Coming Home: Meaning of Homeland for the Jewish People
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כותב המאמר: Amos Oz
More and more ethnic minorities are becoming increasingly involved in their roots and their traditions. Jewish liturgy and politics has always been based around the triangle of the Land of Israel, the People of Israel and the Book of Israel.
Let me begin with a few things that seem self-evident to me. I shall have to reformulate accepted formulas about identity and identification, for in these days there has been a powerful earthquake that has swept along words and meanings: "Jewishness," "Zionism," "homeland," "national right," "peace"-these words are swept along into new spaces, and interpretations are claimed for them we had not dreamed of. And anyone who stands up and speaks out in these days risks being stoned in the market place and being accused of Jewish self-hate or of betraying the nation or desecrating the memory of the fallen; for even their rest is disturbed so that they may be used as ammunition in our domestic quarrels.
I am a Jew and a Zionist. In defining the nature of my identity, I do not rely on religion, for I stand outside it. I have not learned to have recourse to verbal compromises like "the spirit of our Jewish past" or "the values of Jewish tradition," for values and tradition alike derive directly from tenets of faith in which I cannot believe; and I am incapable of separating Jewish values and Jewish tradition from their source, which is commandment, revelation and faith. Nouns like "mission," "destiny" and "election," when used with the adjective "Jewish," only embarrass me and worse. A Jew, in my vocabulary, is someone who regards himself as a Jew, and also someone who is forced to be a Jew. A Jew is someone who admits being a Jew. If he admits it publicly, he is a Jew by choice. If he admits it only to his inner self, he is a Jew by the compulsion of circumstances. If he does not admit to any connection with the Jewish people, then, in my view at least, he is not a Jew, though religious law defines him as such. A Jew, in my opinion is one who chooses to share the fate of other Jews, or who is condemned to do so.
Further: To be a Jew means to relate mentally to the Jewish past, whether the relation is one of pride or of oppression or of both together, whether it consists of cultural and linguistic or of emotional participation.
Further: To be a Jew means to relate to the Jewish present, whether by action or inaction; to take pride and participate in the achievements of Jews as Jews, and to share responsibility for injustice done by Jews as Jews (responsibility-not guilt!).
And last: To be a Jew means to feel that where a Jew is persecuted because he is a Jew -that means you.
To Be a Zionist
People who believe in the power of words must be careful how they use them. I do not use the word "holocaust" when I want to refer to the murder of the Jews of Europe. The word "holocaust" falsifies the true nature of what happened. A holocaust is a natural event, an outbreak of forces beyond human control. The murder of the European Jews by the German Nazis was no holocaust. Nor was it a terrifying but passing episode. The murder of the European Jews was the ultimate, consistent and horrible consequence of the status of the Jew in Western civilization; the consistent and terrifying consummation of a very long history: the Jew in Western civilization does not fall within the common definition of "national minority," "religious minority," or "socio-economic problem." He is, and has been for generations, a symbol. Like the steeple and the cross, like the devil, like the Messiah, so the Jew is part of the infrastructure of the Western mind. Even if all the Jews had been assimilated among the peoples of Europe, the Jew would have continued to be present there. Someone would have had to discover him. He was, one might say, doomed to exist as an archetype in the basement of Western consciousness, to shine and to repel, to suffer and to swindle, to be fated to be a genius and fated to be an abomination.
Therefore, being a Jew in the Diaspora means just that one terrible thing: Auschwitz is meant for you. It is meant for you because you are a symbol. The symbol of the rightly persecuted vampire, or the symbol of the unjustly persecuted eternal victim, -but always and everywhere, you are not an individual but a splinter of a symbol.
I am a Zionist because I will not and cannot exist as a splinter of a symbol in the consciousness of others. Not as the symbol of the shrewd, gifted vampire, and not as the symbol of the sympathetic victim who deserves compensation and atonement. Therefore, there is no place for me in the world other than in the country of the Jews. That does not make me circumvent my responsibility as a Jew, but it saves me from the nightmare of being a symbol in the mind of strangers day and night.
The country of the Jews, I said. The country of the Jews could not have come into existence and could not have existed anywhere but here. Not in Uganda and not in Ararat and not in Birobidjan. Because this is the country the Jews have always looked to and longed for. Because there is no other part of the world to which the Jews would have come in their masses to establish a Jewish country in it. And on this point I commit myself to a severe, pitiless distinction between the inner motives of the return to Zion and its justification to others. The longings are a motive, but no justification. Our justification in respect of the Arab inhabitants of the country cannot base itself on our age-old longings. We have no other objective justification than the right of one who is drowning and grasps the only plank he can. (And let me anticipate here: there is a gap as wide as the abyss between the drowning man who grasps a plank and makes room for holding on by pushing the others that are sitting on it aside, and between pushing the others who sit on the plank into the sea. This is the difference between making Jaffa and Nazareth Jewish, and making Ramallah and Nablus Jewish.)
I cannot use such words as "the promised land" or "the promised borders," because I do not believe in the one who made the promise. Happy are those who do: their Zionism is simple and self-evident. Mine is hard and complicated. I also have no use for the hypocrites who quickly resort to the promise and the promiser, whenever their Zionism runs into an obstacle and into the inner contradiction. I am a Zionist in all that concerns the redemption of the Jews, but not when it comes to the redemption of the Holy Land. We have come here to live as free men, not to free the land that groans under the desecration of a foreign yoke, Jerusalem or Galilee or Samaria or Gilead or Aram up to the Euphrates. I was not born to blow trumpets or to liberate a heritage that has been violated by strangers. Why here of all places? Because here, and only here, is where the Jews were capable of coming and establishing their independence. Because the establishment of the political independence of the Jews would not have come about in any other territory. Because here was the focus of their longings.
To tell the truth these longings were organically linked with the belief in the promise and the promiser, the redeemer and the Messiah. And belief, just as much as common fate, maintained the long-lasting unity of the Jewish people. On the other hand, it was not the Messiah who established this State, but a national-political movement with a secular, modern ideology. Therefore, the Zionism of a man without religious belief must necessarily have rifts in its structure of principles. I do not intend to gloss over those rifts or plaster them with phrases and slogans. I face, admit and accept them, and say: here I stand. In social life and in love, in the presence of death and in the presence of others, the non-religious man is condemned to an existence with built-in inconsistencies. And that goes for ideology, and for Zionism, as well.
Consequently, my Zionism is not "whole." For instance, I see nothing wrong with mixed marriage or with conversion, if it is successful. Only those Jews who choose to be Jews or who are condemned to be Jews are within the bounds of my Jewish responsibility and my Jewish allegiance. For them, and only for them, is the State of Israel a present possibility.
I do not regard myself as a Jew merely by virtue of "race" or as a "Hebrew" merely because I have been born in the Land of Canaan. I choose to be a Jew. As a Jew, I would not and cannot live anywhere but in a Jewish State. The Jewish State could only come into being in the Land of Israel. That is as far as my Zionism goes.
Confronting the Jewish Past
I do not live here in order to renew the days of old or to restore the glory of the past. I live here because it is my will to live as a free Jew.
Admittedly, this country has grown and come into existence largely out of a religious experience. Even its first founders, who went outside the compass of religion and revolted against it, were motivated by the force of a religious experience that clothed itself in the formulations of a national-secular ideology. "To restore the glory of the past," "to renew' the days of old," "to bring redemption to the land, "such common expressions testified and still testify to powerful currents flowing below the crust of the secular Zionist conception. Actually, there is often some conscious or unconscious self-deception attached to these phrases, that are arbitrarily detached from the religious context to decorate and beautify an essentially national-secular ideology. The false note becomes particularly disturbing when the State of Israel is provided with messianic attributes and we are told that the coming of the Messiah is evident in every Jewish goat, every Jewish acre, every Jewish gun. Brenner had some words to say about this.
But the existence that has taken shape and grown here has developed an image of its own: the main thing is neither the liberation of the ancestral heritage nor the liberation and reconstruction of Judaism, but the liberation of the Jews. The new Israel is no reconstruction of the Kingdom of David and Solomon or of the Second Temple. On the other hand, one cannot regard it as some American- or Australian type immigration country on the soil of Canaan. The new State of Israel is not tied by an umbilical cord to Jewish religion and history, but also not completely detached from them. It is in the curious and fascinating situation of "facing." The Bible and the Mishnah, the prayers and the piyutim, halachah and aggadah do not dominate the State of Israel, but they are present in it and indirectly shape its everyday and spiritual life.
"Facing" means neither uninterrupted continuity, nor a new start. "Facing" means continuous reference to the Jewish past. The Hebrew language, law and justice, customs, stories, lullabies, literature-all refer continually to the heritage of Jewish culture. It is not merely a new interpretation of an ancient culture, as the disciples of Ahad Ha'am would have it, but also no leap across the past to link up with ancient pre-Judaic strata, as the school of Berdichevsky claims. It is an indirect, tortuous, dialectic reference, burdened with conflicts and tensions, saturated with the confusion of revolt and the emotionalism of nostalgia, full of contradictions and contrasts.
I, for one, am one of those who believe that these clashes and tensions, contrasts and contradictions do not contain the seeds of spiritual poverty and shallowness. On the contrary: they are a mine of cultural wealth, a fertile well of spiritual dynamism. Without being a believing Jew, I am enthusiastic about the exciting abundance that lies concealed within the convolutions of our existence here, in the land of the Jews, facing Judaism.
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