Tel Aviv protests flag 521.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
In his powerful novel I Know This Much Is True, Wally Lamb writes about how the
book’s protagonist, an antihero named Dominick Birdsey, has unwittingly
constructed and become the “curator” of his own psychological “museum of pain,”
or “sanctuary of justifiable indignation.”
Dominick, who also narrates
the book, lived a hard life, suffered a fair amount, and makes sure everyone who
crosses his path knows it. Indeed, his astute, Yoda-esque psychologist, Dr.
Patel, names his museum “The Dominick Birdsey Museum of Injustice and Misery”
during one of his therapy sessions.
“We all superintend such a place, I
suppose,” she says. “Although some of us are more painstaking curators than
others… You are a meticulous steward of the pain and injustices people have
visited upon you. Or, if you prefer, we can call you a scrupulous
Needless to say, the hardheaded Dominick doesn’t take the
observation very well, angrily disregarding her take on his life as yet another
instance of victimization – because for Dominick, and millions of others like
him, living an aggrieved existence is far easier than letting go of the
Of course, with time, Dominick comes to understand the shrewdness
of Dr. Patel’s observation, and changes his life accordingly.
bring this up? Simple: Following this week’s observance of Tisha Be’Av
traditional day of mourning that took place on Monday to commemorate
the tragedies that have befallen Jews), it is easy to argue that there
never been a group in the history of the planet with more reason to
sanctuary of “justifiable indignation.”
We, as a people, have been
egregiously wronged in virtually every conceivable context for
millennia. From being exiled innumerable times, hunted like rabid animals
for sport, falsely libeled to an unprecedented level, to being systematically
exterminated on the largest scale ever created, has there ever been a race
of people more deserving – even entitled – to curate a museum of pain?
Collectively, the epic tragedies of the Jewish People would bring even the most
decorated, fearless and stoic Spartan warrior to his knees, begging for
To add insult to injury, Jews are still largely treated like human
piñatas globally. That said, we certainly have every right to make Tisha Be’av a
daily event, replete with an endless cascade of coffins filled with the millions
of names of children murdered for the sin of being Jewish.
have erected a coliseum of indignation over much less, and it had nothing to do
with being a Jew.
Be it a failed relationship, bad professional
experience or schmuck who did me wrong, back in New York I was the Michelangelo
of psychic pain. To be sure, before moving to Israel, I had accumulated enough
anger and despair to erect and design a structure bigger than Yankee Stadium,
where I was the undisputed “King of Pain.”
It was a sad, sad,
money-losing venture, with absolutely zero attendance at every event (except,
maybe my mother. God bless her), and I ruled over it alone.
But, as I
learned here, I had unwittingly served as the court jester, as well.
didn’t fully appreciate the gravity and absurdity of my self-pity until I came
to Israel, and met countless men and women who truly had every right to erect
innumerable post-modern Taj Mahals of despair. (I’m talking about architecture
so mind-blowing as to usher in a new Renaissance-era of design – and have no
doubt that both Steve Wynn and Donald Trump would giddily hand the Jews of
Israel a blank check and say, “Build me whatever that is!”)
Okay, so you get my
But, here's the catch: Despite having every right to elevate
self-pity to high art – to commission millions of construction crews and
classically trained, snobby Parisian interior designers to create the most
lavish and visually arresting structures ever created to house their collective
pain – pro bono, no less – Israelis do no such thing.
They do no such
thing because they know that it’s a fool’s errand.
Mark Twain once said
that “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored
than to anything on which it is poured,” and he was right. No group of people
understands this better than Israelis.
Ultimately, Israelis have been
given two choices: to live in anger, fear and indignation; or to live to the
fullest. There’s just not a whole lot of gray area in this particular
equation. That said, the vast majority have chosen the latter.
those who choose the former? Well, they generally aren’t all that popular around
these parts, or have moved away and now call places like Florida
It’s the latter group that has captured my imagination, and changed
my thinking. Indeed, they are the most unusual people I have ever
For example, in March I covered a terrorist bombing that occurred
roughly a half-mile from my newsroom in Jerusalem. The bomb calculatedly
went off at a central bus terminal, where mothers were picking up their children
from school, and hardworking men and women were returning from a long day of
That day I saw more blood and thoroughly traumatized men, women and
children than any set of eyes should ever have to. The scene could easily have
qualified as one of Dante’s rings of hell in The Inferno. And the victims of the
bombing reacted as any human would: with horror, fear, anger and tears.
here’s what sets them apart: A few days later, when I returned to the scene of
the bombing to write a follow- up piece to assess the postmortem mood, it was
back to business as usual.
The same people who witnessed this carnage
continued to live their lives, without a hint of despair. They didn’t marinate
in the fear and evil the way most people would. Instead, they shed their
forcibly blemished skin as quickly as possible and welcomed the next
They did this not because they are weak, but because they are
You see, when you’re dealing with an enemy who has lowered the
moral bar to the depths of hell, you simply don’t ask for all that much in terms
of hoping for it to be raised, if even just a little.
I have never met
people who have had their cages rattled more relentlessly, and with greater
cruelty, than Israelis. But they refuse to remain shaken. That is what makes them
Arguably, Israelis are the most majestic “gutter flowers” to
ever grow. And despite the incomprehensibly inhospitable conditions they
live in, they know they must curate a museum of hope.
To that end, while
much of the country shut down for one day out of respect for Tisha Be’av, the
next day – similar to the days following the bombing – no self pity was
detectable. Life went on, as they know it must.
invaluable lessons to teach the world, regardless of all the hateful protests to
Thanks to these people, the walls of my old monstrosity of
a museum have come tumbling down, and I have officially been deposed of my
dubious post as the reigning King of Pain. I have never felt happier, or more
relieved, because of it.
In short, Israelis taught me that holding on to
anger and pain – no matter how justifiable – is, indeed, a fool’s errand.
news is that you don’t have to live here to demolish your museum, as
But make no mistake: A group that has survived – and thrived –
despite the worst odds any gambler could possibly face, doesn’t have the luxury
to forget. Doing so would be the ultimate sucker’s bet.
The writer is a
weekly columnist for The Jerusalem Post. He is an award-winning editor from
Hearst Magazines and Dow Jones, a former New York City Government spokesman, and
newspaper reporter. He made aliya from New York City in July 2010, and resides