I remember a conversation with one of my closest friends from high school, on a New York City subway. I spoke of my longing for Israel, and to be out of Galut, a Hebrew term meaning both exile and Diaspora.

She responded that there is Galut in Israel, too, until the messiah comes. Absurd, I told her.

It was 1968 and I had just returned from my first visit to Israel where I met my only first cousins.

My mother was the only survivor of her large family, Hasidim: no grandparents, aunts, uncles; no first cousins I knew in the flesh. But her eldest brother, the religious Zionist leader of their town, had gotten out, to Palestine, before the Nazis, and had two sons. He was killed in the siege of Jerusalem in 1948 when he went out to help someone shot by Jordanian fire near the Old City, and was shot himself.

But these two cousins—one even resembled me—existed here, in this dream land suddenly materialized after a long flight. I remember the shock of seeing him for the first time, thinking, amazed: I was not hatched!

I had longed for Israel since childhood. In the fifth grade of my modern Orthodox, Zionist yeshiva, I won an essay contest with a composition about Israel, which ended with the words, “I have inherited the longing of my ancestors for their homeland.”

I was born in America, but it never felt like home. It felt like a mistake. Both my parents were immigrants, scarred and beleaguered, each in their own way. Both survived only because, miraculously, in each case, they got to America.

I have no doubt that, had my uncle, Simcha lived, we would have moved to Israel. His letters to my mother were love poems for Israel, one described sunrise over the Kotel.

There are those who feel that they were born in the wrong body. I felt I was born in the wrong country. By sixth grade, I was no longer singing the Star Spangled Banner at assembly. Only Hatikva.

I grew up among people, foremost, my mother and the woman who saved her from Europe and was like a grandmother to me, who loved this place even when they’d never seen it.

I heard, “Yerushalaim,” (Jerusalem) pronounced in their Galitsianer accent, with reverence and the knowing look of a lover.

When my mother finally saw Israel, she was like a girl in her joy of discovery. She booked us tours from Metula to Eilat. Everything about it delighted her, and me. Yonah left from right here, the port of Jaffa? These caves, like the ones David hid in?

When a family I babysat for went on aliyah, they loomed to me like celestial beings. I wrote them saying how I had always wished I had been born in Israel but their example showed me I could immigrate, of my own volition.

It took very long to realize that wish. I became an academic, a Jewish historian; no way I could make a living in Israel.

The tension between my professional self and longing for Israel was ever present and tortured. In Israel, I felt alive in a way I was nowhere else.

Finally, toward the end of a sabbatical year here-- first time teaching in Hebrew, my first war, anticipating, yet again, walking to the airport gate, every cell in my body shrieking, “mistake!”

I emailed my financial advisor asking if I could swing it. He replied it would be better to wait a few years. Not what I asked you, I responded. But I had my answer.

To leave meant relinquishing a full professorship, a good salary, excellent benefits. “Very stark choice,” I wrote myself in a note I keep, still, on the fridge, for the moments here that are rough, professionally, financially.

My son caught the Israel bug. Just after his bar mitzvah, he, an only child, told me that he would immigrate, and serve in an IDF combat unit.

He got into a good university with financial aid, and pondered for a while, both of us knowing that the BA there would be far superior to one here.

When he chose Israel I threw him an Aliyah party, and, along with some Biblical verses, put this quote by Professor Shlomo Avineri on the invitation : “To live here [is] to participate in the most revolutionary renaissance enterprise the Jewish people has ever known.”

A few years later, I put these same words on the invitation to my own aliyah party.

To be here now, watching a perfect storm of the criminal, the violent, and their enablers and watch them, driven by lust for Gush Katif-revenge and worship of power, set out with determination to wreck and ruin this place, sully it with their corruption, fanaticism, hate, racism, and misogyny—is a grief equal to that love.

To imagine that they could actually bring this “most revolutionary renaissance enterprise the Jewish people has ever known,” to an end; that, warned by top economic and financial, security and intelligence experts, just now, by no less than the former head of Shabak, they rush ahead, unfazed.

Moshe Koppel, computer scientist but lately, constitutional law expert, founder of the unelected Kohelet Forum that has played such an outsized role in what is going on now, keeps a bus sign from Gush Katif outside the door of his house. It’s his would-be talisman to make this place a theocratic autocracy.

We know what each of the corrupt parts of this engine has at stake in this, whether it’s to stay out of jail, or exact revenge for having been sent to jail and convicted again, subsequently; or because this is a one-time chance to enact theocracy and violent, racist, rule, and they all know that if this government falls, their chances dim in another election.

Having shown their full hands, the country, much of which was apathetic and complacent before this, no longer is; and that, the gang fears. What is it that a Japanese military commander is said to have said, after Pearl Harbor? He feared they had awakened a sleeping giant?

So for them, this is do or die. They do, and we, this enterprise, dies. Or, as several of them have asserted, quite seriously, in response to warnings from economists and intelligence experts, God will save us.

How many times have we watched as coups and immature democracies turn into banana republics. But us? Our Israel?

I am out in the streets every week; date night with the state of Israel. My sign calls for “CONSTITUTIONAL democracy!” and enactment of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and fundamental, inalienable, equal, human and civil rights and obligations for all citizens, against this regime’s gaslighting claim that the will of the majority, whatever the content, is “democracy.”

That constitution must also detail a tripartite system of government, with an independent judiciary and a Supreme Court acting as one, with the functions of each branch, and checks and balances between them, defined.

And it must, finally, enact separation of established religion and State, so that the former ceases to be a threat to egalitarian democracy and rational governance, and theocracy is precluded permanently as a system that can be imposed through political deals and blackmail.

It is the lack of all this that has made the coup possible. That must end, and never threaten us again. Delaying this threatens our existence, in a way our enemies till now, have not.

Those of us with historical or religious background understand that Israel is not only about refuge.

Did I “flee” America and my excellent life there? Did my son?

It is about national redemption in a society worthy of our history and the sacrifices, daily and horrific, made for this place. A society in our own, fractious image, but with a social contract for all citizens, of whatever ethnicities, all of us trusting in the basic fairness and professional competence of our governance, free to live out our lives, thrive, and see a future for our children.

I always knew there were people here with whom I disagreed passionately, whose agenda I would fight. But also that here was family, even family I could not stand. I remember the time I waited to cross a street in Jerusalem and an elderly, ultra-Orthodox man just took my arm, didn’t ask, just took it.

Because he assumed, how it thrilled me, that he could. Of course, I would help him. He could be my grandfather, I thought, silently blessing him, a stranger, for acting like family.

To live this moment- and hear Jews here, among them senior Cabinet ministers, speak in the language of our oppressors and murderers is unbearable.

To tolerate this would be to betray our own history, to give posthumous victory to our worst enemies.

It is also to betray Diaspora Jews, whose hearts beat with ours, to whom this place must also remain a version of home.

I’ve always been grateful to have been born after the founding of Israel, that there was never a time in my life that it did not exist.

Now, a month shy of Israel’s 75th birthday, we see our existential threat coming from within.

As I watch in horror, my grief comes in mortifying Biblical tropes, from the Book of Lamentations, Avadim mashlu vanu. Eicha, eicha?

How is this happening?

We cannot be exiled again into Galut. Not the physical kind and not the existential kind.

Shulamit S. Magnus is a Jewish historian and Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College.

QOSHE - Will Netanyahu Destroy the Israel I Left America For? - Shulamit S. Magnus
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Will Netanyahu Destroy the Israel I Left America For?

16 20
26.03.2023

I remember a conversation with one of my closest friends from high school, on a New York City subway. I spoke of my longing for Israel, and to be out of Galut, a Hebrew term meaning both exile and Diaspora.

She responded that there is Galut in Israel, too, until the messiah comes. Absurd, I told her.

It was 1968 and I had just returned from my first visit to Israel where I met my only first cousins.

My mother was the only survivor of her large family, Hasidim: no grandparents, aunts, uncles; no first cousins I knew in the flesh. But her eldest brother, the religious Zionist leader of their town, had gotten out, to Palestine, before the Nazis, and had two sons. He was killed in the siege of Jerusalem in 1948 when he went out to help someone shot by Jordanian fire near the Old City, and was shot himself.

But these two cousins—one even resembled me—existed here, in this dream land suddenly materialized after a long flight. I remember the shock of seeing him for the first time, thinking, amazed: I was not hatched!

I had longed for Israel since childhood. In the fifth grade of my modern Orthodox, Zionist yeshiva, I won an essay contest with a composition about Israel, which ended with the words, “I have inherited the longing of my ancestors for their homeland.”

I was born in America, but it never felt like home. It felt like a mistake. Both my parents were immigrants, scarred and beleaguered, each in their own way. Both survived only because, miraculously, in each case, they got to America.

I have no doubt that, had my uncle, Simcha lived, we would have moved to Israel. His letters to my mother were love poems for Israel, one described sunrise over the Kotel.

There are those who feel that they were born in the wrong body. I felt I was born in the wrong country. By sixth grade, I was no longer singing the Star Spangled Banner at assembly. Only Hatikva.

I grew up among people, foremost, my mother and the woman who saved her from Europe and was like a grandmother to me, who loved this place even when they’d never seen it.

I heard, “Yerushalaim,” (Jerusalem) pronounced in their Galitsianer accent, with reverence and the knowing look of a lover.

When my mother finally saw Israel, she was like a girl in her joy of discovery. She booked us tours from Metula to Eilat.........

© Haaretz


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