Sometimes a cluster of unrelated events transpiring in close succession seem to have an invisible dialogue all its own. Last week was just such a week.
It started with the milestone of modern day Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, with an emotional pinnacle being the prestigious Israel Prize ceremony whose centerpiece featured the stirring words of Israel Prize recipient Miriam Peretz. At the heart of her speech, it seemed as though Peretz was conducting a private conversation with fellow Israel Prize recipient, David Grossman.
Peretz is an immigrant from Casablanca, religious, to the right of Grossman on Israeli politics. He is first and foremost a noted Israeli author, but also an outspoken leftist, often highly critical of government policy. Both are bereaved parents. Grossman buried a son and Peretz buried two. The land has absorbed the blood of each of their kin.
The visage of Grossman during Peretz’s espically loving and wise speech said it all. In case there was any doubt, the heartfelt hug afterward by Grossman and Peretz left no doubt. This was a moment rich in humanity, brave and humble and real.
Along with this precious high note of authenic, vulnerable unity, came the announcement by Natalie Portman that she was reneging on accepting in person the Genesis Prize at an upcoming ceremony in Israel. After many reacted to what felt like a serious betrayal and insult from one of their own, a “Member of the Tribe,” she clarified that her choice stemmed from her dislike of Bibi Netanyahu. No one actually knows her reasoning.
What we do know is that back in November, no one put a gun to Portman’s head when she was offered the $2 million prize and accepted it. Bibi was prime minister. To dis Israel so rudely and publicly, on her 70th birthday, and at a time when she is already so vulnerable, was a huge mistake and the damage is real.
It also smacks of deep hypocrisy when Portman has had no issue participating in award ceremonies and work projects in China, a government whose signature is human rights abuses.
Possibly, the victory Portman handed on a golden platter to BDS and its philosophical partners was an unintended consequence of someone so disconnected from her people, so desperately wanting to ingratiate herself with an anti-Israel leftist milieu, that it blinded her.
It is upsetting to have someone who sits in the safety of a distant country criticize a government for protecting its borders to ensure that their own citizens can live in the same safety she already enjoys. But what struck me was the contrast of Portman’s criticism and statement — which rang very hollow as well as Jewishly vacuous and detached, never mind problematic and shallow — to the presence, criticism and commitment to Israel of outspoken critic David Grossman.
He disagrees with current Israeli policy, and he paid the highest price. But he showed up.
Grossman’s political views usually don’t resonate with mine. As a reader of his literature I have great respect for him as an author and writer. He is an important voice balancing the Israeli discourse — not to mention that, heartbreakingly, he paid with the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel. Grossman shows how to disagree with Israeli policy — by being part of Israel, not by throwing Israel under the bus.
Another comment in Portman’s statement — something to the effect of Israel being founded 70 years ago as a refuge for survivors of the Holocaust — could not have been more inaccurate. Yes, the unfathomable genocide of the Holocaust no doubt impacted the U.N. vote to establish Israel. But on the eve of WWII, before the Holocaust, Palestine had over half a million Jews and the city of Tel Aviv was more than 30 years old. Herzl’s dream for a reborn revived modern Israel had already been conceived in the previous century, and students of the Gaon of Vilna had started making their way to the land about 80 years before that.
Yes, having experienced the Holocaust in our time, the Jewish people regard Israel as that much more precious and poignant and fraught.
Thank G-d for Israel. Thank G-d we have a homeland. Since when is there a perfect society that does not need repair? By all means, what demands repair ought to be repaired. But Israel a home for our people. An incredible home to be proud of that is constantly building, contributing, growing.
So instead of fleeing when times get tough, we need to stick with Israel and stay the course during the good and also during the challenging times.
To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy and to echo the writings of earlier Yiddishists, now more than ever we need to internalize the words “Ich Bin a Yid” and stand with our people and our country.
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News