Some people believe in fate. I believe in chance. We are all here by chance. Chance that our parents would meet, that a particular sperm would meet a particular egg. In my case, chance that two concentration camp survivors would survive out of millions to have me, something that always made me feel very special, not necessarily in a good way, more in a way of feeling a tremendous burden of obligation to those who did not survive.
My parents, on the other hand, live in the realm of fate. They are devout Orthodox Jews. Everything has a purpose. Even the Holocaust. Their relatives who died are martyrs for the State of Israel. God had a purpose for the Holocaust and it was the creation of Israel.
“If it weren’t for the Holocaust, the State of Israel wouldn’t exist.”
This is the kind of passion the Palestinians are up against. The Holocaust as entitlement to reparations.
“They have the whole Arab world to live in. Why Israel?”
I visited Israel when I was ten years old, my mother visiting her sister who had settled there with her seven children. It was Israel’s thirteenth birthday and I remember the parade, with the tanks going by. I remember Jerusalem, divided by barbed wire. It was before the Six-Day War, and the Wailing Wall was closed off to visitors on the Israeli side of the fence. When I returned, years later, for part of college, Jerusalem was finally free for Arabs, Jews and Christians. It was part of Israel as a result of the Six-Day War.
“I wish I had gone to Israel instead of America,” my father confessed to me before that trip. “But I was too afraid. After all I went through in the Holocaust, I just wanted a safe place. I have never stopped feeling guilty.”
Chance. I think he hoped I’d settle there for him.
I did fall in love with Israel. I made Arab and Jewish friends, all Israelis (though even then the Arabs referred to Israel as Palestine) in the University of Jerusalem, though Americans tended to clot together. Still, I thought it had the potential for the ideal country for religious freedom. There were a couple of bus bombs that year, but nothing like the violence that ensued.
I was so naive. I was twenty. I was in love with the country, with the Hebrew and Arabic languages, with both cultures. An exotically beautiful country. I lived in Jerusalem with the ancient maze of streets too narrow for cars that wended their way through the Arab, Jewish and Christian Quarters. Thriving markets side-by-side with quiet churchyards. And my favorite place, Mt. Scopus, where you would look to your left and see the sunset over the desert and to your right and see the reflection of the sun on the golden dome of the Mosque that stands above the Old City. I fell in love with everything and everybody.
I visited a couple of times right after, but it was different not being a part of a larger community of a University. My children have never been there. There were suicide bombs during the period I might have considered taking them. They feel no loyalty to Israel. They are highly critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. They have not seen the land. They have no attachment despite having a whole branch of our family there (Ultra-Orthodox). I feel sad. Should I have taken them when they were younger like all of my friends to establish a bond? Secretly, secretly, I was afraid they would establish too much of a bond. One of my nephews joined the Israeli army. He and his sister plan to live there. Chance. What if my children had gone and wanted to stay? I couldn’t chance it. I couldn’t bear it. It was enough I had to spend most of my life retroactively mourning my parents’ suffering. So, like my father, I made my choice.
published 19 March 2014