Thursday, August 31, 2006

Israel Stands Alone - As a Nation and As Individuals

I read a great story the other day, via soccerdad, about a tense scene in a bunker in Tel-Aviv, on the eve of the Six-Day War. Lionel Chetwynd tells how after hours of futile debate about what to do, and whether Israel can defend itself without any allies, Begin who did not say a thing until then, raises his hand:

“Slowly, the table’s attention slid toward him and there was silence. “Excuse me,” he asked, “but are there any Jews in this room?” There followed several beats of surprised, even confused, silence. The discomfort level was rising. Finally, he added, “Because if so, they should realize that if we wait for allies, we would best spend our time digging a mass grave for that will be the only serious task left.”

Chetwynd goes on to describe how Churchill’s England made the same decision:
“Halifax is said to have told Churchill that the only way to escape devastation was to find a way to survive with the Germans — or the England of the country farm, the corner pub, etc., would be lost. Churchill is said to have growled, “If that is all you you save, then you have failed. That is not the England of the Magna Carta”

Read the whole post here

Sometimes a nation, in order to survive, must stand alone, in the face of its fiercest enemies, without the comfort of allies. But Churchill makes another important point – survival in and of itself is not enough – slaves can survive – but do we wish to be slaves? Do we have nothing in ourselves, inherent to our nature that is worth cherishing and defending? Churchill thought that England certainly did have that something.   I’m sure that Israel, as the home of the Jewish people has many spiritual values that are worth cherishing, and defending, and even dying for. Unfortunately for the Israeli people, their leaders do not think so, and they are more likely to agree with Halifax than to bother with values, ideals, and the meaning of life beyond the next payoff.
So it is up to us – up to every individual citizen in this country to take a stand and decide where are we headed – to ignominious defeat and likely death, or to a long bitter struggle to maintain our freedom, our values and our way of life.
I am sure that many Israelis would choose freedom, except as far as I can tell, choosing to choose – choosing to take responsibility and act accordingly, is an extremely difficult task for even the bravest and most mature person.
This is true, especially when almost everyone around us is saying that everything will be O.K, that the higher-ups know what they are doing, that the next great star is waiting to be born just for us on TV, the next talk show, the next edition of the next news-as-entertainment daily gossip & propaganda sheet, just for us, so stop worrying about tomorrow, they say, let’s all just play, and drink, and snort and smoke another joint so we can forget who we are and what we are doing here, and so can you.
Standing alone, standing up for yourself, in defiance of society – that is perhaps the most difficult challenge a man can face. But sometimes it is necessary for his very survival. Which reminds me:
A few hours after I saw the Begin story, my wife reminded me of this one, recounted in “Women Who Run with the Wolves”, a fantastic book by renowned Jungian analyst, Clarissa Pincola Estes :
“ A man goes to the tailor, to have his new suit fitted. When he is standing in front of the mirror, he notices that the hems on the waistcoat are uneven.
“ Don’t worry about that” said the tailor “just pull down the shorter side with your left hand and no one will notice”.
The client did as asked and then he noticed that the lapel had turned upwards, instead of being flat.
“This?” said the tailor. “ It’s nothing. Twist your head a little and flatten it with your chin.”
The client obeyed, but when he did so he also noticed that the inner seam of the pants was too short, and the pants themselves a little too tight in the groin area.
“Don’t worry” said the tailor. “Pull the pants with your right arm and everything will be just fine.
The client did as he was told, and bought the suit.
The next day he wore his new suit with all the necessary chin and hand “modifications”. He limped around the park. His chin holding down the lapels, one hand holding the waistcoat, the other his groin. Two old men stopped playing checkers and looked at him in dismay.
“ My god, look at that poor cripple!” exclaimed the first old man.
The second one thought for a minute and then said “ yes, he his horribly disabled, but I wonder…I wonder where he got such a beautiful suit.”

Dr. Estes uses this story to describe how women come to be disabled by society’s demands upon them, forcing them to give up on their true, wild nature.But this is a universal story, applicable to everyone, everywhere throughout history.
We are born with an intuitive understanding of ourselves, of who we are, what we are meant to be and what we need to survive and thrive. However, at birth we are totally dependent upon society for our survival, and must do everything we can in order to appease those people whom we are dependent upon. In this process of growing up to be a part of society, called socialization, we tend to lose sight of ourselves. We develop a suit – a beautiful suit – consisting of all the things we want other people to see in us when we are in company. In Jungian theory this social suit is called the Persona, and in extreme cases it is almost everything that one knows about oneself. In trying to comply with society’s demands, we lose sight of ourselves, and we lose touch with our instinctive nature, our wild, free, alert selves, we lose touch with God.
And that is the paradox of humanity – we cannot be ourselves without first being a part of society, but ultimately, in order to be ourselves, to make our lives our own, to make them worth living even – we must choose between society and ourselves, between society and God.
This choice is inherent in Judaism – after all, we are called Israel – Those who struggle or strive with God. The first commandment is “ I am the Lord thy God” and the second one “”Thou shalt have no other Gods before me” and only after these do we hear about the individuals obligation to society, to his parents and neighbors. So we must first struggle with God's demands from us and only afterwards must we deal with society's demands. Sometimes, though, society will demand from us to disobey or ignore God – and what are we to do then? What if society's demands are leading us to our death? Will we dare to shout - "The Emperor is naked!"?

Our mission, as a people, is to struggle with God. For the most part, we tend to forgo this struggle. It is an extremely difficult path to follow, and the pressure of society, of the group – friends and family and co-workers, is usually much closer at hand, and much louder than the deep, uneasy rumbling of the displeased God within us. There are times in history when a society can have only a few select people dedicated to this struggle with God, facing the fateful choice between God and society. Personally, I am afraid that this is not one of those times – I fear that it is incumbent upon all of us to try and engage in this struggle, so that perhaps together we can right this ship, and steer it in another direction. I fear that if we don’t – if we wait for our allies, for our leaders and elites, for our friends and family, for the newspapers and obscenely good-looking TV announcers – I fear that this time, if we will wait for them, the collective ship we are sailing will flounder. It has happened before.
But I grew up on the idiom “Never Again”, and I am going to do my best to make sure it doesn’t.
Will you?


Heading for Sinai said...

Excellent post, J. Joe. The story about Begin is, sadly, very apt these days. One of the things I like about your writing overall is that in each post you have a "Conclusion" that is really nothing more than a gateway to thinking and acting!

Jerusalem Joe said...

thanks HFS. i was afraid i got a little too scary and that i'd freak people out but i guess not.

Bagel Blogger said...

...the third old man answered, he's a hunch back, but he gets charity work from a patron,ringing their bell.

I'd rather ring my own bell, wear simpler clothes and walk upright.

Thanks for the good read.