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A friend told me recently that he moved to Israel from the United States in the 1970s because he "didn't want to be like one of those boys."
He had been determined, he said, to be a man, with all that entails. A person who takes his responsibilities and his role seriously. Someone who dodges neither the draft nor any other duty.
My surprise at hearing this revelation was not due to a lack of understanding or sympathy. Quite the contrary.
Having made aliya from the same place and around the same time as he, I knew exactly where he was coming from, so to speak. And I owe my own expatriation to an almost identical, albeit mirror image, push-pull imperative.
He had decided to distance himself from a culture that rejected manhood in order to embrace his (dare I use the word?) masculinity. I had chosen to leave a feminist-triggered gender-fuzzy milieu in order to live in a world where the term "enemy" referred to armed forces aiming to annihilate my country - not to the male sex.
So the reason I was shocked by his admission was twofold: first, his ability to articulate a concept that most men I know would be unable even to contemplate, let alone discuss; and second, his bravery. These days, the only acceptable form of praise a man can bestow upon himself - or that can be bestowed upon him by others - is that he is "in touch with his feminine side."
This means, supposedly, not that he wears dresses or suffers from PMS, but rather that he possesses qualities such as "sensitivity" and "self-awareness" - traits that one is not only allowed but required to attribute to females.
"If more women were in positions of power," the common axiom goes, "there would be world peace."
Now there's a hoot-and-a-half. Especially considering those women who actually do aspire to and acquire such positions - females I certainly wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley. Not without a claw-proof vest, at any rate. Why is it not said of them that they are in touch with their masculine side?
The answer is that such a statement would be construed as an insult. In other words, accusing anyone of male characteristics has become taboo. It's tantamount to an attack punishable by reeducation from the PC police and sexual harassment squads, whose vigilance might be commendable if their achievements weren't so dubious, demoralizing and, indeed, dangerous.
WITH THE approach of Israel's 58th birthday, I have been remembering the first Independence Day I celebrated here, nearly three decades ago. Seated among a group of foreign students in the bleachers of the stadium at The Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, I literally wept watching a parade of IDF soldiers march in time to the army hymn. I, who had come from a society still stinging from the defeat and defeatism of Vietnam - from a climate in which such spectacles would have aroused shame and cynicism rather than pride and patriotism - felt grateful to be privy to, and part of, this scene. I wanted to be around these men. And I wanted to raise men like these.
"Eeeewwww," one of the American girls next to me mewled, practically vomiting. "It's sooooo, um, like, militaristic."
"Excuse me," I said, wiping my eyes, "It's the military. It's supposed to be 'militaristic.'"
She was stunned. Nobody had ever told her that certain things are what they're supposed to be.
That not everything is subject to one's personal tastes or, more to the point, distastes. That not everything, as she and I had been incessantly indoctrinated by our school systems and the New York Times, is "a matter of interpretation."
"Well, yeah," she said, "but all those tanks and guns and stuff..."
"All those 'tanks and guns and stuff,'" I tried to explain what seemed obvious to me, "are what enable us Jews to take our lives for granted here and everywhere else in the world."
Since she was a self-proclaimed Zionist with a beefy background in Judaism, and since I was young enough to believe in argument as a tool of persuasion, it was safe for me to engage her in this particular debate. But that's as far as my youthful naivete or my big mouth (only one of which I have outgrown) would let me go. There was no way in hell I would have shared my musings about manhood with her. Not without risking ridicule and ostracism, that is. Not when popularity was a lot higher on my list of priorities than polemics.
Many moons later, I continue to cry at similar ceremonies. Now, however, it is more maternal pride and worry at the root of my tears than mere patriotic sentimentality. Men - whether as the embodiment of my protection or as the object of my attraction - are one thing. But my boys remain my babies, whatever anti-Semitic, anti-Western threats they and their peers are charged with fending off.
And so it should be. I am their mother. It is as much my nature to relinquish political concerns when considering their well-being as it is to cultivate - or at least not interfere with - their nature when considering the tasks they have to perform for the well-being of us all. Instructing them to play with dolls when they are toddlers and to "go Dutch" when they are teenagers would have been doing them a disservice, to put it mildly.
Israel is under siege from without, and at odds with itself from within. Castrating our men is a peculiar response to such challenges.
Why can't we work on emulating America's economic strategies, instead of wasting precious energy on imitating its emasculation techniques?
Perhaps my friend could explain it to me before we both wonder how we seem to be ending up right back where we started.
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