This is a tough day to be Jewish. Yesterday, Obama ripped the Band-Aid off of Israel’s ugly sore and showed the whole world that, voila, there are an increasing number of Settlements in the West Bank, and that fact totally stinks! Tomorrow, Hanukkah arrives, but so does Christmas, and let’s face it, as Holidays go, Christmas kicks Hanukkah’s tuchus.
What is a nice Jewish boy to do? The Jewish State has been publicly humiliated and a Jewish Holiday isn’t measuring up. And all this is happening at the same time. “Hey God,” we’re tempted to say, “if this is the treatment we’re going to get, choose somebody else!”
But honestly, we’re nothing if we’re not resilient. And all joking aside, we’re a pretty proud people too. Humble, when it comes to relating to God, but proud, when it comes to relating to the human race. We can laugh at ourselves and some of our lamer holiday traditions (neither Hanukkah gelt nor dreidels measure up to a good Christmas carol). And we can cry when it comes to the Jewish State and the fact that nearly seven decades into this whole Israeli experiment, it still hasn’t found peace with our Palestinian cousins. But a real, authentic Jew enjoys Hanukkah just the same and loves Israel from the bottom of one’s heart.
I’m tempted to add that a real, authentic Jew is indeed a proud Zionist. But I’ve learned over time that you can be one without being the other. Just join the peace movement if you don’t believe me. I did, and it wasn’t until doing so that I realized just how proudly Zionistic I am. When I think about yesterday’s UN Resolution condemning Israel, I can’t help but think back 41 years at another famous UN Resolution, where that august body declared that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." Really? Zionism is racism? Now think about all the scores of countries who voted for that resolution – including even places like East Germany, Poland, and Hungary which worked so hard to cleanse themselves of Jewish flesh and blood during the Holocaust. Who the hell are they to condemn Zionism?
At bottom, Zionism is the desire of Jews to have a piece of earth where they are neither ghettoized nor marginalized. Zionism is holy – every bit as holy as the desire of black people to live in liberty or of Native Americans to control their own land. In recent decades, many Progressives have proclaimed that Zionism is a movement of exploitative, colonial fat cats, but it’s not. It’s steeped in the desire for justice, which is precisely why most Zionists over the years have supported trading land for peace.
But let’s face it -- yesterday’s UN vote made a whole lot more sense than the one in 1975. It was a direct attack not at Zionism per se but at a particular strand of Zionism that is expansionist and Biblically literal. “Judea and Samaria” are code words for “Screw the Palestinians – we want ALL the land, and the Settlements are the path to get it.” If your goal is a two-state solution, the Settlements are a cancer. If your Zionism includes compromise, the Settlements are a slap in the face. And if yesterday’s UN vote somehow curtails the Israeli tolerance of the Settlements, then it will end up being a good thing.
But it’s just as foreseeable that yesterday’s vote will cause a pro-Settlement backlash. And that’s because the venue – the United Nations – is such a pathetic tribunal in which to try Jewish claims. It demands virtually nothing from the Palestinians other than to stop participating in that long-lived international tradition known as Jew-slaughter, whereas when it comes to Zionists, it expects them to walk the chalk. And let me give you a little tip about Jews: we’re getting really sick of being held to a higher standard than everyone else.
Yesterday’s vote scares me, because the key to peace in the Holy Land is to uplift the moderate forces in both camps and not to embolden the extremists. Given the well-documented UN bias, yesterday’s vote may be perceived by the extremist Zionists as spit in the face – as, in essence, a big fat dare to expand the settlements. I wouldn’t be surprised if they take up that dare, which would make the two-state solution much less likely to achieve and turn yesterday’s vote into a cruel joke on everyone who believes in compromise.
I guess time will tell as to how everyone reacts to the vote on the Israeli side. As for the Palestinian side, I’m still waiting for a time when Palestinians publicly declare their respect for a PERMANENT Jewish State. Most Palestinians give the Israelis no confidence that if there were to be a treaty that carved out two states roughly along the 1967 borders, they wouldn’t ultimately resume the fight for one state with a presumably Arab majority – which seems to be what Palestinians generally believe is the only just outcome. Don’t expect any time soon for the United Nations to push back on the Palestinians in their fight for a one-state solution.
Anyway, enough with yesterday. Today, we look forward to tomorrow. Santa Clause will have come and gone. Rudolph will be back to bed. The baby Jesus will be remembered as the pinnacle of purity. And houses will be littered with green trees, ornaments, lights, presents, music, enchantment. And we Jews? We can spin our little tops, eat our little chocolates, light our little menorahs, and maybe, just maybe, come to grips with the fact that the real enemies of the Maccabees, the heroes of the Hanukkah story, were those Jews who assimilated with the advanced, secular culture of their day.
Some Jews – the same ones who do nothing but criticize Israel -- will be ashamed of the Maccabees and the real history of Hanukkah. But most of us will smile with pride at the thought of this little holiday and the history behind it. It may not have Christmas’ pageantry. But it’s what we’ve got. For to be Jewish on those rare occasions where Hanukkah begins at the same time as Christmas is like sharing a birthday with a beloved celebrity. Surely, most folks would rather honor that celebrity than you. But you still need to proud of you who are, where you come from, and what you might someday accomplish. And when you’re a real authentic Jew, you come to see your cultural traditions and your ethnic holidays – even the less important ones like Hanukkah – as an extension of self.
So let South Park Eric Cartman’s sing his Dreidel Song, “Jews, play stupid games. Jews, that's why they're lame.” And let the United Nations hold Jews to one standard, and the rest of the world to a much lower one. None of that can take away from one simple fact: we’ve been around for more than 3000 years, and we’re not leaving. Nor are we ever again going to let the world round us up and do with us what they will.
We are humble. But we are also proud. Proud of Yom Kippur. Proud of Passover. And proud, even, of Hanukkah. So let those dreidels spin, eat your potato latkes, and raise a glass to those fanatical Maccabees – regardless of what the United Nations might say about them.
Postscript: The Empathic Rationalist will be vacation until after the New Year. Happy Holidays to one and all!