Identity crisis. Crisis what Crisis? The debate inside Israel over these issues is passionate and ongoing, but perhaps not too profound. It stays in the comfort zone, preventing an articulation of a coherent definition of its own identity. If the leadership can’t arrive at consensus, let alone one that is accepted and recognized by the majority of its citizens, most of whom are secular and liberal by any Western standard; well time to head back to the default position, which is abetted by the majority of the white American middle-class, in part a projection, full force, of the unparalleled violence inherent in American bourgeois values; the vanguard of consumerism and an itchy trigger.
Rather than asking the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, therefore, Israel has its own homework to do. Tempting as it is to pass the buck, Israel does have a duty, especially to itself, to discover what it means when it says it is Jewish. But, before it can do so, there has to be a questioning of founding myths, of the necessary illusions that seem to be the basis of the national psyche; a mythical narrative to wrap the national soul in and evoke the necessary nationalistic nerve at the right inflexion point.
Ronit Lentit:As an Israeli child, I grew up on myths of ‘self defence’ and of ‘the few against the many’, which were the building blocks of Israeli state and society from its very inception. Israeli literary scholar Nurit Gertz identifies three ‘ideological narratives’ aimed at conserving the hegemonic power relations. The first myth is the ‘few against the many’ narrative, according to which a Jewish ‘David’ was attacked by an Arab ‘Goliath’, the second is the struggle between the enlightened (Jewish) Europeans and the backwards (Arab) Orientals and the ensuing myth about Palestine being a ‘desert’ which the Zionists made ‘bloom’, and the third is the struggle between the isolated Jewish nation and an uncaring world, a narrative strengthened by the indifference of the world in face of the Nazi genocide. A fourth myth is that of Israel as European, and a fifth – perhaps the strongest myth – was the belief that all Israel’s wars and brutalities are fought in self defence. Read More:http://www.ronitlentin.net/2010/06/07/to-gaza-when-is-self-defence-not-self-defence/#more-267
The theme of identity is the most volatile and strongest force pervading the history of Zionism Israel as a nation state. Herzl’s and other Zionist’s obsessive-compulsive dedication to the concept of a Jewish State had to be comprehended as a seemingly last ditch search for this new identity. To this goal, Herzl sacrificed his family, his dough, and his health, dying at age forty-four in 1904. Herzl’s conflict with Asher Ginsberg, a leader and advocate of “cultural Zionism” was focused, essentially, on the character of the nascent Jewish national homeland. Opposing Herzl’s views on the status and qualities of the Enlightenment and of modern civilization, Ginsberg asserted the necessity of a distinct Jewish identity, which, was underscored in a context of spirituality than religion. These competing conceptions continues today in Israel,and to a lesser extent in the Diapora, with a fierceness and intensity which has resulted in a fragmenting of society, somewhat like in America, in which mutually-hostile groups, unwilling and perhaps incapable of meaningful dialogue, are not somehow held together by common values. A case in point is the flaunting of national laws, an open legal defiance by the nationalistic and religious groups against the Gaza withdrawal. Imagine the West Bank.
So, we have profoundly tragic,even fatalistic and irreconcilable approaches to life and differing societal standards which avoid converging on such higher-level values, the basis of Judaism since the beginning of recorded time; as social benevolence and justice. An inability to complete a constitution, almost insulting for a democratic nation is also a mystery; the tug between secularism and fundamentalism just another tragic episode that confirms how Israeli society is cracking and bleeding itself to death over the identity issue.
From an article by Rachel Feidhay Brenner, Klein’s Hath Not a Jew: In Search of Vision
In Klein’s journal writing, the phenomena of anti-Semitic aggression and Jewish weakness are clearly spelled out and vigorously denounced. Anti-Semitism is condemned as anti-humanist, and Jews are told to oppose racism and defend humanist values. In Klein’s poetry, the response to the political situation draws upon the intertext of Jewish myth and historical tradition. The theme of the golem as the deus ex machina avenger of Jewish suffering coalesces with the theme of medieval Jewish martyrdom. Inten tionally, the poet subverts the original meaning of both themes: the fantasy of the golem defending helpless Jews becomes a terrifying vision of the world governed by man-made, mindless, tyrannical automatons; the pious search for a divine purpose in Jewish martyrdom reveals a self-aggrandiz ing, conceited attitude towards the unfathomable mystery of the Creator. Through the particular treatment of the Jewish thematics, Klein attempts to warn the world against the emerging powers of destruction. The Jew’s inept response to his victimizers underlies man’s unwillingness to stand up to the forces of evil. The recurring motif of the silent, detached God constitutes an exhortation against passivity vis-à-vis tyranny….
…Writing in 1937 about Bialik, Klein agrees with the great Hebrew poet’s criticism of Jewish weakness at the time of persecutions. In his review of Bialik’s famous elegy “The City of Slaughter,” Klein significantly chose to translate the lines which convey total lack of communication between God and the victims of the pogrom:
For God called up the slaughter and the
The slayer slew, the blossom burst, and
it was sunny weather….
In his own poetry, Klein subverts the tradition of “Jewish protestant ism” to show that the proper reading of God’s will constitutes in man’s vigorous opposition to the golem-like forces of oppression. “Jewish prote stantism,” as examined by Byron L. Sherwin in his discussion of the post- Holocaust Midrash, presents stories of dissent against God’s decisions vocalized by such biblical figures as Abraham, Moses, Habakuk, and Job; rabbinic masters, such as Rabbi Ishmael and Honi; and the Chasidic master, “the greatest protester of all,” Levi Itzchak of Berditchev, “who stood in the center of the circle he had drawn and brought a suit for breach of contract against God.”
Klein’s representation of Levi Itzchak’s address to God takes on a distinctly parodic dimension. The rhetorical devices in his poem “Reb Levi Yitschok Talks to God” enhance the futility of the protest. The poem which ironically introduces Levi Yitschok as a “crony of the Lord” focuses on the human interlocutor. The long list of strategies employed to elicit God’s answer underscores the silence of the divine party. Reb Levi Yitschok’s intercession on behalf of his people raises the crucial issues of punishment and retribution, the suffering of the innocent, God’s eternal promise to His People. The shifting modes of his appeal sigual the seriousness of his address:…
. . . . Reb Levi Yitschok talked . . .
Vociferous was he in his monologue.
He raged. He wept. He suddenly went mild
Begging the Lord to lead him through the fog;
Nonetheless, the impact of his discourse is trivialized: Reb Levi Yitschok’s “infant arguments to God” remain “unanswered even when the sunrise smiled.” Yet, the failure to evoke God’s response constitutes an answer. Against Reb Yitschok’s agitated outburst, God’s silence implies resoundingly that the argument has been misplaced. The implied assumption of God as a merciful father, protector, and saviour seems no longer operative. In a sense, God’s silence communicates the inappropriateness of the appeal; the expectation of God’s direct response amounts, therefore, to a childishly narcissistic presumption….
…Both Spinoza and Maimonides would have concurred with the poet’s ironic view of his people’s dependency on the notion of personal God. No man, according to Spinoza, can “cause God any pleasure or displeasure [since] . . . these are human qualities and have no place in God.” Maimonides’ perception of God invalidates the definition of evil in terms of human suffering. Human suffering, according to Maimonides is, to a great extent, determined by human acts rather than God’s will.
In “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” a poem completed in 1938 and included in Hath Not a Jew just before its publication, Klein seems to retract, for a moment, his vigorous condemnation of passivity against despotism. In view of the approaching catastrophe, the enactment of moral accountability and emotional independence seemed no longer feasible. The British “White Book” barring Jews from entering Palestine compounded by the world’s refusal to accept German Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecutions epitomized the inevitability of the atrocity; deeply ingrained patterns of persecution and exile seemed to intensify in the reality determined by tyrannical golems. The image of the Jew proudly returning to his land vanished in view of the perennially haunted Jew, the easy target of racial hatred. No longer does the poet claim the land of Israel as his home, as he did in “Greeting on This Day.” Now he reclaims the collective past of the Diaspora, and emphasizes with the interminable suffering of his homeless people:
Always and ever,
Whether in caftan robed, or in tuxedo
Whether of bearded chin, or of the jowls
Always and ever have I been the Jew
Bewildered, and a man who has been tricked,
A passport of a polyglot decision
To Esperanto from the earliest rune -
Where cancellation frowns away permission,
And turning in despair
To seek an audience with the consul of the
Like his suffering ancestors, the poet resorts to the old pattern of passive submission to fate. The “stoic word” of the victims who preceded him teaches him again “The bright empirics that knows well that the/Night of the couchemar comes and goes away” .