New immigrant at last

Is it novel to suggest that the future of this nation now depends on grace as well as guns?

A flood in the Negev 521 (photo credit: Reuters))
A flood in the Negev 521
(photo credit: Reuters))
Nearly four years after getting off the plane, into the taxi, and off to the absorption center, I’m starting to feel like an oleh.
I hadn’t planned on three years as a semi-invalid, cancer, two six-month chemo stints, unrelated surgery, a couple of broken vertebrae, rabies shots, etc. – whoever does? But then Israeli medicine, and Israel, worked their magic. And now it’s glorious, at age 65, to go down to the bus station, get on whatever looks promising, get off wherever, poke about, mangle some Hebrew and see a new world with old (okay, mature) eyes.
Two things immediately burst upon you. The first is the natural beauty. A hard, magnificent beauty.
Of all the places I’ve lived or been stationed, Israel reminds me most of... Alaska. The starkness, the elegance, but also the sudden changes of terrain, the sense that there’s something different and captivating around every corner. Rather often, there is.
Then there’s the wonder of achievement. Never in human history has so much been accomplished so quickly by so few, under such difficult conditions.
And there is sadness that the world will never acknowledge it. Why not? Reasons range from anti- Semitism to pro-Palestinian stance to indifference to something that much of the world, including America, would rather not consider.
This is how much can be done, once you decide to do it.
That’s the awesome aspect. But I do not wander just for the natural scenery, or for the ancient. My new countrymen fascinate me. In 1784, Hector St.
John de Crèvecoeur, an astute French-American writer, asked in his Letters from an American Farmer, “Who is this new man, the American?” Who is this new man (and woman), the Israeli? The present Jewish Israeli, as many have written and as many more know, is a stranger to himself. The Second Aliya is long gone. The Palmah Generation has largely left us. The Independence Generation begins to fade. “Post-Zionist”offers only negation.
Israelis now have a choice of personal centralities: the ancient faith, the redemption of the Land, the redemption of the shopping mall, the hi-tech cocoon, the noxiously trendy lifestyle, the middleclass blahs. None succeeds in offering a new national centrality, compelling to the majority.
Still, in my wanderings, I think I’ve reached a tentative conclusion about certain aspects of the question. At the very least, as every pair of old eyes knows, love lasts longer when you don’t start out believing in the perfection of the beloved.
For Israelis to discover who they are, which is to say, what they want to be, to themselves and in the world, they first have to get a little distance from each other.
Israel may well be the most imploded country in the Western world. It’s tiny. Lifelong, the people share the same experiences, the same perils and stresses, the same chronic uncertainty; even the viciousness of their arguments binds them. And there is a brusqueness and an arrogance to Israelis that does not always play well abroad. On occasion, I’ve asked American friends, good people, what word first comes to mind when they hear “Israel.”
The remarkably uniform response: nasty. Not “oppressors” or “aggressive” or even that old standby, “pushy.” Just nasty, a word that connotes nothing so much as distaste and a desire to get away.
Israelis often seem to experience a national claustrophobic distaste. Many leave. But leaving only changes the “where,” not the “who.” And stay or go, there can be no return to some mythical unified past that never existed, save in moments of supreme peril. The rest of the time, we seem to exist despite ourselves.
So what might change? Perhaps, as a way of getting a little breathing room from each other – a bit more courtesy. Or so it has seemed to me in my initial encounters. I’m far from the first to reach this conclusion. But it may be novel to suggest that the future of this nation now depends on grace as well as guns.
The Victorians defined manners as “little morals.” By this they meant courtesy neither as aristocratic demeanor nor excessive elegance of behavior. They meant the modes of allowing each other a little space of respect, of getting along together that could elide distinctions of class and education, origin and privilege. To many of our Zionist forbears, such courtesy reeked of bourgeois hypocrisy. Only bluntness and honesty were real.
They weren’t always right. To the present made-too- much-in-America popular culture, where only the personal is “authentic” and pseudointimacy provides the essence of the social media/ smartphone addiction, courtesy seems unbearably stilted.
Perhaps. But would a little more “giveret” (ma’am) and “adoni” (sir), a bit more “toda” (thank you), a bit more respect for each other’s physical and emotional space, a lot less vitriol and screaming, really hurt? And might it make, perhaps someday, some sort of difference in a world that, far too often and far too conveniently, adjudges us as nasty, and then dismisses all the rest? The writer is an American immigrant who’s trying to get his son, a June 2013 law school grad, to come over. Anybody need a young American lawyer?