Sunday, July 30, 2006

352. Sadness, part 2


My fellow posters did indeed disagree, but not in the way I hoped. Well, maybe it's time for the Jewish people to disappear, they said (the Jewish respondents, the only ones who could get away with this answer and not be banned forever from our little online community). Remember Rome? Civilizations come and go. Yeah, it would be sad--but what's Israel anyway, except a patch of land that's caused problems for centuries? Move all the Jews in Israel to Montana. Israel is just like the U.S., with a useless government that takes advantage of the downtrodden. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Perhaps it's time to make amends.

A number of people agreed, and I knew that each of them represented many others offline.

I expected criticism of Israel, but not to the point of complete lack of concern for her life or death. I was incensed, at first, or at least pretended to be--because I also realized that a year or two ago, those words could have been mine. Until my trip this past December, I had little sense of any connection to Israel. Why, I wondered, should I pray about this tiny, distant, confused place? What relevance beyond historical curiosity and appreciation of her pluck did modern Israel have to my religious life, let alone any other aspect of my Judaism?

Also, we're people of the book--so what if the book moved somewhere else? Didn't the diaspora prove we were a portable bunch? Let the Catholics have their Vatican, the Muslims Mecca. We're different. Jewish prayer can take place almost anywhere; time, rather than place, is sacred. And so the more I became involved in Jewish life, the less I understood of why Israel still mattered. It seemed that we lived and worshipped just fine without her.

Someone recently asked how chanting Torah changed my connection to Judaism. I answered quickly, surprised at what came out of my mouth: The words in the scroll are concrete, I said. When I follow them with a yad and voice their syllables I feel Jewish in a tangible way, more deeply than through prayer, study, or even gemilut hasadim, acts of goodness and lovingkindness that bring the Torah to life. And visiting Israel had the same effect. Now that I've run my fingers through her soil, seen her natural beauty, heard the music of a language I can imitate but barely comprehend, she's no longer just an idea about which I feel vaguely guilty for not understanding. Now she exists. That visceral reaction was my missing piece. Was I crazy for needing physical proof? I don't think so; despite our world of ideas, we humans still must see, feel, hear, to fully comprehend. Visiting Israel was like the touch of a hand on mine, the electricity of looking directly into another's eyes and not being able to turn away.

Last year at the Ne'ila service that concluded Yom Kippur, I led the congregation in Hatikvah, "The Hope," the Israeli national anthem--and felt like a hypocrite. Did I really hope for her? I do now. I want her to exist not just because the liturgy says so, or because the sacredness of time wouldn't matter but for that place, or because my great-grandparents died for her. I want Israel to exist for me, selfishly, because I have so much more to learn.

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