Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dual Loyalties?

I once met a German girl whose father had escaped from the Dachau concentration camp near the beginning of the Holocaust. Persevering against incredible odds, he worked his way south, through the warring European states, sneaking past borders, over mountains and through forests, until he finally made it to Eretz Yisrael. He survived the war here in the nascent state of Israel. Afterwards, he learned that much of his family hadn't been so lucky. Once the war was over and the dust had settled, he headed straight back to Germany, there to live the rest of his life. Why? "Well," she told me, "he just couldn't adjust to Israel."

My first time in Israel I tried to become as Israeli as I could, going to Ben Gurion University to learn in Hebrew only, find Israeli roommates, and pictured myself someday serving in the army. But after a year and a half of that, I realized that maybe that German girl's father was on to something. My own complaint wasn't the poverty of student life, the rudeness of the government clerks, the difficulty of learning a new language, the insane driving, the bizarre banking hours, or any number of other travails. I knew that it is extremely difficult to leave one's own birth land to try to meld with a new culture and expected some hardship. In preparation, I used to listen to local 60's music by the Dudaim, Parvarim, and various folk singers, songs about the land and people of Israel. It was the sound of a strong and healthy people having returned to their native land. But when I got here, all I found was Hebrew Reggae, Hebrew Punk, Hebrew Rock, with lots of pidgin English thrown in. Israel wasn't so much a Hebrew culture as a lack of culture, a sort of hollow, cheesy imitation of the culture I had just left. Instead of being told, "Way to go for coming to Israel," the locals would ask me, "How do I get a visa to get to America?" I felt as if I had been duped, like one of those American Communists who finally made it to the worker's paradise of the Soviet Union only to discover the misery of true communism.

Well, it wasn't that bad. I still held fast to the concept of ahavat yisrael, the command for every Jew to baselessly love his fellow Jew no matter the circumstances. And I think just getting to know the people of Be'er Sheva and their daily struggles led me to a greater empathy in general. Zionist dreams or not, most people's first priority is to put bread on the table.

I soon found the reservoir of spirit that seemed so lacking with the rest of Israel amongst the National Religious. I was already becoming religious when I first moved here back in 2000, and I already had strong Zionist leanings, but I soon realized that only a Zionism fueled by commitment to Torah would have the power to sustain me.

But unlike some in the National Religious, I don't see America as the enemy, as a sort of potential Nazi Germany. Certainly there is a concept that "It is a halachah that Esav hates Yaakov." I.e., anti-Semitism is an intrinsic property of human society, and America is no exception. However, America is the only country on Earth with a substantial Jewish population which has never had a pogrom. Unlike European countries, America does not place a stigma on being a Jew. The Jewish community of America is still in mortal peril, not from some axe-wielding villager fired up by the local priest to kill the Jews but from the villagers' sons and daughter who want to marry them. This largely self-inflicted wound is our responsibility to heal. Likewise, I hate many of America's policies towards Israel, like the massive aid subsidies to our hostile neighbors, and the calling for the formation of a Palestinian State, which would be a potentially lethal development. However, again, it's the Jews who lack the spirit of their own convictions. With Israel's own government calling for the creation of a Palestinian state, what else can one expect from America? You can't expect the American administration to be more Catholic than the pope, so to speak.

I now see myself as more of a Jew in Israel, rather than an Israeli, waiting and working for the day that rest of the Jewish nation will rise up to its mission. Meanwhile, culturally I'm as American as apple pie. There's no way out of that. And, since most of my taxes go to America, I figure I'm as entitled as anyone to vote.

So I did some research and figured out I can still register for the primaries. The Great State of California lets you register as a "Permanent Vote-By-Mail Voter." The deadline for registration in the February 5th primary is January 29th. I was worried about the mail, which can take a week or more to get from here to there. I would have to send in my request for vote-by-mail, then they would send me a ballot, then I would send it back. That's three trips, a minimum of three weeks, making it highly unlikely my vote would arrive in time. But this morning I called the voter registration office and found out that I can fax in my application, and my ballot, provided I mail in my registration later.

For more of the rules on absentee voting in your state, go to: Overseas Vote Foundation.

And for whom will I be voting? For that, you'll just have to stay tuned.


NormanF said...

I agree one should be a Jew first and only then an Israeli. Israel is a Jewish State - not an Israeli state. What sustains the Jewish people is faith in G-d and an allegiance to the Torah.

Absent that, there is no future to speak of. The Zionist founders helped to build the house and for that Jews are grateful. But a house isn't enough. It needs a soul and it needs to be full of joy. Israel can become all that and more - when it stops comparing itself to the nations and realizes it has a different and higher destiny to fulfill.

Aliyah is not just about ascending to the Land Of Israel. Aliyah is about ascending to G-d in the only land where the true fulfillment of his mitzvah are possible. Then and only then will the Jewish people finally feel like they are home.

Ephraim said...

I hope that some day I am no longer forced to decide between being a Jew and being an Israeli.