moment—without losing my mind and without living in fear. It allows me to accept reality, to the fullest extent that my mind can handle. It

And besides, I would still rather be here. I simply love living in Israel. I will enjoy living here as long as I can. I hope that this is the rest of my life. I hope my life, and Israel's life, is long. I will do what I can to try to prevent the worst from happening. But if it does come to the worst, I would rather go down fighting (even if my "fighting" is just being here) rather than sit crying, in my comfortable and safe armchair, far, far away.

If it happens again—and I know it can happen again—I will not be entertained by it.


aliyah06 said...

Thank you for saying so well exactly what I'm thinking. Sounds like "You're on your own" to me, too. Yossi tried to tell me America is our friend. Yossi has three kids, so some desperate scramble for hope is understandable. I told him no country has friends--countries only have interests, and in the last century NO country had an interest in helping Jews, and it doesn't look like that has changed. That's why we have our own country now. "We're here to stay" has a ring of defiance to it, but its also true--where else could we go? We ARE on our own and we'd better make the most of it.

I wouldn't live anywhere else, anyway.

Jack said...

You can't spend your entire life living in fear. So you might as well do your best to just live and enjoy it. Sounds like that is what you are doing.

Mo-ha-med said...

"a Holocaust may happen here", ".. for a nuclear warhead to fall"... and "how long can we hold the wolves off".You know me well enough - I hope! - to know I'm not being sarcastic but genuinely inquisitive when I ask:
Really?Are Israelis really under the impression that they're under constant threat - is it really that bad?

Sure, Israel's neighbours aren't particularly friendly. But they got used to its presence, and are unlikely to attempt to dislodge it. You disagree? Very well. Perhaps we can agree that they can't dislodge it.
By the power of law, I would like to believe; by the sheer power of deterrence might be more likely.

Either way - with Israel carrying the big guns in the region, and with the quasi-unlimited power of its allies - we're the ones who are afraid.

I personally fear the day the IDF will be, as that Israeli backpacker I met in the Sinai once prophetised - in Cairo.

Funny, heh?

I hope you're very well,

Ari said...

Mo - yes, Jews feel vulnerable. Always, everywhere. They have good reason to be, unfortunately. So we compensate by outperforming others intellectually, technologically, socially and monetarily. And, for only the second time in our history, militarily too.

It's not that the IDF is weak or has a poor track record; quite the contrary. So, here's the thing that I think Gila is alluding to:

Given the small size of its land mass and population, and given the fanaticism and size of its enemies, there is no margin of error.

Israelis only have one chance -- one! -- to defend themselves against a really well planned and executed attack. Ergo, the best defense is a good offense.

Jews would like nothing more than to lead "normal" lives while making outsized contributions to mankind (yes, really). But they are insecure, growl loudly because they have to, and would like nothing more than to forget about mundane and really annoying concerns such as the military.

Sure, they could be in Damascus, Beirut and Amman -- and yes, Cairo -- in time for dinner. And in the case of Beirut and Damscus, they have. But they really, really don't want to be. Much better to be eating schwarma and falafel in Jerusalem.

Gila said...

Mohamed- a sincere answer to a sincere question. Look at the situation from our POV.

1) We have Hezbollah to our North, supplied by Syria. They would like to wipe us off the map. Sure--their aim is crap. How long will it take for them to get the technology to make it better? You do not think that they are trying?

2) We have Hamas in Aza--doing their damndest to get the big weapons in. They would like to wipe us off the map. Regarding their weapons and aim--see number one. We are doing our best to prevent this, but who knows if we have?

3) We have Iran, headed up by a rabid anti-Semite, busily working on a nuclear program. And (oh yes) looking to wipe us off the map. And providing Hamas and Hezbollah support.

4) We have various extremist groups in other Arab countries, all looking to wipe us off the map. Somehow, I do not think the Muslim Brotherhood is a big fan.

5) We have the rest of the world which does not appear to be all that concerned when missiles rain down on our cities. (Just a bunch of Jews). And which invited Ahmenijad to open up the UN conference.

6) We have past experience. Sit down and think about it, if you never have. Six million people. Two thirds of European Jewry wiped out. Not "just" evicted from their homes and their countries, which is what happened to the Palestinians and the Jews from Arab countries. Hunted and slaughtered. And even though the powers that were knew that there was a crisis, and knew Jews were being one gave a damn.

Does every Israeli feel the way I do? I do not know. Do many of us? Yes.

e.e. said...

Gila, what a thoughtful and articulate post.

aliyah06 said...

Mohammed, my friend--what Gila said.

You asked, "Are Israelis really under the impression that they're under constant threat - is it really that bad?"

In a word, YES. The ARAB world is afraid!? WHY? There are 22 Arab nation states with millions of people and which span the Atlantic to Iran. And most proclaim their hatred of Israel quite openly.

We see ourselves as under constant seige from surrounding forces whose stated goal is Jewish genocide. We also see the indifference of the larger world to our danger, and know from experience that no country will help us.

Mo-ha-med said...

Gila, thank you for allowing this discussion; Ari and Sarah, thank you for the replies.

G, I see your point. I've tried for a while now, even before I went to Israel.

Allow me to disagree on a number of things - and I'm not trying to convince you, just to show you things from 'our' POV...
Your enemies are overall insignificant (harmful, yes; but with Hamas cooking up their bombs in the kitchen..)

And I can't think of a country that is as 'cared for' as Israel. The RoW is so concerned that there has been no real international effort to impose a peace settlement - and an automatic enmity to your enemies.

Aliyah06 - 22? So you recognise Palestine as a nation state? Awesome!! :)) just to put things in perspective, those 22 countries include Mauritania, Djibouti, the Comoros and Somalia, 10 countries of so that have resident US forces, a few more that are large recipients of US aid, and the rest have the GDP of Holon or something. With the Israeli conventional and nuclear arsenal, its citizenry-wide army, and multiple precedents of Israeli offensives on its neighbouring countries -- and news like this -- we have plenty to be afraid of! A question of perspective I guess...

Ari - fyi, you guys are no good at falafel. Cairo is the place. and no, this is not an invitation for invasion!

Baila said...

Gila, an excellent post, and excellent comments. Mo, I don't know about Cairo, but I've gained at least 10 lbs. since I've arrived on the falafel in Jerusalem...and in Tel-Aviv....and in Modi'in....etc.

e.e. said...

Oh, and another point:
In a conversation with another Mohammed (Yoram Yoval interviews Mohammed Bakri on HOT),
Prof. Yoval utters a profound line: "When I hear people saying 'It didn't happen', what I hear is 'It's going to happen'.

e.e. said...

Sorry, should be Yovel.

Asher said...

I sometimes wonder if bringing the world's Jews into one spot is such a bright idea, one bang and we're all gone. Diaspora is survival.

As for holocaust films (Schindler's List, The Pianist, Life is Beautiful etc etc) (when are we going to see Jerry Lewis' film????) it's a question of with or without the popcorn...(trite statement but deep)

christopher j said...

it's funny, being in israel (i was there for a few months), you never notice these things. people seem cheerful, carefree, "yiyeh bseder."

but i talked to some people, and they basically had the same feelings that you profess.
what i liked about israelis while i was there is that they seem to live their lives to the fullest.

Anonymous said...

I wonder... what is going on right now? Our synagogue had a visit from our movement's shliach on Saturday, and once more she awakened my thoughts of one day, making aliyah. She made some interesting points - how the government (and she didn't mean just this one, but all governments in Israel) tend to focus on the security issue, because it's easier to deal with than all the other issues - ie, 2 state solution, water, the Orthodox hold on what happens in the country etc etc (and goodness, if the security issue is easier, then how difficult must all the rest of that be to talk about and deal with!).

Anyway, so my brain has been full over the weekend of this kind of thing. It dies down a little as I trudge to work this morning, but here I am, reading something else that awakens those aliyah thoughts once more. The sheer complexity of it all, the challenge, the potential - it awakens my soul.

And to add my thoughts, from what I hear from a real live Israeli - yes, people do focus on the security and safety issue. But there's so much more that Israel is about - it isn't all 'just that'. (And I don't write just to belittle the issue - only to make the point...).


Jerusalem Artichoke said...

Thanks, all, for the excellent tone of this debate.

aitch said...

Gila, I only saw your blog for the first time today, so I have no idea whether you are religious or not but you don't need to be religious to take comfort from the "Commando Rabbi" as he is called, check out Rabbi Lazer Brodys site at
DON'T BE PUT OFF THAT HE IS A RABBI, start reading with an open mind and get the book Garden of Emuna by Rabbi Arush that Rabbi Brody translated into English if you prefer - details on the website. Happy reading.

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

Just wanted you to know that I am listening and learning. (I know that is not worth very much but thank you anyway).