the chosen people
may 16-19, 1999
tel aviv –
back in tel aviv, benny and i take a much needed break from each other, and i shuttle myself around between “servas” hosts. i find myself in the university suburb of ramat aviv with a retired military major and his architect wife, in sh'kun dan with a husband-wife team of jewelry manufacturers who swim every morning at 7 a.m. in the mediterranean, and with a folksinger in jaffa. all these friendly, generous people offer their homes to absolute strangers (like myself) and treat them (us) like family. they feed us, give us a comfortable bed, clean towels, often times a key to their front doors, and best of all - themselves. an enthusiastic servas host will show you around his or her city, plan your itinerary, and sometimes even do your laundry. you discover things, places, and ideas with these new-found friends that you would never find through the local tour guide or international sheraton. in fact, why stay in a hotel at all when you can see a country and its culture through the eyes of its people, and - see it for free?
there are a lot of museums in israel: the huge historical israel museum in jerusalem, the folk and craft ha eretz museum in tel aviv, the world renowned holocaust memorial museum, yad vashem, in the hills above jerusalem. many that i saw were excellent - well organized, informative, enlightening, oftentimes even chilling. the one that struck me the most personally though was the diaspora museum, on campus at the university of tel aviv in ramat aviv. my military major servas host had pointed me in its direction, no more than a five minute walk from his home.
i decide to take the 11 a.m. tour. not being one to join flocks of sheep, i nevertheless figure this is a good way to get a lot of information in a short amount of time. in english. and i'm right. in an hour and a half, we cover 1878 years - from the infamous destruction of the 2nd temple in 70 AD through the nearly two millennium of heavy-hearted wanderings throughout the diaspora until 1948, when miraculously, after losing six million of their tribe in the holocaust, jews finally migrated back to their mythical "zion" and were once again recognized as a political entity by the world community. what a journey! from the bandit hebrew tribes revolting and then fleeing during the roman occupation, to the spreading west across north africa and asia minor during the byzantium and muslim ascendancies. up through the iberian peninsula until expulsion from spain in 1492 and portugal ten years later during the holy roman inquisition, across france and germany into eastern europe and russia, splintering off to distant refuges like greece, china, the americas. storied jewish "quarters", "schtetls", sub-cultures in exotic-sounding and oppressed places like fez, alexandria, krakow, warsaw, kiev, moscow, solanka, vilnius, mexico city. temples destroyed, people slaughtered - century after century, generation after generation. scapegoated money-lending jews always the persecuted, victimized tribe. always the blame, always the brunt - of the christian/muslim/ruling tribe. if not constantly, then at least consistently, repetitively, cyclically… predictably. wandering like native americans from one reservation to another. no place sacred; no place safe. burnings. lootings. rapings. killings. long before the final solution of hitler. and this - they call the history of "civilization".
the tour reminds me of one of the most chilling books i’ve ever read, leon uris’ "the source". in his fictional account of the history of jews throughout recorded and pre-recorded time, uris painfully recreates individual stories about a series of heroes who are targeted and scapegoated for their religious beliefs. for their stubbornness. devotion. intelligence. financial ability. from pre-civilized times, through greek, roman, christian, muslim, and european empires, one believer, one woman, one man, one generation of jews after another is first accused, and then slaughtered for their stubborn refusal to adapt to the worship of the day. no wonder the jew, among other things, is called “stiff-necked” and “proud”, unwilling to bend to the will of nations, despots, inquisitors, emperors, kings, dictators. unwilling to surrender his belief and faith in his one and true god. determined, at all costs, to keep the covenant his forefather, abraham, made with his god.
after the formal tour, i go back through the museum. i’m mesmerized. so much history. so much suffering. i can feel the weight of the centuries, the stubborn, inflexible devotion to this punishing, uncompassionate god of my ancestors. it makes me feel more Jewish than i even thought possible. how can one not identify with the ghastly history of one's race? i even go to the research center, and with the long fingers of cyber technology, i trace my father's family back to khartov, russia, my mother's father's family back to kiev, also in the ukraine. at six o'clock in the evening, i’m the last visitor to leave the museum, feeling like a heavy-hearted wandering jew myself, having vicariously experienced the searing history of the "chosen people". chosen for what, i wonder. chosen for pain,? chosen for suffering, for pride, tenacity, and endurance? i walk out in the jewish streets of tel aviv. "chosen", a word i think, that would have been better off – not chosen at all…
to be continued……
photo from www.magiccarpetjournals.com/Israel_Insights.htm