We're been in the week between the day to remember victims of the Holocaust, and the day to remember those who died in the defense of Israel or as the result of terror.--
Varda, who carries the Hebrew version of her Grandmother's name, lights candles for that Grandmother, taken from her home in Dusseldolf to be killed, and her Uncle Karl, who first made it to the Netherlands but was turned over by the Dutch to the Germans. A week latter there's another candle for two cousins who died in the defense of Israel.
My own background was coddled in the US, but among my early memories are family conversations about relatives in Bialystok who no longer were writing letters.
Israel's list of fallen soldiers and terror victims includes several of our friends, and one of my students, who sat at the wrong table some years ago in a university cafeteria.
Both days are proceeded and filled with stories of those who died, and memories of family members and acquaintances. Speeches by the President and Prime Minister on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day took the headlines from the results of the French national election, and another unsuccessful stabbing attempt north of Jerusalem.
If we haven't heard those same speeches in years past, by the same individuals or others holding the country's leading offices, we've heard something very close. They deal with the pain suffered by Jews, the commitment of Israel to remember them, and to remain stronger than its collective enemies who still aspire to harm us.
There is both meaning and pathos to the platitudes being expressed. One cannot understand Israel without taking account of the Holocaust, terror, and the IDF plus other security services in the national ethos.
Jews are not the only group to have suffered genocide, Australians and Americans are somewhere on the list of otherwise esteemed people who destroyed natives on the land that they wanted. Japanese mourn Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but not the Chinese and others their amy slaughtered. Armenians have been struggling for years against Turkish denial. Native Americans claim the role of those who suffered genocide, but are not innocent of wiping out one another in tribal wars. Likewise Africans who sold into slavery those not killed in their tribal wars.
What distinguishes the Jews' Holocaust is that it happened to us, and that the Germans and their aillies picked on a people whose memory of their history has long been integrated into religious rituals. Babylon's destruction of Jerusalem has been recorded in the surviving records of the attacker as a minor event on the empire's borders, but it is a central feature in the biblical books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, and is still marked by a day of fasting.
Jeremiah shows that political dispute was then a part of Judaic culture, described as a quarrel between those who saw the greater threat from the east (Babylon) or west (Egypt).
Ultra-Orthodox rabbis haven't gotten themselves to join a national consensus about the Holocaust. Several of them continue to urge their followers to ignore the day set aside by the State of Israel to mourn those killed, and preach that it was God's punishment of Jews for the Germans' creation of Reform Judaism.
Both Varda and I served in the IDF. Her war was 1967, and mine the Lebanon War of 1982. We also brought two kids to the army's bus for their ride to basic training, whose service spanned years of the Intifada that began in 2000.
Israel has changed more than most countries in the 70 years of its independence. From a population about 800,000 including restive Arabs in 1948 it is now approaching 9 million, whose Arab minority is to a large extent integrated. And from being a poor country surrounded by hostile and powerful adversaries, it has become a military and economic power, cooperating with the armies of several countries that once attacked.
Nonetheless, soldiers and other security personnel occasionally die in training or encounters with terrorists. Gaza and Syria are sources of worry, along with Hezbollah and Iran. We wonder and quarrel about responses to one or the other. What the IDF sends against a shell falling on empty land on the Golan--that may not have been fired intentionally against Israel--has been much more deadly than what seems to be carefully aimed strikes meant to hurt no one when a missile lands on an empty field alongside Gaza.
Perhaps we are being careful not to make things worse on the Gazan front, which is nowhere close to a strategic threat, while making clear to Syrians, Hezbollah, and Iran that they are facing a military that can wreck great destruction if provoked.
Overall we're now safer than Americans and many others when domestic crime, road safety, and the quality of health care are figured into national accounts along with hostile neighbors.
We also benefit from an underlying sense of Jewish unity despite differences in religiosity and backgrounds in Europe, the Middle East or elsewhere. And while these days may cause us to weep in response to media stories and our own family memories, the sense of having suffered has served us well, even as we differ about how to view history and what to do about the present.
And we tend to unite in enjoying family, friends, and ourselves on Independence Day..
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)Department of Political ScienceHebrew University of Jerusalem