Out There: Mud-colored spectacles

We fret, therefore we are.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Funny country, this. Israel, for more than a decade, has moved heaven and earth trying to get Iran to end its nuclear weapons program. It lobbied endlessly, pleaded emotionally, threatened subtly. And then the country woke up one day and read in the vaunted US National Intelligence Estimate that our prayers were answered: Iran halted its weapons program. And how did the Children of Israel respond? Oh, no! Oy gevalt! No way! There are obviously very good reasons for this reaction, and few here are sleeping any easier following the NIE's learned pronouncement. But still, the instinct to react this way to what could be interpreted as good news must appear odd to foreign visitors and those who don't understand us all that well. It leaves the impression of a people who can't take good news; a nation that can't take yes for an answer. And, indeed, there is something to that characterization. Though an eternally hopeful people - poll after poll shows that Israelis, despite all the problems, are among the world's most optimistic - we do view the world through mud-splattered glasses. Paradoxically, it might be the mud on the glasses that makes us so optimistic. If you look at the world pessimistically, then when things turn out bad, you can say, "Uh-huh, told you so." But if things turn out well, as sometimes they inevitably must, you can then say, "Woa, what a surprise." It is precisely because of those surprises that we are optimistic, the Jewish mind computing that if things turned out well once, they're bound to do so again. We thirst for good news. But when it comes, we can't handle it. TRUTH BE told, who can blame us? As a people, we've not exactly been historically conditioned for the ball bouncing in our direction. Sure, in the overall scheme of history one can argue that things now are going our way - the Jews are still here, we have survived while so many others have disappeared. But on a day-to-day basis, this hasn't been a joy ride. And as a people now with a sovereign, independent state, there is a tendency to feel that Israel's diplomatic/political/security situation seems to be getting progressively worse, not better. Paranoid? Maybe, but the following historical trajectory - the Fedayeen of the 1950s, the PLO of the 60s and 70s, Hizbullah of the 80s, Hamas of the of the 90s, and Iran today - casts the mind in a certain direction: a belief that change is bad. As a son of my people, I have internalized that lesson and adopted the all-change-is-bad credo as my own. As a result, I've had the same beard for 28 years, worked at the same place for 22, disciplined the kids in exactly the same way for 19, worn the same glasses for 15, lived in the same house for 12, and driven the same car for eight. I don't embrace change. That's on a personal level. At the collective level, I've noticed that when there is change, and it is good, we're at a loss. Silver lining searchers? Not an Israeli thing. We look for clouds in sunny skies. The Hebrew University announced earlier this month that Britain's The Times Higher Education Supplement ranked it 128th out of the top 200 universities in the world. Not too shabby. Yet what did a communique quote as the university president's response: "The higher education network today in Israel, at its head the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, still finds itself rated at a respectable level in world rankings; however, recent processes - the academic staff strike and budget cuts - are liable without a doubt to cause its decline." You go Prez! Find that cloud. Or consider the Evangelical Christians and their love for Israel. For centuries the Jews yearned for the Gentiles to like them, or at least not clobber them. Now hundreds of millions of Evangelicals shout from the mountaintops that not only do they like us, and have absolutely no desire to beat us up, they actually love us and want to help. Our reaction: "Just a minute, not that much love." Generations ago we would have given anything for Christians to say that Jews remain God's Chosen People, to recognize a special bond between Jews and the Land of Israel. But when somebody in Arkansas or Tennessee actually mouths those words, we are frightened by their God-infused talk and meta-historical hopes for our future conversion. We yearn, instead, for acceptance by the "sane" Christians - those from the liberal, mainstream Protestant churches, the same churches that on an institutional level have not of late shown us a whole lot a love. I REALIZE things are much more complex then presented here, but there is something peculiar in a national psyche that rejects those who like us, while perpetually seeking validation from those who don't. Or, finally, take the rain, for instance. Our winter is still young, and the heavy rains have not yet begun to fall. But they will, as they usually do. And when the skies open - when snow covers the Hermon, Tel Aviv's Hatikva quarter turns into Venice, Jerusalem is pelted by driving rain, and the creeks and gullies of the Judean Desert overflow - we will wake up the next morning to the following news item: "A half meter of rain fell on Israel last night, but the Kinerret is still 1,000 centimeters below the Red Line. The rain, according to Mekorot hydrologists, fell in all the wrong places." We can't buy a break. We fret, therefore we are. Indeed, there is plenty to fret about, but sometimes something good does happen. And when it does, we just need to squirrel it away, say thank you, and brace for the upcoming storm.