When I was a young man living in Brooklyn, I knew a printer who showed me a letter. This was in the late 1960’s. It was entitled “A Letter To the World From Jerusalem.” It had been published in the now defunct Jerusalem Times in 1969 after the liberation of this city from Arab rule and after its re-unification in 1967. That letter and knowledge that a Jewish army had conquered and liberated all of our country, fighting against three more powerful nations, as well as against the approval of the world, had stolen my heart home – here.
But I did not know that then. It took nearly a quarter century for the Thief to carry the prize home.
Last night, I came to understand that fact – and why so many Israelis who immigrate from foreign nations have trouble with the idea that another country should not touch any of OUR land. I understood why they so easily accepted “realities” of world politics and so easily ignored what ought to have been the fire in their hearts burning to fight and defy the world and die, if need be..
Their hearts were not in Jerusalem. They were still in the “old country”, whatever that old country was.
This all came about from a discussion I had had with the guys going out on patrol Sunday night, my fellows in the uniformed Police Volunteer Unit I belong to. Most of us who serve on Sunday nights are English speakers who came home from the States or other English speaking parts of the world, and the unit conducts most of its informal business in English (Shhhh! Don’t tell anybody that!). It was the standard discussion about politics, and we had all taken our standard positions.
Most of my colleagues have no trouble giving up this or that piece of land to the Arabs to feed the “peace” monster, and view me as an extremist because I stick stubbornly to the idea that you can’t divide up the land and live in peace with enemies who would sooner see you dead than see you at all. They are “realists” and adhere firmly to the “reality” they read in the Wall Street Journal, Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post or the Washington Post, whatever “reality” they happen to be peddling that week.
I believe in the eternal truths of the Torah and the Tana”kh.
One of these fine gentlemen went through the list of party leaders one by one, asking his colleagues if they would prefer this person, or that person or the other person, the big three running in the election. Like good realists, they all were prepared to hold their noses and vote for the “crime minister,” Ariel Sharon. I couldn’t understand where their sense of outrage, justice denied, contempt of a man who went back on his word – where all this had gone. It was standing at a bus station in the northern end of the city, in the quiet of the night, holding a flashlight and watching the people board and disembark from the various buses stopping there when the realization hit me.
For all the times I had listened to renditions of “Danny Boy” or “Romania, Romania” or the tarantella at the immigrant weddings and bar mitzvahs I had gone to, I had never heard what was at the heart of all of them – the longing to be in the birth land, where childhood was, or at least was remembered, sweet and kind.
My own father, who had starved as a refugee kid in Russia-Poland in the First World War, never forgot that the food tasted better in Poland. When we passed the Statue of Liberty driving along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, he never neglected to point it out to me. But he also never neglected to mention that it was a Jewish woman, Emma Lazarus, who had penned the immortal lines on that statue.
For all the 55 years he had spent living in the United States, and as proud as he was of his citizenship papers – for all that – his heart had never left Russia-Poland where he had grown up. If he could have returned there knowing that he could live in peace and security in the world he had come from – I suspect he would have. But he couldn’t – the world he had lived in was gone. It had disappeared not just in time, as most of our worlds do, but in its entirety. Poland is a Jewish graveyard. And so shall it remain.
The English speaking gentlemen with whom I argued Sunday night – and they are all gentlemen and intelligent people – do not have their hearts in Jerusalem, even though their bodies are here and they are willing to put their lives up for its defense. This appears to be a paradox that has to do with emigrating from one country and adopting another as one’s homeland.
This is not a condemnation or a criticism. Not at all. It is an observation, and the only reasonable answer to why they would be willing, without protest, to vote in a man willing to redivide their home city and bring the Arab enemy to within meters of them. If their hearts were here, their anger would be kindled against those who would rob THEIR patrimony for the political convenience of staying out of jail.
But alas, their hearts are not here. They are in the home towns of their births. This does not just apply to those who arrived here less than a decade ago. One of these gentlemen has been here thirty years, has served in the IDF, served in the Israel Prison Service and as a volunteer policeman for nearly the whole time he has lived here; he has raised a family here, with a son who bravely served in a combat unit in the IDF, copying his father. He is a spit and polish professional with high standards, a man any service would be proud to have as an exemplary model of an officer. But like my own father, his heart has remained in the land of his birth. I doubt he realizes this at all.
These are men of substance, all of them. They could, were they willing to use their fertile imaginations, find a way to help change the terrible situation this land finds itself in. But they do not. In all truth, I do not think they even suspect the reason.
They differ from my father in that they can return to the lands of their birth and do so with relative frequency. Their ties are also kept up with that wonder of our age, the world wide web. A few strokes of the keyboard, and a newspaper from Australia or northern Virginia appears in front of their eyes.
But for some reason that I have no way of fathoming, my heart is here. I mentioned this to the Hebrew-speaking fellow I was patrolling with. His eyes brightened up and he said, “I was going to say exactly that!” He understood what I felt. His heart is also here, and like me he is disgusted with what he sees around him – and it angers him.
My hope for this land is not extinguished – not yet.
Now I, like Eliezer ben Yisrael who wrote “A Letter to the World From Jerusalem”, am a Jerusalemite. I have a few things to get off my chest. Because I am not a diplomat, I do not need to mince words, I do not need to persuade you. I owe you nothing….Powered by Sidelines