"Only a true peace with neighboring peoples can
render possible a common development of this portion of the earth as a vanguard of the awakening of the Near East."

Martin Buber, Speech 1945




Losing our innocence
February 13, 2001

Today, Ariel Sharon will be elected prime minister of the State of Israel. And with that, it is reasonable to say, Israel has finally grown up. This is her Bat Mitzvah. Mazel tov! Now it is time for the serious chores of adulthood. As a nation state, she has ventured beyond the threshold of infancy. Fled are the days when it was beautiful to think of Israel as a Jewish country. Gone are the times when we could do nothing wrong. Vanished are the days when the Jews were toothless and threatened and the world's sympathy was strewn our way like cheap confetti. Gone - in the ineluctable smoke of army barrels.

Finally, we have become normalised. No more need for Keren Kayemet Le-Israel donations or naïve spells in a kibbutz to show everyone and ourselves our love of the land. You cannot love a tank. Enough of Jaffa oranges and their sweet saccharine taste. The Jaffa orange have become like any other orange, kibbutz work has become nothing more than a labour vacation and Keren Kayemet has become superfluous. Violently, we have all of a sudden grown up.

The illusions of youth! The hubris of youth! How delightful it was at the time and how far-fetched our thoughts seem in retrospect! Today, Israel joins the ranks of the myriads of nations as a regular conscript, demoted from the post of company mascot. The wheels of history have forced us to become ordinary. We have become so normal, in our policies, our precautions, the patterns of our reservations and our fears, that we have become boring. An audience never forgives a boring character.

Theodor Herzl should be pleased today. Finally, his aspiration to create a new type of Jew has succeeded. Indeed, we are a new breed: over-fortified, trigger-happy, uncaring. We have now severed the last connection to our holy East European and Oriental ancestors. David Ben-Gurion too should rejoice today. At last, we have become a country like any other country. After all, that was his vision. By Ben-Gurion's standards, we have exceeded even the most madcap expectations.

The gods of our childhood are dead; we are now zwischen den Zeiten, between the times, like the aftermath of modernity's advance on Christianity in the twilight of the 19th century. A time of vertiginous trepidation. We have not yet had the time and the peace of mind to invent new gods. What might they be? Israeliness? Bi-nationality? Secularism? Breslaver chassidut? From whence will we acquire the strength to reinvent ourselves?

Imperceptibly, we have lost the grasp of our own master narrative. Slowly and before our denying eyes, our place in the imagination of the world has dissolved as it has in our own head. For over half a century, we have occupied a central position on the world stage. We have been hated, admired, envied, even loved. We have gained this prominence because we believed ourselves that we were special. Perhaps we were. We believed that our history had conditioned us to think and feel in certain ineffable ways. But not so anymore. Because today it is clear that although we are not worse than the other countries, we are not better either.

So, today we mourn. We tear ballots like pious Jews rip their garments to symbolically inflict the pain on themselves. We don sackcloth because we have today deprived ourselves of the right to speak about Israel in unique, favourable terms; to treat it as if it was a singular case in the assembly of nations. Perhaps, it is for the better. We all have to grow up sometime. In the effervescent glow of nostalgia, the ideology of faultless Zionism that we have lost today (sacrificed consciously! - - like the Abraham of old when he lifted his hand upon his son, his only one) will appear untainted and chaste. Fortunate are the dead.


Daniel Reis

2001-2002 Brit Shalom