Another Tack: A wedding and a funeral

A casual afternoon hobnob with two old college cronies pointedly illustrated how out of touch I am with what really counts in our existence here and n

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October 8, 2005 16:00

 
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A casual afternoon hobnob with two old college cronies pointedly illustrated how out of touch I am with what really counts in our existence here and now. After the expected preliminary niceties, the chitchat quickly homed in on starlet Yael Bar-Zohar's showbiz wedding, more specifically the revealing attire she wore for the solemn ceremony and whether she should have done her hair differently. The coiffure question triggered particularly heated debate. Imprudently I admitted to total indifference regarding the bride, her bra-and-skirt ensemble, her hairdo and even her claim to fame. Two cups of coffee nearly dropped. They hit the appropriate saucers with the thuds of stunned astonishment. "How can you say that?" exclaimed one horrified voice. "She's a celebrity," chimed in the other, explaining and underscoring simultaneously. There was no resuscitating the conversation. My mention of the uncaring send-off Israel gave Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal only hours after the glitzy fest merely raised two sets of eyebrows. Why waste breath on him? Who can compare a withering nonagenarian to the flower of sabra refinement dishy Yael with the exposed chic midriff? She is the embodiment of the renascent Jewish state's scale of values and hedonist bon ton. He lived austerely to a ripe old 96 way beyond the age of relevancy by post-modern standards and was obsessed with retribution and other such unenlightened, unentertaining and unselfish impulses. It's not that my friends shun Holocaust associations. Far from it. One, a teacher, is active in some "second-generation" outfit or another and gets lots of social and air-mileage out of the pastime. She has been on more than half-a-dozen junkets to Poland, accompanying groups of high-schoolers out to visit concentration camps, get a whiff of European ambiance and admire the chocolate on the hotel pillowcase. When my daughter refused, a few years ago, to join her 11th grade on one such excursion, my friend gave her a didactic dressing-down. "If you don't go," she intoned, "you don't remember." My daughter insisted that she couldn't go precisely because she does remember and refuses to set foot on Polish soil or contribute a shekel to the Polish economy. My friend cautioned me that I was raising "a child who doesn't go with the flow." There's apparently an invisible cut-off point between fashionably acceptable Holocaust-commemorating lip service and what transcends trendy rituals and sanctimonious posturing. WIESENTHAL evidently ventured too far from the voguish flow. When Western democracies, consumed with Cold War zeal, abetted the escape of Nazi war criminals and Israel desperately struggled to survive, Wiesenthal literally rose from the ashes and waged one man's quixotic quest for justice on behalf of the tortured and brutally annihilated victims of history's greatest premeditated crime the world's unparalleled industrialized slaughter, in which every last hidden Jewish baby was targeted and systematically sought. Wiesenthal didn't diminish or trivialize the enormity of the Jewish bloodletting by likening it to every battlefield bestiality. He didn't chant modish universalist mantras. He was a thorn in the flesh of entrenched establishments here and abroad (though late in his life foreign governments honored him, while a standoffish Jewish state largely continued to disregard the self-appointed advocate of the Six Million). In the state founded for and by Jewish survivors Wiesenthal wasn't a ratings-booster, didn't sell newspapers or hike political popularity. That's why it wasn't worth any headliner's while to attend his funeral last week in Herzliya (where Wiesenthal's daughter resides). None of our Supreme Court justices, IDF generals or ministers to say nothing of the premier and president could be bothered to pay their last respects. Foreign dignitaries abounded. Israelis had more pressing engagements. The Austrian chancellor, however, managed to participate in the Viennese farewell for Wiesenthal before his coffin was flown to Israel. Many luminaries-who-couldn't-be-bothered blamed the PM's office for not informing them about where and when Wiesenthal's interment would be. They need only have consulted the papers, but were probably too engrossed in searching for items about themselves. In any case Ariel Sharon didn't see fit to inform himself, either. He doubtlessly would have, had the deceased been a political kingpin. But Wiesenthal held no sway in the Likud central committee or in Labor's politburo. He wasn't endeared to Peace Now's opinion-molders or their media mouthpieces. He didn't matter enough for Moshe Katsav to interrupt his international travel itinerary which, ironically, included visiting Holocaust massacre sites in the Baltics. THE DEEPER irony, of course, is that Wiesenthal wasn't just another mortal vanquished by the inexorable march of time. The lone Jew who tilted against the windmills of apathy and accomplished what nobody could conceivably expect of a single individual symbolized Jewish tragedy and Jewish invincibility. He was the essence of the Jewish spirit with which the Jewish state was once imbued. His was the Jewish soul. On the night of the locally forgotten funeral I heard him in a decades-old interview rerun for the occasion on the German 3SAT (of all channels). Wiesenthal recalled his pre-Six Day War dread that Israel might be defeated: "I thought that if that happened, I couldn't go on living. Israel is the beating heart of the Jewish people, and without the heart there's no life." I wondered aloud whether Israel had lost its Jewish heart. Had apathy triumphed after all? Did it get the last word? My friends solicitously dismissed my concerns. "Don't exaggerate," they counseled. "Wiesenthal is simply from the past. More pressing matters top today's agenda." Like the Bar-Zohar nuptials.

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