Saturday, December 20, 2003

Hag log: First day of Hannuka
I woke up to the smell of the oil from last night’s latkes. No matter how much you air the apartment afterwards you can never be rid of it. Youngest didn’t want her sufganiya (doughnut). She is strangely uninterested in sweet things, that child. She actually dislikes chocolate. Eldest was happy to oblige. She loves anything sweet (like mother, like daughter).

Roger Simon is back and, sadly, doesn’t have anything very positive to say about what France is looking like these days.

Malcolm S. at Occam’s Toothbrush linked to an interesting article about European anti-Semitism and political correctness by Jean-Christophe Mounicq, a few days ago. This passage, in particular, caught my interest:

Contemporary political correctness defines any limits on immigration as racism. Any political leader, intellectual or "normal" citizen, who suggests that immigration should be controlled through the application of law or who advocates repatriation of illegal immigrants is denounced as a racist. It is sometimes even considered outrageous to suggest that immigrants should obey the laws of their host country. "We cannot obey this law because it is incompatible with the Koran" is a claim heard more and more often from Muslims. "Native Europeans" often seem ready to abandon their principles to avoid conflict.

Airplanes full of illegal immigrants sent back to their native country have been compared, by French intellectuals, journalists and political activists, to the trains that carried Jews to Dachau. Thus a former French interior minister, Jean-Louis Debrי, who carried out this policy, was portrayed as a Nazi despite being of Jewish origin himself. […]

Any criticism of the culture of any immigrant is also viewed as racist. The only permissible criticism seems to be that which is directed against Western civilization. Bad Westerners are portrayed as the only violent colonizers and evil invaders of all history.

Why does this make me think of a person being violently mugged, and while the assailant is sticking his knife in the person’s gut, he succumbs nobly, mentally accepting the violence against him, because he believes his attacker is so much more deserving than he is?

So is this it? An intellectual elite denies its people’s own cultural worth and independence to decide its fate as a result of self-loathing and guilt? And why? Roger suggests the French have too much leisure. Idle hands are the devils tools, as they say. But I can see this unhealthy phenomenon developing in some Israeli intellectual circles too, and I can bear witness to the fact that we certainly do not work a thirty-five hour week (besides in our dreams). Fortunately, in Israel most people do not feel this way, and this has been reflected clearly in recent election results.

I’m hoping all this is just exaggerations; people seeing what they want to see; searching for the missing penny under the streetlamp; Roger going over to France and finding what he expects to find (although I have no doubt that Roger is far too discriminating for that). This brings me to a little Jewish folk tale, that was told in an Israel Harel article in Haaretz that Miki sent me:

In a small town in Lithuania, a young genius served as a yeshiva head and the town's rabbi. One day, he received an offer to serve as the head of a yeshiva in Vilna, where the most important yeshivas at the time were located. The town's residents were very disappointed, but he allayed their concerns: We will send two delegations to check whether it would be worth my while to take up the offer, he told them.

If the rabbi decided on two delegations, the town's residents thought, he must have a hidden and important reason for doing so.

A few days later, the first sled returned to the town and made its way straight to the synagogue, where, with almost the entire town listening on tenterhooks, the delegation said: Rabbi, with all the sorrow and pain it entails, we have no right to stop you. The yeshiva that has invited you has many hundreds of students, and all study Torah day and night. Your future lies there; and from there, you will lead the world of the Torah.

Two days later, the second sled returned, with the faces of its occupants reflecting satisfaction. You are staying here, they told their rabbi in front of the entire congregation. We may be a small town, but here at least you are respected by everyone, and the sins of the community are few. In the big city of Vilna, we found brothels that are frequented, spare us, by Jews as well - including students from the yeshiva that has invited you. Vilna is also filled with thieves and loansharks, many poor people, and bitter conflicts; and the pupils of one rabbi boycott the pupils of another; and there are curses and abuse. Why would you want to get mixed up in all that?

Everyone turned to face the rabbi. True, he said; both delegations have reported the truth. Each delegation chose to go to the place that suited the nature of its members; and as is the way of man, to project what it saw and experienced onto Vilna in its entirety.

In reaction to the article, which you can read in its entirety here, Miki asks me “How do you think Israelis now see Israel? As "a hard-pressed and exhausted country without morals and without a future"?” And my answer is: some do, some don’t. Some do some of the time; some do most of the time; some never do. I have a tiresome acquaintance, who, when shown a cup full of water, will always emphasize the empty segment of the cup, however small and inconsequential. We all know people like that, don’t we? Others, when shown an empty cup, with maybe just a few drops at the bottom, will focus on the drops.

If the offspring of members of an Israeli elite don’t feel content with life in Israel, maybe the time is ripe for the emergence of a new elite. Recently I have been spending some time, one afternoon a week, in the vicinity of Tel Aviv University. Surely, if so many intelligent young people are leaving, there wouldn’t be so many of them waiting at the bus stop opposite the dorms, on their way home from a long day of study, would there? There were never that many when I waited at that same bus stop sixteen, seventeen years ago.

However, I would be lying if I said everyone thinks everything is hunky dory. It’s not easy living in a difficult situation without a solution in sight, especially in this era of instant enlightenment and coffee. I guess it is particularly difficult for those who think they can clearly see the solution, and can’t understand why most people don’t agree with them. I am referring, of course, to very left wing Israelis, who blame Israel alone for everything, not unlike the Europeans Jean-Christophe Mounicq talks about, who see fault only in western society, and seem willing to happily surrender every value they claim to hold dear, in the name of openness and diversity (and cowardice?).

I don’t know what people think anymore, Miki. I haven’t discussed the situation with friends and acquaintances for quite a while. What’s the point? As Bish said yesterday, who can be bothered to have an opinion any more?

Is this a sign of exhaustion, or of mental health?