The present tension concerned with Syria, Cold warriors Vladimir and Barack against one another, with Bibi somewhere in the middle, brings back our memories of Jewish history, going back to when it began.
We are not the only minority having to cope with more powerful others. IN this neighborhood alone, the Druze, Kurds, and Alawis have been doing the same thing. However, we've done it longer, and our writing about it has entered the literature prized by others and ourselves.
The Hebrew Bible is, among other things, a record of how we have dealt with our weaknesses. It may be faulted by exaggerated descriptions of glories associated with David and Solomon, yet it also formulated the moral values that came to guide all of civilization.
The Mishnah, Talmud, and onward rabbinical commentaries and disputes brings it up to now, with the addition of secular writings by Jews that have won more than a few international prizes.
The Romans pretty much put an end to the Biblical homeland, and set us on two millennia developing communities just about everywhere else. The process actually began at least half a millennia before the Romans entered history, so there were already contacts and habits that facilitated things.
Now one of the major settlements is back here, arguably more powerful than any have ever been, although some who accept Biblical descriptions might doubt that. There is also an equally sizable community in the United States, some of whose residents claim that they are the center and the essence of Judaism.
One can describe hope, benefits, disappointments, then good times again, but nothing certain from just about every encounter of the Jews with those more powerful. The modern stories--from the previous century until now--include British, French, Russians, and most prominently Germans and Americans.
The lesson learned at least two and one-half millennia ago is that the Jews (like other minorities) should not rely on anyone, not even other Jews. We should remember Jews of the Middle Ages who reported to Church fathers what they read in the Talmud about the goyim (and led to editorial changes to replace that word by "Egyptians" or "idol worshipers" in various editions); people like Daniel Barenboim and Noam Chomsky, as well as those who lead JStreet in their assertions of knowing what is good for us and everyone else.
It's the task of those leading Jewish communities (Israel included) to consider various options, not to tie themselves completely to any one friend, but not to burn bridges at every sign of disappointment.
No one in their right mind has talked about replacing connections with the US with Russia, but Israel may have to cooperate with the Russians at the risk of some offense to Washington.
Comments here about Barack Obama range between measured criticism and ridicule. Latest news is that fighters trained by the US to do battle in Syria have provided munitions to one of the Islamic extremist militias, and may have joined that militia.
Bibi can't turn his back on Barack despite the shameful agreement with Iran. Barack also cannot ignore Israel, due to what has been developed here over the previous half-century, as well as those American Jews contributing to Democratic Party candidates and the President's library fund.
Having assets of various kinds in numerous places has been part of Jewish survival and success since migrations in ancient times. Those tables of the money changers that Jesus upset in his ignorance were part of what was important to the dispersal of a people, many of whom honored their roots with pilgrimage and sacrifices. It may have justified a death sentence, even from rabbis who generally did all they could to avoid capital punishment.
To be sure, there have also been sinners as well as saints, as well as those misdirected to personal enhancement by dicey if not illegal means.
Jewish openness, freedom of expression, and familiarity with criticism is as apparent in Israeli politics as anywhere in our history. Dispute is at the heart of our culture, to the frustration of those who claim that unity is essential. So we live with JStreet and enjoy the music of Barenboim, even while we sneer at the conductor's pride in Palestinian citizenship, and Israeli officials don't let Chomsky into the country. Elevation of dispute, and its capacity to compete with courtesy, allows us to express what we think of those who we see as wrongheaded.
It's also important to concede that we aren't certain about anything. Barack Obama may yet be able to claim that he avoided disaster with Iran; Russia and Israel might maneuver around the mine field that is Syria; the Islamic State can crumble as economists are projecting, before it brings great harm on us.
There are enough players in the Middle East with power and interests to confuse analysts and provide opportunities for politicians skilled at maneuver. There is a lot of nastiness from Turkey, yet considerable trade. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are on our side with respect to Iran and some other issues, but neither are bosom buddies. Jordan depends on us more than we depend on it; we can tolerate some nastiness from the King over the Temple Mount, recognizing that at least two-thirds of his population are Palestinians unhappy with their opportunities. We're used to the Palestinian leadership changing its threats from one week to the next. Recent actions have tightened the screws on those who would throw stones or fire bombs. We'll hope not to kill so many of them as to upset others, but that may happen.
There is enough to keep our officials and activists arguing among themselves. Nothing proposed or done with respect to restive Palestinians, or the demands from secular and religious Jews about what is permitted on the Sabbath goes without criticism. Squabbles about a major appointment that went bad kept journalists busy for a few hours, until another big story. The man tapped to be the chief of police was found to be under police investigations in Israel and other countries, and both he and the Minister of Internal Security who announced his appointment, had to swallow large frogs. It may be the occasion for the Peter Principle to end the aspirations of one ambitious politician to succeed the Prime Minister.
Those watching us from near or far should not expect quiet, or even good manners, as we get along with ourselves and with others.