Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Israel: Land of the post-apocalypse

I recently discovered that a work colleague's daughter has four passports. "Four?"  I said, "Isn't that overdoing it a bit?". Truth be told my son has three, so I can hardly talk.
He explained that her grand-parents came from central Europe and had insisted that the child obtain every possible passport for which she was eligible. Her parent were Israelis who were in the USA when she was born, that accounted for two, the others were from a couple of central European countries.
"They live with an ever present sense of impending apocalypse" he said.
Truth is, many Israelis do, especially those whose family lived through the Holocaust.  My father escaped Germany because his mother got him a forged Polish passport - he wasn't entitled to a passport from any country.  Like Japanese coastal residents, there is a permanent sense that our safety could be transient, that the next tsunami is just a matter of time.
There are, I think, two versions of the impending apocalypse: The right-wing version says that the Iranians could use nuclear weapons against us and that Islamic fundamentalist regimes will surround and attack us.  The left wing version says that the world will boycott us because we persecute and discriminate against the Palestinians. Both threats are real: We are healthy paranoiacs because people really are out to get us, however the reality is that the likelihood of either option is very small.  Small, but not impossible, is a reality we have to live with.
Years ago at a dinner party in London, a friend asked me: "What does the Holocaust mean to you personally".  We were  drunk and young. Now, many years later, armed with an MA in History specializing in the Holocaust's aftermath, I realize how difficult and inappropriate that question was.  I told him that my world was a post-apocalyptic world. In my world nuclear weapons had already been used and entire cities and towns had been wiped out. For years I pondered the inadequacy of my reply and wondered why I didn't just tell him about my father, which, I suppose, is what he wanted to hear.
And yet, now that I look back, I think it was a good answer. Many Jews, especially in Israel, live in a world in which there has already been an apocalypse and fear the next.

You might think that leaving Israel would solve the problem, but it doesn't, at best it gives you a respite. Instead of worrying about yourself you worry about your fellow Jews, and in the end a problem shared is a problem halved or 1 in 6 millionthed in this case (there are six million Jewish Israelis).

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