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Sinistral - February 20th, 2004 [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Josh Fredman

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February 20th, 2004

The Power to Destroy All Power... [Feb. 20th, 2004|07:46 pm]
Josh Fredman
I begin this post with a disclaimer, one which I have given before: I am not Jewish. I was raised in a reform Jewish house, I know a great many of the traditions, and I can read, write, and speak the Hebrew language—although I don’t understand most of it—and I am even amenable to the wisdom passed down by the great figures in Jewish history…but I am not Jewish. There is no Jewish wisdom that cannot function secularly. There is no reason to be Jewish rather than being nonreligious. I hope you keep that in mind tonight, specifically that my point of view on all of this is not from the Jewish perspective but from the secular. Mine are the worldly ways.

Every now and then, Dad sends me e-mail essays and articles from a Jewish group. Most of these are intelligently-written and make excellent points, but only on their own behalf, for they are uncomfortably partisan and tragically closed-minded. But this one, presented below, isn’t so bad. Despite the title, what I took from this article is that the secular world is in more peril than I realized.

I have said many times that the secular world will prevail, that these terrible evangelical religions will ultimately give way to the forces of industry and development. I still believe that of course, but because of this essay…I suppose I am a bit less certain of it. True secularism has no god. There is no one with the power to guarantee a happy future. Everything may well blow up.

You cannot fool the hindsight of the future. If you really want to live forever, you have to be honest today. Dubya’s “love the people but hate who they are” will be exposed for the fraud that it is, someday. So too will any attempt I make to follow that wretched path by trying to dissociate religious extremism from the people who practice it. So I’ll be candid.

To me Islam is like the Black Land of Mordor. It represents an almost faceless evil, even though its practitioners all have faces. This hateful religion opposes technology and worldly enterprise. Worse than the suffering it causes all over the world, is the potential wasted by its followers, who, as human beings, could have led wonderful lives. I don’t care if being a Muslim brings you all the contentment and self-gratification you can imagine; those who practice it are wrong to do so. They are wrong by virtue of the material quality of life established in the West. But we must not give in to the temptation to simply destroy the people who practice Islam, and meanwhile Islam itself has no center, no evil king to depose; at the core of it all is simply an idea, and a bit of scripture. Such things cannot easily be destroyed, nor ought they to be. No…we can destroy neither the people nor the religion itself. What we must destroy is the decisions that parents make to raise Muslim children, and the decisions that mature individuals make to convert into a religion that wants to see the physical world conquered so completely that we shall not recognize it anymore.

To me Christianity is an even more perfidious foe, albeit a less dangerous one. Christianity exists fully within the secular world, now. Most of its teeth have rotted away on the sweet ambrosia of free enterprise, and so the Christian nations are at peace with one another. Christians today enjoy the material comforts of the West and, not surprisingly, will even contribute to the well-being of their own comfort. But they are torn…torn between so many different forces I won’t even bother making a list. Individual readers may fill in the blanks as they like. But at the center of all of that is the simple question: This material world we have built, is it a good thing, or a bad? Westerners seem compelled to inflict upon themselves endless guilt, as if their very way of life is evil and they are ashamed to have given in to it. This is not just a Christian problem, although of course Christianity exploits that shame very well. But no, in addition to the evangelical religions are the evangelical political movements…which are themselves religions, too, really. The radicals on both the left and the right…the anarchists, the socialists, the fascists, everyone who wants to dehumanize their ideological opponents…they are all religions. They are all blindness and madness and fury. What I take from all of this is that the followers of these poisonous religions are ashamed not just of the world they built but of their very own identities. Because of that shame and self-hatred, much like the treason of Isengard, we Westerners want to betray our own future to the dark forces of primal religious savagery.

You might be thinking, “Josh, you just passed blanket condemnations of the deepest beliefs of most of the people on Earth, and you accuse them of dehumanizing their opponents?” Yes, I do. That is precisely right. Look, I know that it is hard to envision an old Muslim grandmother making pita bread for her hungry family in the tiny kitchen of her son-in-law’s mud brick home and not say “This is the war? Josh, you idiot!” And maybe Dubya and his ilk are not completely wrong…maybe it is possible to drive a small wedge between people and the choices they make, not because of political correctness (which motivates Dubya), but because it is a sensible wedge to drive. But if you imagine that harmless woman baking her pita bread in a tiny kitchen across the world in some desert whose name you do not know, then you have failed to appreciate my point.

My point.

The point of the entire secular world.

The point is that you too might end up like that, not because you choose to but because it is the only way of life left to you.

When I read the interview that follows, that is what I took. It will be the faceless orcs of Islam who destroy Israel, if she is destroyed, and it will be the despicable traitors of the West who condone that destruction and say, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” But Israel is not just Israel. Israel is a gateway on the edge of the future. If Israel is attacked in our time, and loses, will the West step in to protect it? Or will the West hold back? Because the answer to that hypothetical question is so terribly decisive, I should hope, simply, that Israel never faces an invasion that it cannot repel. But hoping in the strength of others is neither a safe nor a sensible practice…nor shall it be for a long time to come. If ever.

If you like, you may take this article simply at its face value, as a look at “a Jewish soul.” But I counsel against that; this interview is not worth your time because of any particular excellence but because it is so thought-provoking. Rather than having took it at face value, what I saw was a glimpse into our world’s cultural evolution. Israel defends itself today just as ancient nations of times past once did…because everyone else in the world wants Israel destroyed. I feel like Islam is kicking Israel in the gut, and the West is holding Israel’s hands behind her back. What sort of disease is this? Why fight? Why keep others from fighting back? Why must it always come to blows, when the hard-earned answers are already written in the pages of Sagan, Roddenberry, and the New England Journal of Medicine? I would not have thought that I could so easily describe “cultural evolution” with another, simpler term, but here you go: Cultural evolution is war. And whether fought with cannons or with prayer books, someone has to lose.

Dreams do not fulfill themselves. They must be built with steel and wire. The material world is a vessel for the fulfillment of our desires, and the arena for their transpiration. Do you want humility, or do you want glory? Do you want to suffer, or do you want to live? Do you want to build a better future by atoning for iniquities both past and present, or by seizing the world in your own hands and bending it to your will…or have you given up altogether on the hope in a better future? Or perhaps you just want to leave it to fate? The same fate that strikes people down with cancer, and rogue lightning bolts, and cancer-causing lightning bolts? Are you mad? Indeed, if we should decide that our desire is to unmake that world into something more primitive, less technological…I think you can imagine what our nightmares would say to us, as we flee in our sleep from the ruins of world we destroyed:

“As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

A Jewish soul - an interview with Aharon Appelfeld
By, Ari Shavit

His voice is rarely heard. In the basement den of his home, Aharon Appelfeld doesn’t so much talk as whisper. And when he approaches the painful points of his life, his words are literally swallowed up within him. Such as when he describes the pastoral life of Czernowitz (Bukovina) before the war, or when he tells about his mother’s loving beauty. And again when he tries to evoke the lost tranquility of Central Europe in the Hapsburg era - the educated public, the opera, the coffee houses; the aesthetics, the moderation, the breadth of knowledge - and how it all vanished in an instant. How all that was transformed within hours into a near loss of humanity, into a furtive, animal-like existence.

It’s dim in the basement. The winter light doesn’t penetrate, the electric light isn’t on. Appelfeld seems to be wary of troubling his ghosts. No, he doesn’t use a computer to write his novels. He doesn’t believe in computers, doesn’t like their alienation. He prefers to write the first draft by hand in his favorite Jerusalem cafe. And then, only toward the end, when the text is at a developed stage, he types a clean copy on his small typewriter. There’s something mystical about the typewriter, Appelfeld says. It’s been with him for 50 years. It preserves the sensual contact with the words for him. That primal contact with words. What is literature without that primal contact, he asks. What is literature without a return to first things?

He will not admit it in so many words, but in his own eyes, Appelfeld is a literary relative of Marcel Proust. In the 30 books he has written since the late 1950s, he, too, is trying, in his way, to trace times past. To restore the lost world of yesterday. To take the hard Hebrew of Mevasseret Tzion and moderate it and soften it and lead it back to the Carpathians. To those Jewish riches, that Jewish pain, that Jewish totality. And grandmother-grandfather, of course. Father, mother. All that was erased.

He is short, round-faced, with thinning hair, and a sly flash that occasionally darts across his eyes. When he visits the world outside he always wears a cap, which gives him the look of a Bundist. But in the room, the 71-year-old writer (father of three) looks for moments like 8-year-old Irwin, who survived that hell alone. Who made the great journey of the Jews of the 20th century alone.

The book he is publishing this month, "Wild Blossoming," is not a story of the Holocaust. It is an almost mythological tale, set in the early 19th century, about the forbidden love of a Jewish brother and sister in the Carpathian mountains. However, it’s unlikely that the new novel will change anything in the ambivalent attitude Israel has shown Appelfeld for years. The fact is that even after gaining broad international recognition, Appelfeld is still perceived here as being different. Not subversive, but not actually a Zionist, either. Not belonging, but not someone who doesn’t belong, either. A Jew.

Q: Aharon Appelfeld, you do your writing in cafes, not in this basement den. Why?

"I need to be surrounded by people. Maybe that’s a reaction to the period when I was alone. If I sit alone at home, I find myself returning to my ghosts and demons. Among people I feel safer. Better. Less pessimistic."

Q: May one ask about your ghosts and demons?

"What I went through there. I was eight when the Germans and the Romanians showed up in the village of my grandfather and grandmother. The killing wasn’t industrial then. They simply went from one house to the next and killed. I was in my bed and father was in the garden in the front. I heard the shouting. The shots and the shouts. What exactly happened there I don’t know to this day. I could have known, but chose not to. My mother was a very beautiful woman."

Q: You went through the rest of the war alone?

"Yes. I fled into the cornfield in the back, and at night, father collected me. We were in the ghetto together. We were in a march together. He saved me a number of times. Then we were separated and for four years, from the age of eight until 12, I was completely alone. I survived. Like an animal, I survived."

Q: And it’s all still with you? Day in and day out?

"I am careful not to get addicted to it. Not to let those voices seize control of me. I think that’s dangerous. But I don’t think it’s right to lock everything in the basement, either. Most survivors of my generation locked their memories in the basement. And when a person is completely cut off from his past, erases his past, the result is mental incapacity, and cultural incapacity, too. In my view, the major sickness of Israeli society is related to the fact that so many have cut themselves off completely from their past. They have amputated their past. I chose not to do that."

‘No continuity’
Q: It’s said that you deal too much with the Holocaust in your writing, that you constantly cling to the Jewish world of Central Europe that was destroyed in the Holocaust. You write very little about present-day Israel, which is so vibrant and lively.

"I think that the great difficulty in Israeli culture and in the Israeli soul is that there is no continuity here. There is no organic, evolutionary development from the Jewish past to the Israeli present. There is no understanding of the Israeli story and the Zionist story within the larger context of the Jewish story. There is too much localism here. Too much here-and-now. Do you know what saved me in the war? What saved me was the warmth and the love I received from my parents before the war. What saved me was the feeling I had during the war that any moment, mother would come to get me. It was out of the question that she wouldn’t come to get me.

"And after the war, in the 1950s, when I was already able to write Hebrew, I chose to write about the worlds that were destroyed in the war. I chose to keep mother and father and my uncles and aunts and grandmothers alive through my writing. So, when I write about them, they are not entirely dead. In this way, death is not final. It does not have the last word."

Q: Do you see any general rule in this, any cultural proposal?

"Look, there was an aggressive element in Zionism. It fought against Yiddish and it fought against the Diaspora and it fought against Jewish riches. I understand that this was necessary. For a time, it was necessary. But in the final analysis, we are paying a terrible price for it. We are paying for it in the form of the diminishment of the Jewish soul. I am not an ideologue. I am not a polemicist. I am trying to apprehend the full complexity of the Jewish story. I am trying to understand the modern Jewish soul in all its transformations. I feel close to Yiddishkeit and to Zionism as well; to the communists and to the assimilators, too. Because I saw them there. I saw them all being killed in the same pit. Therefore I feel sympathy for them. And I have this basic understanding that both Agudat Israel and Hashomer Hatza’ir are part of the Jewish fate. Both Kafka and Rosa Luxemburg and Ariel Sharon, too, are different modern responses to the Jewish fate. All are part of the same Jewish story."

Q: What you are actually saying against Israeliness is that it cut itself off from Jewish history, and from the irony and the compassion and the aesthetics and the broad knowledge of modern European Judaism.

"That is correct. There was some sort of thrust here toward a kind of primitivism. There was an attempt here to amputate internal organs of the soul. That caused incapacity, a serious cultural incapacity. Therefore I think that today the Jewish people is waging two existential wars simultaneously. One for the body, against the Arabs, and a second war for the soul, against itself. The identification of Judaism with a religion from which people are trying to dissociate themselves is creating a very serious vacuum here. The result is a black hole of identity. That is why there is a deep recoil from everything Jewish. But without some sort of Jewish identity, we will not be able to exist. There will be nothing by which to exist in Israel. A society without true roots is a society without a future."

Q: Let’s move for a moment to the first war, the war of the body. What are your feelings about the conflict? What is your take on the story of the Jewish-Arab struggle?

"I am not familiar with the Arabs. For me they are an abstraction. But I met an Arab intelligentsia at Oxford and Harvard and other universities. And I heard strong statements from that intelligentsia. Why aren’t you in Europe, they asked me. You belong to a different world, they told me. You don’t belong here. Some of them phrased it more humanely: Do you really want your fate to be the same as that of the Crusaders? In other words, their image is, after all, that of the Crusaders; the image of Salah al-Din expelling the Crusaders. That is a very powerful image. And from my life experience I know the power of instinct. That instinct says, ‘Get out of here.’"

Q: Is that really your picture of the conflict? You believe that the Arabs as a whole want to remove us from here?

"I am certain that in the Arab world there is a great deal of humanity that I am not familiar with. If I found humanity among the Ukrainian criminals whom I lived among in the Second World War, I will certainly find more humanity among the Arabs. There are people here who are suffering. There are human beings here like any other human beings. But I think that there is such an instinctual yearning. It is strong. Therefore I don’t accept the salon-like, fashionable image that our press gives me in relation to the conflict."

Q: What does that image say?

"It says that the Palestinians have it bad and the Jews have it good. Things are bad for them and wonderful for us. I don’t accept that. As for there, I don’t know, I imagine things are bad there. But it’s certainly not true that things are good here. And not only because people are blown up every day. It’s because this is a nation that feels bad. A nation that is not at ease with itself. And everyone wants to get out of this circle of badness. There are signs of disintegration."

Q: Do you really see this place disintegrating?

"When I came here, in 1946, there was a feeling of tribal unity. Even when all the Arab states attacked, there was some feeling of hope, of a future. There was a strong feeling that we were in the right. Since then we have lost our sense of justice. We lost the feeling that we are on the side of justice. We are living with some sort of perpetual sense of guilt. We did this, we didn’t do that.

"Abroad we are described as a militaristic society, lusting for land, bloodthirsty. A kind of Sparta where everyone is a soldier, everyone is a mad patriot, going down to the tank next to his house and rushing off to Nablus. But that’s not what I see around me. I don’t see Sparta. I see a refugee camp. I see immigrants. And I see that there is no caring about the collectivity, no caring about the land. Zionism’s attempt to plant roots in the ground has disappeared. True, there is fanaticism, but it’s marginal. And things are not good. Things are not good. We are not a crystallized nation in terms of our identity. We are a nation that is looking for its way, a nation that doesn’t know how to cope with its fate."

Q: When you look around, do you sometimes see a ghetto?

"There are some Americans who say that Israel is an armed ghetto. And they are right. They mean it negatively, but it’s not completely negative. Armed, nonetheless; a ghetto, true, but an armed ghetto. Yet when I look closely at this armed ghetto I see how weak it is, how flimsy all this is. Because morning, noon and evening the world shouts at us that we are some sort of defective entity. Some sort of twisted, bad, pathological entity. And if everyone tells you every day that you are that bad, you have to be made of iron not to feel that you are bad. And we are not made of iron. So people here ask what’s inside us. What’s bad in us."

Q: Is that your also your personal feeling?

"When I look at my life story, when I see a boy who came from an assimilated European home and went through the war alone and lived in forests and was a kind of small animal, a kind of field mouse, you know, then I say thank you to God for not leading me into self-loathing. Thanks to God that I accepted myself for what I am. Because there was a great danger of self-loathing. Loathing of the experience one went through. Who wants to be a thing like that? Who wants to be a small animal? It wouldn’t have taken much after the war to create loathing for oneself and for one’s parents and for one’s whole accursed tribe. But I decided not to yield to that temptation. I decided to accept with love what I underwent and to accept with love the people who survived with me. Not to flee to the ends of the earth from being a Jew. Not to flee to New Zealand, not to flee to the kibbutz. But to love these refugees and these immigrants, despite everything; this tribe that is persecuted from outside and persecuted from inside; hated by others and hated by itself."

Bearing the guilt
Q: Are you saying that we are really afflicted with self-hatred? That it’s real, a fact of life?

"Certainly. I remember myself going home in Czernowitz in first grade and all the children shouting God-killer at me. You dog and son of a dog, you killed God. That was the convention. It was in the blood. It was the heart of the Jewish-European story. From the day we first set foot in Europe, that was the story. Because someone who killed God can’t be good. What was worse was that we internalized it, that persecution - because it lasted so many years, the victim internalized it. And we started to believe that there really was something wrong with us, that something within us was distorted. We became a nation that was persecuted from the outside but persecuted also by itself. We became a tribe that flees from being itself. Hence this deep need to find an inner Jew who bears the guilt."

Q: What do you mean?

"Take the Ostjuden, for example. When the Jews in Germany already felt that they were standing with almost two feet in the German culture, these Jews from the east suddenly appeared, one with a beard, another with sidelocks. They walked on the streets with a lot of children and they spoke loudly. A great panic ensued: the ones with the bad smell have returned. There was a kind of shudder: we don’t want the Ostjuden. We don’t want to see you. You are endangering us. It went on like that. The same thing exists today, too. In Israel as well. It explains the terrible fear of Mea She’arim [a large ultra-Orthodox area of Jerusalem]. Because the modern Jews don’t want to be Jews. They flee from being Jews. Everything that obliges them to remember that they are Jews makes them flinch, arouses disgust in them, is unaesthetic to them."

Q: If so, the modern Jewish story is actually the story of the escape from being Jewish?

"Certainly. All the modern Jewish movements actually internalized anti-Semitism. The Haskalah [enlightenment movement] reduced your being Jewish. It’s alright inside your home or among your kind, but when you are in public, be like others. Communism? Eliminate this whole tribal, national thing. Zionism? Become normal, liberate yourself from the Jewish complex and from Jewish riches. Become shoemakers, carpenters, tillers of the soil. Become normal. But in the end, these were all failed attempts to escape the Jewish fate. They did not succeed and they could not have succeeded.

"I remember that in the refugee camp at Zagreb, after the war, when a group of people wanted to pray and looked for a 10th person to make a minyan [prayer quorum], and took me, I felt an uplifting of the spirit. Even though I was very remote from all that. Even though I came from an assimilated home. A home that was on the way out, on the way to becoming completely European. But at the age of 13, I suddenly felt that I was going back to that, that it had a certain meaning. That I was not `human dust.’ That these people, the Jews, were not human dust. The very opposite: people who had gone through a great experiment, perhaps an experiment larger than them. And therefore they couldn’t cope with it. That was why they looked weak, in some cases wretched, downtrodden.

"And in Israel, too, when people told me to keep my distance from all that, to forget it, I couldn’t accept that. I understood that this was the great story: that experiment performed on the Jews is the great story. And I chose to be a part of it. I chose to try to tell it. And in all my writing since then, and in the whole course of my life I have tried to love that unfortunate, that persecuted pariah."

Q: But today, when we are occupiers, when we are a strong-arm power, do you still feel, even today, that our story is one of victims?

"We are not saints and not angels. But nevertheless, there are not yet trains from Jenin to concentration camps in the Negev. There are no smokestacks. Yet, the Guardian and Le Monde feel the need to draw that comparison every day. To say of the Jews that they are a little like the Nazis. Not exactly Nazis, just a bit. When I see that, I say that there is something very deep in European civilization: the need to demonize us runs very deep. Because to this day, Europe has not given itself a full reckoning of what happened between 1939 and 1945. Because it is not only the Nazis, you know, it’s not only Germany. Women and children were taken from France openly. There was collaboration all across the continent. And it didn’t happen in Zimbabwe or in Nicaragua; it happened in the very heart of Europe. Therefore, because to this day they haven’t made a confession, the Europeans feel the need to say of the Jews that they are no better than them. On the contrary - they are worse."

Q: When you see this process, does it frighten you? Does it evoke associations?

"We fled from them. We fled for our lives from them. So that we are the refugees of Europe. You would expect Europe to say to itself that it bears some responsibility for its refugees. You would expect Europe to think that it has a moral duty to protect its survivors. To ensure that no harm befalls them. But instead, Europe says that you are actually Nazis. That time, you didn’t have the chance, but this time you have the chance, and you are Nazis. And when I see this process, I understand that an alibi is already being prepared. They are already preparing the argument that if something happens to the Jews again, it will be the Jews’ fault, not theirs. Don’t say we didn’t tell you, the Europeans are saying, we warned you. We pointed it out beforehand. And if another catastrophe befalls you, don’t come to us with complaints."

Q: Do you envisage a catastrophe of that kind occurring? Do you see the possibility of an Israeli holocaust?

"I am careful not to mix the Holocaust with reality. People do it in a facile way, but I try to avoid it. But when I see that Egyptian television is showing a film on the `Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ I say to myself, here it is again. Again the Jew is the money. Again the Jew conquers the world. The Jew has the key to all the sources of international power. I have already heard those things. I heard them more than 60 years ago."

Q: Do you see the process unfolding to the same ending?

"Fears exist. There is no one here who doesn’t have fear. Even those who behave confidently have fear. I will try to articulate it quietly: there are approximately 200 million Arabs who don’t like you. Don’t like you very much. And about a billion Muslims who also don’t like you very much. And Europe doesn’t actually like you. You are a small minority. Five or six million is a very small minority. I will say no more."

Jewish fate
Q: Did anything in these years of terrorism bring back something of the old Jewish fear?

"I am careful to keep things in proportion. Precisely because I went through terrible things. But in the past two years I have stopped using the bus and I am ashamed of it. I am afraid that the bus will blow up and I am ashamed that I am afraid the bus will blow up. And when I sit in a cafe in Jerusalem, I am not relaxed. The cafe could blow up, too. And when my granddaughter goes to school, we ask whether she came back or not. Maybe something happened. Now the emotional side is something interesting. Because in the Holocaust I was a boy who lost his parents and lived the life of an animal, I should have been taken to a madhouse immediately afterward. Or to a hospice. Yet it is just the life I experienced that taught me to see things in a longer range, in a broader perspective. To understand that we had to do what we have done until now - to live in the short term. Peace with Egypt, even if it’s not peace. Another peace even if it’s not really peace. Living in the short term, for 10 years, 20.

"But when I look at the whole picture, I see the Jewish fate here. The issue of deicide pursued us for a thousand years in Europe, maybe longer. So we thought, fine, we’ll start again, we’ll start somewhere else. Maybe here all that will calm down. So we came here and we started again. But it’s starting here, too. In other words, we tried to escape from the fate of a persecuted minority, but the fate of a persecuted minority pursued us here, too. Despite all our efforts, we didn’t succeed in escaping it."

Q: Doesn’t that make you despair? Doesn’t it arouse deep fear for the future of the Jewish people?

"I am concerned only about one thing: suffering. Life comes first. Pikuah nefesh [the notion in Judaism that saving life overrides all else]. Therefore I have no complaints about those who are trying to extricate themselves from this terrible fate. It’s so difficult, all this, so hard to cope with. Sometimes I think about the idea Herzl had before he thought of a Jewish state. His idea was to convert to Christianity. That we should all go to the Vatican and convert. Let’s get rid of this Jewish thing. Once and for all we will free ourselves from it. Well, I am not recommending that. I don’t think we should all now go and convert to Islam. But I don’t go preaching to anyone who moves to Los Angeles, where in two generations his children will be exclusively American. Nothing but Coca-Cola and baseball. Because this phenomenon is great suffering. Very great suffering. Maybe a believing Jew can withstand it. Maybe. But a Jew who no longer has the armor of faith - how long can he hold out?"

Memory of the people
Q: So this is what you write about, Aharon Appelfeld - about the Jews and their fate?

"I write about the modern Jewish soul, in all its shades and forms. T.S. Eliot said that literature is the common memory of the people. In our literature, something went wrong. Our literature didn’t want to see the collective Jewish soul. In the generation of 1948, it saw only the soul that grew up between Merhavia and Nahalal. Between Yizhar [Smilansky] and [Moshe] Shamir. But even afterward, in its next incarnation, it saw only the soul of Sheinkin [trendy Tel Aviv street and area]. The soul of the universities. Which is a sympathetic soul, an interesting one. But is it a great soul? Is it Jewish? Is it the modern soul? So I tried to expand it a bit. I was always in the opposition here, because I tried to see it differently. I see Zionism and Jewish communism and Jewish assimilation, too, as different manifestations of the experiment the Jews are undergoing. With this desire to reform oneself, the desire to reform the world. And all the disappointments. All this frustration. Time after time, failure."

Q: So, actually, what bothers you in Israeli literature and in the Israeli spirit is that there is not enough empathy for the Jews and their story.

"It’s not only the literature. It’s the Israeli intelligentsia. The poet Schiller distinguished between the naive artist who accepts reality and human nature as they are, and the sentimental artist who constantly thinks that reality is awry. What characterizes the Israeli intelligentsia is precisely that trait. It is highly critical. It is filled with great judgmental ardor. Abstraction overrides concretization. Wish overrides reality. And there is a highly opinionated posture. There is no desire to see complexities, all you get is criticism. Judgmentalism. I am not a polemicist. I am not an ideologue. I don’t like ideologies. And when I look at the complexity of the life of the Jews and at the totality of the life of the Jews, I think it’s time we showed ourselves a little compassion, too. A little self-loving. To have mercy for the Arabs, yes; but to have a little mercy for the Jews, too. They too deserve a kind word. We’re allowed to love them, too."

Q: But isn’t it the task of intellectuals to be critical, to stand apart, to set a high bar?

"Week after week the newspapers write about some Palestinian disaster. Very faithfully. Week after week, some Palestinian disaster is described. And I ask myself why isn’t some Jewish disaster written up once in a while? Is there a shortage of Jewish disasters here? Isn’t there Jewish pain here? On every street, there is pain like that. In every house, there is a disaster like that. Wouldn’t it be good to write about a Jewish disaster one week and a Palestinian disaster the next week? Wouldn’t that put things in a more correct perspective?

Ari Shavit is a writer and columnist of the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. He lives in Jerusalem.
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I say Tomato [Feb. 20th, 2004|10:25 pm]
Josh Fredman
I realized something very important in the shower this morning…or maybe it was yesterday morning. But in either case, here is what I realized:

I was practicing my British accent when I suddenly realized that babies will only develop British accents if that is how they are taught to speak. By itself, that isn’t such an important fact, but in the more general case, it means that to get a feel for just how vastly the human mind is shaped not by genetics but by environment, one need only look at the variety and subtlety of our world’s languages.

And if you don’t believe that language is fundamental in human identity, you’re a sap.
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