A Monologue: Behind the Sound and Fury

Article excerpt

I love Israel even at times when I don't like it, even when I can't stand it.

I love it because I feel somewhat at home in Israel, even though it is a flawed home. It needs some mending. If Israel at times is disappointing, that is the nature of dreams-to be somewhat disappointing once they are fulfilled.

Israel is a dream come true. The only way to keep a dream rosy and intact is to never live it out. This is true of planting a garden, raising a family, living out a sexual fantasy, or building a nation.

Some people expected Israel to be a moral light unto the nations. Others expected it to be a nonstop macho showEntebbe every week. Others wanted it to be an incarnation of the Jewish shtetl from Eastern Europe. They visit us and say "no bagels, no lox, no Jewish State."

Dreams can only remain wonderful as long as they don't come true. But the real Israel is not one dream come true, but a conglomeration of dreams, fantasies, blueprints and masterplans. There were people who came here to humbly wait for the messiah. There were others, more ambitious, who intended to make the messiah come immediately. Others wanted to BE the messiah, or to reconstruct the ancient kingdoms of David and Solomon with all their glory, or to build a Marxist paradise (so one day Stalin could visit and get the grand tour of a kibbutz, and the kibbutzniks could have a lengthy discussion with him and teach him once and for all what Marxism/Leninism is all about, and then, they fantasized, he would rise to his feet, say "You Jews did socialism better here than we did in Russia," and die of happiness). There were Europeans who hoped to rebuild Vienna or Prague in the heart of the Middle East, with good manners and tea and European decorum, music, peace and quiet between two and four in the afternoon, and a lot of Gamitlichkeit. Next door there were people who wanted this place to become a fifty-second state of the U.S. or a Scandanavian social democracy. The founders of my own kibbutz, Hulda, semi-religious social anarchists, maintained that it was time for the Jewish people to come back to Israel to create a loose federation of rural communities where the Jews would undergo a deep religious renewal, not in synagogue, but by being in constant touch with the elements of nature, by hard physical work and sharing everything with each other. There was, in short, a rainbow of fantasies.

Zionism was an uneasy coalition of diverse dreams, and by definition it would have been impossible for all those dreams to have been fulfilled. Today, some are partially fulfilled, some forgotten, and some have turned into nightmares.

Israel is a fiery collection of arguments, and I like it this way, although it is no garden of roses. There is something very creative about this situation. Israel is a living open street seminar about Jewish heritage, about the meaning of Judaism, about morality, about the significance or marginality of holy places, about a hierarchy of different Jewish values. A whole nation has been immersed for the past thirty years in a debate which is superficially political or military but which is essentially ethical, historical, even theological about the kind of identity they want.

Outsiders say, "Can't you Israelis lower your voices a little bit when you disagree with each other? The noises that you are making are embarrassing us in front of our nonJewish neighbors."

No way, no deal.

One of the consequences of being a citizen of an independent state of the Jewish people is that I feel free to conduct my argument at the top of my voice if I so choose and to hell with my neighbors. Israel belongs in a Felini movie, not an Ingmar Bergman film. Hence the sound and the fury, the anger and sometimes the bad blood. When abroad, some of us peace-oriented Israelis are requested to shut up for the sake of unity. At least abroad, some American Jews say, we need to present a unified Jewish facade. …