What I learned from my father

You taught me about Zionism & rock 'n' roll. So why the hard time about joining the IDF?

YSS (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Though my parents divorced around the time I was six, they continued to expose my brother and me to the things they most valued. My mother took us to the symphony, art galleries and museums and shipped us off in the summer to family in France for an infusion of French culture. It was different with my dad. He preferred Hendrix to Handel, the music of Dylan to the poetry of Évariste Desiré de Forges, and the expressionism of Edvard Munch over the slightly more composed Renoirs my mother would take us to New York to see. Pop's idea of an informative and intensive vacation did not include leisurely strolls down the Champs-Elysee. "Ship him off to the kibbutz," was his mantra. My father infused my brother and me with two points of reference: rock 'n' roll and Zionism. AS A lad of eight, I was slightly deaf to the glories of Zionism. While I enjoyed my father's stories and those of his circle set in Israel during the early 1970s, my mind would wander from the strawberry fields of Kibbutz Shomrat to our dining room, where dad kept his rock 'n' roll phonograph records. One of the albums I loved most was the The Doors, in which legendary front-man Jim Morrison personifies, at least for me, one of the definitive moments in rock 'n' roll in a song called "The End." In it, Morrison describes the Freudian fury he harbored toward his father, half brought on by an over-developed Oedipus complex, and half by his father's military background, about which they disagreed. Father, Yes, son? I want to kill you. FITTINGLY enough, the bond my father and I have forged over Zionism and rock 'n' roll, comes around full circle in this song. But in an encounter last week, and much like Morrison, disagreement over the military was involved. I informed my father of my intention to make my aliya, which will presumably result in my serving in the IDF. "Son," "Yes, father?" "I want to kill you." MY FATHER'S opposition to my aliya has mostly to do with the prospect of my service in the IDF. His initial jab went something along the lines of "So Mr. Big-Shot Journalist is going to be guarding some checkpoint in the West Bank and getting blown up by an angry kid!" What worries me is that Israel and Zionism are just about the only things he and I see eye-to-eye on, especially since his taste in rock 'n' roll has gone excessively folksy over the years. To be fair, security is a titanic concern of many parents, but Dad's awareness and acceptance of the dangers that face me as a journalist reporting in these parts make his opposition to my prospective IDF service on safety grounds seem insincere. When a scoop takes me to the West Bank or to surrounding Arab countries, an "OK, just be careful" is the standard response from the old man. So getting cold water thrown over my aliya plans seems almost a betrayal, especially from a man who gave so much to this country as a young idealist. The idealism has dissipated, supplanted by a focus on the "mistakes" of this or that Israeli government. When my father was here, the IDF was cloaked in heroism and valor. Now he views young Israeli soldiers in a sorrowful light, as youths sent out to pay the price of government mismanagement and ineptitude. EVEN WHEN he was a member of Hashomer Hatzai'r (aligned with the United Workers Party, today a faction within Meretz) my father was not your stereotypical peace-loving lefty of his Woodstock generation. He was and is a man who believes in a strong defense in the face of aggression, but - these days - only if Israel changes its modus operandi, which he sees as undermining its moral standing. In the wake of calamities including the First Lebanon War, two intifadas, Yitzhak Rabin's assassination and now the Second Lebanon War, he's convinced that the Jewish state has been heading down the wrong path. As he gets older, the potential for a permanent shift to the Left caused by frustration and disenchantment grows. I am not saying left-wing politics is bad. I am only saying that the touchy-feely Left is not who he really is. MY FATHER had always been involved in youth movements with an Israel angle, joining Hashomer Hatza'ir when he was 14. And when he felt the time was right, Dad left home, family and his education, and moved to a kibbutz. Listening to those stories, I can only conclude that it was the greatest time in his life. He still identifies with the temporary life he made for himself here. Back home - with the exception of his parents and wife - people still call him by his old kibbutz name, Lev. As I see it, his closed-mindedness about my aliya is an overreaction to having the bubble of his earlier idealization of Israel busted. It's not the little signs I'm worried about, like his switch to Haaretz from The Jerusalem Post, for example, but - more fundamentally - his objection to the path I am taking, which is based on the very values he personally inculcated in me. His opposition to my trying to make a life for myself in Israel suggests a disconnect from Israel, which I find painful because he was himself a pioneer here. Israel, I always explain, is like Neverland. When you are here, you forget the outside world. But, like Robin Williams in the Peter Pan adaptation, Hook, staying away from Neverland for too long makes you forget how to bangerang. Aside from a brief stint as a group leader on the March of the Living last year, my father had not been here since 1982. MANY OF the old-time Hashomer Hatza'ir members of my father's generation came to Israel with big dreams, but have since returned to Canada or the US. I have known many of these people all my life and attribute most of my Zionist education to them. Perhaps unwittingly, they've passed on the dream to me. The old gang inspired each others' children; and as we have grown up and started lives of our own, mere stories of hiking to the Banias no longer suffice. We have to be here. My plea to my father and to his circle is to try to reconnect to your Zionism. Come and spend time in Israel again; bring your children; rediscover your forgotten ideals. Let the new generation see the fruits of your labor, and show them what you yourselves found so special in this wondrous place. Dad, today you are a year older, and, maybe, another year removed from being a long-haired idealist. But this year, I won't send you a card or a tie. Instead, you're getting this, because in what I've written is something better than any other gift. In it is the gift of my own Zionism and the testimony of your influence on my life. Happy Birthday, Pops. The writer is a Jerusalem Post intern.