May 15, 2008
Nation might not be safest but it’s the most interesting
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"Because here," Rabinowitz says, "I can complain."
Jews argue that's what we do. We are never content with pat ideologies or party lines or simple interpretations. For 2,000 years we've banged on the table in the beit midrash, protesting each other's readings of the Bible and Jewish law.
Today, Steiner and Yehoshua, advocates of opposite poles, are both right, because the homeland -- the Jewish state -- has become the living text, wrapped in ancient parchments, buzzing with digital data, that Jews argue about most.
Israel at 60 is not the safest place for Jews, but it is surely the most interesting. Here, secular intellectuals and traditionalists alike re-invent Judaism as a guide to daily life. Here, the leader of the Orthodox Shas Party can meet with President Jimmy Carter, while the prime minister shuns him. Here, a Jewish pundit can speak the word "apartheid" as cautionary metaphor and not lose his seat in the synagogue.
I spent Passover with my family in California, as we often do. I took a walk with my son along the American River in Sacramento and came upon a plaque on the leafy trail commemorating a vanished Indian village with the oddly familiar name of Kadema, which stood on the spot until the early 19th century. The Maidu-Nisenan Indians lived there for centuries, but that was then, and this is now.
For Olmert's ruling Kadima Party -- the word means "forward" in Hebrew -- there is no boundary between then and now: Jews and Palestinians are here to stay. Neither is there any guarantee that the dynamic and prosperous Jewish state, or the phenomenally successful Jews of America, will be as secure 60 years hence as they are today.
I've lived in Israel since the country was 40, and so was I. For many years I've tried to convey in words a sense of what it's like to live a rich Jewish life -- and life of the mind -- in a land that sometimes seems a bit too historical and holy for its own good. As the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai wrote: "The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams / like the air over industrial cities. / It's hard to breathe."
I've walked the hills and beautiful beaches, marveled at the myriad achievements of a Hebrew culture reborn, explored the ruined fortresses of the Negev and Galilee. What it comes down to as I look down the long road is what Rabbi Yose told Rabbi Hiyya as they traveled from Usha to Lydda (or so we are told in the Zohar, the medieval masterpiece of Jewish mysticism): "I was contemplating in my mind that the world endures only because of the leaders of the people. If the people's leaders are worthy, it is good for the people and good for the world. If they are unworthy, woe to the people, woe to the world!"
Let us all choose our leaders wisely and wish them well.
Stuart Schoffman is a columnist for the Jerusalem Report and writes and lectures widely on politics, religion and culture.
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