Leftism Absent Morality in Israel | commentary

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/foreign-policy/middle-east/israel/leftism-absent-morality-israel/

Background:  Israeli settlers in disputed territories want to become legitimate owners of their land.  There are Palestinians who are willing and wanting to sell or even trade, say, an olive grove for a vineyard.  But Mahmoud Abbas has forbidden that Arabs sell to Jews or Christians, on pain of death.  Still, it happens in secret, because not all Arabs and Jews are enemies, as Western media and extremist Muslim groups like ISIS and the Taliban would have you believe.  We are mostly neighbors, colleagues, and co-workers.  But there is a dictator, and this capsizes the true desire of the common people to live and let live.

This article gives us a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes, ferreted out by a settler who infiltrates an Israeli “peace activist” group to see what they really do.  What he discovered is something terrifying.

Please click on the link and read the article for yourselves.

It’s a short read, yet brings to light a hole in the bucket of yet one more hope for peace.

Story Construct Dialog Mind

Yesterday I went to my mother’s–formerly my parents’, but since my father’s death she has erased every trace of him, except the works of art that she either likes or keeps for their value, I don’t know which–to take a shower.  I avoid going there now, if she is at home.  There is always some kind of unpleasantness, because she resents the fact that I avoid her.

On Thursday she had forwarded me an email from a former student of my father’s.  It turns out that unbeknownst to me, the professional organization of ceramic artists of which he was a founding member had, at their annual meeting not long ago, given a touching memorial presentation dedicated to my father’s life.

The email contained a series of photos of the memorial, with a transcript of the speech.

I was flabbergasted that I had not been invited.  I would have turned myself into a pretzel to get there.

So I asked my mother why we had not been invited.

“Your memory!  Your memory is so terrible!” she shouted.  This has become a refrain that I hear every time she forgets to tell me something.  “My memory.”  Always “My memory.”

I confronted her.  I told her she was gaslighting me, trying to pass off anything she hadn’t told me as “my memory,” so that hopefully (her hope) I would believe that it was in fact “my memory,” that I am “losing it,” that the only truth is her truth and that I am a helpless, powerless imbecile with a bad memory.

I suggested that perhaps this was her story about me, and it might not be entirely accurate.  This sent her off on a tirade about how she and my father had always given me everything, etc.;  which somehow did not seem to be connected with my memory, but with a memory of her own.  And I know which one.

So I asked her why she thought I had left home at the age of 16.

My purpose was not to drag out old arguments, but to engage in meaningful dialogue which might lead to a discussion of how memory works, and how we sometimes make constructs out of our memories, especially painful ones, or ones we’d rather forget.

“Because we wouldn’t let you smoke pot in your room!  And every time I took you to buy clothes and nothing fit (because I was a bit chubby at puberty), you wouldn’t get anything until you lost weight!”

I don’t know what my weight had to do with my running away, since she never noticed I had become anorexic as a result of her calling me “Fat Ass” and teasing me about needing a girdle, but that is another story.  And the pot–frankly, mother, I didn’t give a damn whether she did or did not approve, although I dreaded my father’s lectures on the inevitable downfall of the Pothead.  As for her explosions of expletives, they were just more of the same.

Stories.

We all have stories, especially those crafted by memories of childhood events: “I was up in the tree and this boy pushed me out and I broke my arm.”  So every time this boy’s memory comes up, so does the story about the episode of the tree.  That is a normal story, filed away in our mind, solid in our neural net.

And then there are constructs, where memories trigger not only a picture of what happened, but also a fixed theory of why they happened.  These are often accompanied by some sort of positive or negative judgement:

“Oh, So-And-So.  She was an out-of-control drunk.  She used to get pissing drunk and slash her husband’s paintings with a knife.  That’s why he left her, you know.”

I know that if I mention So-And-So, or her husband, or even their children, I will get exactly the very same barrage quoted above, verbatim, as if from a factory package, from episode to episode.

Likewise if I try to engage in dialogue about events of my childhood, I am shouted down by her yelling me her constructs.  If I ask permission to add my own perception, my childhood neural memory snapshot of what happened, I am scolded that that is intrinsically not true.  Only her construct is true, and my story has no truth in it, and is of no value.  It is only made up in defiance of authority.

She often asks me why I never tell her anything.  So this time I venture out on a limb and say, “If you want to know why I never tell you anything, this is why.”

“Why?  Because I’m telling you the truth and you don’t want to hear it?” She challenges, in a childish “nah-nah-na-boo-boo” voice.

“Because,” I try to keep my voice even and fail, end up shouting, “Because every time I try to share something with you it gets thrown right back in my face.”  I didn’t start crying.

“That is not true,” she counters, icy voice.

“It is true.  Next time it happens I will point it out.”  Psychology 101.

“You just do that!”  Conversation over.  If you can call that a conversation.

I change the subject.  She is angry about that.  Fuck her.

I engage her in a project that needs doing.  It takes up several hours.  Then, at last, I spend a blissful half hour in the shower, grateful for the new water well–previously it was spring water and one had to take 5 minute showers–and the on-demand hot water heater.

Refreshed and not caring, I descended the spiral staircase into the lower living space.  She was waiting for me.

“You know,” she said sheepishly, “the reason I didn’t tell you about the memorial is that the organization expected us to pay our own way, including the $500, $600 admission fee.”

“Oh,” I said, ignoring the fact that my memory had just been restored, “That’s horrible!  What nerve!  I can’t believe they would do such a thing!”

As I gathered my things and exited, she looked at me wistfully and said, “Good Shabbos.”  It was Friday night.  When Dad was alive, I always made them dinner on Friday nights.  I tried to do it a couple of times with just my mother, but found it too awkward, since there was nothing to say.  So I stopped.

“Oh,” I lied.  “I thought it was Thursday.  Guess I lost a day.  Good Shabbos to you!”

I got in my car and drove back to my little house on wheels, tears burning my vision.

Blessed Is The Righteous Judge

Baruch Dayan ha’Emet.

His already cold white hand slithered through my soapy gloves like a live fish as I tried to wash the fingers: blue sausages strange to me, unlike the skillful fingers that twirled and carved and painted in an epoch now seeming so long ago.

“Those hands, those hands,” my mother murmured over my shoulder.  She had volunteered to wash his body, a last act of kindness, but gave up when she saw that he was really dead.

“His fingers are turning blue,” she observed, almost casually.  I wanted to back-hand her, but instead interlaced my fingers with the cold dead ones in order to wash his arm and chest.  Just a couple of days ago we had interlaced our warm fingers just so, when he first lost the ability to talk.

“Look, his chest has hardly any hair left on it,” chirped the grisly bird at my shoulder.

How long had it been since she looked at his once bear-like chest, black with thick curly hair?  Probably when he ceased to be a “man” to her, which she had had no compunctions about trumpeting in that booming voice of hers, at her famous dinner parties, with him sitting right there shrinking into himself, mortified, unable to defend himself.

I concentrated on rinsing off the soap with clean wet washcloths, and tried to close his mouth, which had fallen open some weeks ago, making speech even more difficult for him; and now it seemed that it had stuck that way, and I couldn’t get it to stay shut.  I could not stand to let his gullet stand open to the public like that, so I called for some gauze and placed a carefully folded square behind his teeth.  It looked odd, but seemed better than the gaping maw.

The undertaker showed up before I had a chance to wash his face, and suddenly the hospice nurse became all business: a stark contrast to the all-compassion face she had on before he died.  Now it was just the routine, slide the limp item over from the hospital bed to the undertaker’s stretcher and strap it on.

His elbow was caught up in the strap, and pinched horribly; it hurt me to see that already he was treated like a piece of meat, only not so carefully, having no intrinsic value.  At the very least it was disrespectful.  I bounded forward and started to pull his arm out, and was intercepted by the undertaker, who did it for me but was visibly miffed.  Fuck him.

As they took him away the man in black explained to my mother that they would not be taking him “over the mountain” to Johnson City, the nearest crematorium, until they had assembled “a few” (to make it worth the trip, I suppose), so it would not be the next day or perhaps the next.  Jews are normally buried within 24 hours of death, but since he was to be cremated, what’s the difference?  All of our customs were going up in smoke anyway, so why not that one too?

My mother won that round.  It was what he wanted, it’s in his will, they are not Orthodox, he did not want to be eaten by worms/beetles/what-have-you, and We Believe In Cremation.

Jews don’t cremate.  We believe that the soul needs the body as a kind of GPS cache, so it knows where it came from, at least in the month after death after which it ascends to its Heavenly Home.

And we believe that a part of the soul remains with the body, and will return to Jerusalem when the Messiah comes.

Burning the body deprives the soul of its orientation.  It has no place to rest in those vital thirty days, and it can get lost in the vast spiritual realms.

Not only that, but our enemies shoved us into ovens by the millions.  Do we really want to commemorate that by burning our dead?

I explained to her all these things.  She waxed romantic telling me how they had dreamed of the places where they would spread their ashes.

Where?  I asked.

Oh, um, you know, all those places……

The animal graveyard down at the bottom of the garden where all the pets are buried?  I volunteered.

Oh yes!  She brightened.  And maybe plant a tree, and sprinkle his ashes on it….

Bullshit.

Culture is defined by rites-of-passage and by lifeways: food, weddings, and the rituals surrounding death.  Over and over in the Torah, we are commanded not to take on the customs of the surrounding nations.  We do not share their food, lest our children intermarry and take on the customs of foreigners.

Jews keep Kosher, have special wedding rituals, and have very specific funeral procedures.  None of these involve desecrating the body, living or dead.

For those of you whose culture prescribes or allows cremation, I do not write this to denigrate or offend you, for those are your customs and for you they are good.

For us, deviation from these customs means assimilation, and assimilation means the death of our living culture.

And in order to live properly, we must die and be properly buried.

Baruch Dayan ha’Emet.  Blessed Be The Righteous Judge.

Living Alone By Choice

I have lived alone for many years–since 2005, to be exact.  I had some roommate-type people in my life for about six months in 2008, but it was an enormous house and I had the entire top floor, which had a luxurious bathroom by that country’s standards: it had a sort of bathtub that you could fit into if you scrunched yourself up very tightly.  The only time I had contact with the roommates was in the kitchen, and that was bad enough: two Orthodox Jewish women who kept meticulous Kosher (myself and my favored roomie) and the other, a contrary Dutch woman who wanted to convert to Judaism but was too stubborn to accept its laws.

We were not permitted, by Jewish law, to use any of her cooking or eating utensils; and the other Jewish woman was Chabad, and they have different (and much more strict) customs than the stream of Judaism I practiced, so she also had her own set of cooking and eating utensils, which consisted of a frying pan, a pot, a glass, a plate, a fork, a knife, and a spoon.  I am the post-professional cook, so I require lots and lots of cupboard space.  Luckily there was plenty.

That is, until the snow storm melted and got into the walls, and the walls sprouted huge bracket fungus which released choking spores into the air.  Time to move.

Even though I adore the Chabad woman, with whom I maintain an occasional but warm relationship, I was eager to find a place on my own.  It took me a few moves to find the right place, but it happened, and I was very happy there for four beautiful years.

Then my father’s various disasters started happening with increasing frequency, so I moved yet again, to the other side of the world, to be near him.

Now I live in what is basically a reclaimed barn.  I have running water from a live spring that comes out of one tap.  There is a two-gallon hot water heater–I don’t know whose brilliant idea that was, but I can tell you it’s not enough hot water to do a few dishes, or to wash myself or my hair, which requires heating water in the kettle and using a pitcher to pour it over my head over the sink.  Washing the rest of me is easier, but I won’t go into the details.

Bathroom there is none, as you may have surmised from the above paragraph.  In fine weather the toilet is outside.  When the weather is foul or cold, I have an electric incinerating toilet (a consolation gift from my mother, very unusual).  I am loth to use it, though, because contrary to the blurb on its website, it stinks to high heaven and I am forced to spend a small fortune on incense.

But–I live alone.  I don’t have to put up with anyone else’s habits or eccentricities, arguments over whether it’s pronounced “almonds” or “ah-monds,” or some well-meaning recycling obsessive type who goes through the trash in case I threw out recyclables or compostables (!) each and every time I toss something in the bin.  I can bloody well contribute anything I like to the ever-growing plague of solid waste on the planet.  And I beg the question of whether or not to compost by pointing out the bear tracks near my barn.  I’m certain no compost bin is completely bear-proof, and at the very least it would end up at the bottom of the cliff.  So the small amount of compostable waste I generate goes right in the bin and I feel absolutely no guilt about it.

I don’t have to deal with someone else’s bong filling the air with blue stinking haze.  Now, I should be the last to complain about someone enjoying a little smoke, since I do it myself.  I guess it’s a matter of scale.  I am a lightweight when it comes to intoxicants of all kinds.  I drink, yes: about half an ounce of Scotch or Bourbon will do, and one or two tokes on a small pipe takes care of my ganja needs.  My air is not so thick that you need to part the curtain of thick smoke just to remark to your wrecked roomie that the smoke detector seems to have been deactivated.

All things considered, I am very comfortable in my barn, with no one to bother or to bother me, and no one to ask me questions, or rifle through the trash after me, or argue about the pronunciation of the names of seeds.  My air is clear, my kitchen is Kosher but not overly so, and my view of the river is obstructed only by the leaves of the black birch and beech trees, when they are leafed out.

If the whole thing were lifted up and carried to the other side of the world, my joy would be complete.

Holy moley, back to the Holy Land again!

So yes, I have been back and forth a lot this year.  Israel is my home.  There is no where else in this world that I feel at home.  I felt at home there the moment I stepped off the plane on my first visit in 2005.  I returned in 2006 to study in a women’s seminary, and in 2007 I made Aliyah: I moved to Israel.

When I settled there, I knew that at some point I would be obligated to return to America to help my parents, who are now 88 and 86, respectively.  That point came in the terrible winter of 2010-2011, when their remote mountain home was completely surrounded by ice, and my father had begun to fall frequently, and my mother was freaking out.  I had already flown in from Israel three times to “put out fires,” and the fourth time my mother called begging for help I packed up my house and was back in the U.S. in three weeks.

They really did need me then.  My father was in the early stages of dementia, and was struggling to maintain what was left of himself.   He refused to use any assistive devices, not even a cane.  He was constantly falling asleep at the dining table and sometimes falling off his chair.  One time I had to extract him from under the table, where he had slid down and was tangled among the table legs with his arms pinned under him.

Then finally he fell and broke his wrist badly and got a concussion to boot, and was in the hospital for a couple of days.  While he was there, I had his bed brought down from upstairs and made the living room into a bedroom.   When he had recovered enough to understand speech, my mother and I forbade him ever to use the spiral staircase again.  He was incensed and called us his jailers, which he does to this day, but better jailers than to have some disaster on the steel spiral staircase that reminds me of a submarine.

The past two-and-a-half years, since I’ve been here, have been tempestuous and productive all at once.  If you are a regular reader, you will know that I have had issues with PTSD caused by my abusive mother, who has not changed any since I left home at 16.  So staying here has been a challenge, to say the least.

A few weeks ago I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had developed high blood pressure.  I was constantly filled with rage.  Suicidal fantasies filled my days and nights.  Not just THAT I wanted to kill myself: developing more and better and more sophisticated methods, so that I wouldn’t be found.  Oy.

I knew I had to get out of here, get back to the Holy Land for a few weeks, breathe the air in Jerusalem that is filled with holiness, even if it’s also sometimes filled with dust.  So I booked a flight for a three week respite, announced my plans to the P’s, and took off.

Do you know, I have so many friends in the Holy Land that in three weeks I could not even visit two-thirds of them?  My family is there, my family of choice, the loves of my life.  I got to see some of my patients, who have become dear friends.  Two of them have had children while I was gone.  Actually, more than two–no, three–no, four–and three of those have had TWO children while I was gone!  I went around smooching babies.  I had coffee and Israeli breakfast (oh, Israeli breakfast!  I could do a whole post on Israeli breakfast.  Maybe I will.) with a lady so pregnant that she could hardly reach the table.  She has since given birth to a girl, MAZAL TOV, even more mazal tov since she already has four little boys.

I stayed with my adopted brother. We took bus trips to exotic places and had extraordinary meals and adventures.  And we made Shabbos together and drank strong Israeli port wine (20% alcohol!) and solved all the problems of the world.

I spent one Shabbos with my adoptive family, my rabbi and his wonderful wife (my adopted sister) and their adult children and grandchildren.  We sang and learned Torah together and laughed and cried and I felt bathed in love.

And then it was time to leave.

I freaked out.  I ran to the rabbi upstairs.  He is an expert in Jewish Law, and qualified to judge cases.  He is also an expert therapist.  Two hours with him, and I knew what I had to do: I had to save myself by being in the Land with my real family.  So I scuttled about and **voila** found a tiny apartment, just right for my needs, and signed a one-year lease.  That night I flew back to the States.

I had already told my parents that I planned to return to Israel for the High Holidays plus the month preceding them.  My custom is to devote that month, Elul, to intense Torah learning, in preparation for the Days of Awe: the ten days between Rosh Ha’Shanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  There is much spiritual work to be done, if one is to get the most out of those intense and heavy days.

But as soon as the plane hit the tarmac on my return from this three week trip, my heart sank into my shoes.  I just feel terrible here.  I belong in Israel.  I belong TO Israel, and she belongs to me.  We are lovers.  I am my lover, and my lover is me.  I did not know what I would do, how I would be able to survive the–what, six weeks?–of what remained of the summer, because I knew that after the next trip, I would be back here for the winter, and who knows how much longer?

I tried to put a good face on it, and smile, and I don’t think it worked, because yesterday my parents told me, in a kind way, that they know I am not happy here, and they know I am very happy there, and they want me to be happy, so they want me to return to the Holy Land.

This is bitter-sweet for me.  Part of me is elated that they have released me.  Part of me feels like I am failing them.  Both the rabbi in Jerusalem and my therapist here tell me that this is guilt, and guilt is in no way productive, and it is entirely optional.  I plan to get over that guilt, because this place is killing me.  The rabbi in Jerusalem reminded me that we are not permitted to harm ourselves in any way, and even I have said that very thing on this very blog.

My ticket is at the end of July, with an early October return.  I might extend that through November so that I can spend Chanukah in Jerusalem, that amazing festival of light and enlightenment.  And then we will see, we will see what the light brings in.

My Channukiyah (menorah) in Jerusalem

My Channukiyah (menorah) in Jerusalem

Searching For the Missing Me

I am sitting in the kitchen of my beloved friend R_, who was on the same flight with me when we made Aliyah (emigrated) to Israel in 2007.  We didn’t meet on the plane because he was in such ecstasy at moving to our real home country that he didn’t notice anything around him.  He was in a haze of love and joy.  I met him about four months after our arrival.  He was hanging out laundry on his mirpesset (balcony), and I recognized him from the flight.  His place turned out to be exactly one block from mine, and my seat-mate on that flight happened to live exactly one block from him!  The three of us became the best of friends.  R_ has become my support system and champion in my struggle to free myself from the toxic, strangulating tentacles that have torn me from my real home country and dragged me back to America, which otherwise holds no attraction to me.

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R_’s living room

I had to take a break from my parents and America, because I found myself consumed with rage, which is a very unhealthy emotion.  I developed high blood pressure and heart palpitations, and was having terrible heart pains that woke me out of sleep.  They were so intense that I could not even move to call an ambulance, even had I wanted to, which I didn’t.  I would have been just as happy if a heart attack carried me off, out of the misery of my life there.

So I suddenly announced that I was going to Israel for three weeks, for a break, causing immense consternation on the maternal side of things, and resignation from the Dad side.  I needed a breathing spell, and specifically to breathe the air of the Holy Land, just to be here, even if all I did was to hang out with my friend R_ and walk around the shuk, inhaling and imbibing the sights, sounds, smells, and spirit of the place.

Bride and groom playing in the shuk

Bride and groom playing in the shuk

Practically as soon as I got off the plane my Israeli cell phone started ringing:  “We’re so glad you’re back: now everything feels normal again.”  I have a place, and my place is here.    My family of choice lives here.  I feel surrounded by love here.

R_ and I went yesterday to visit the tomb of the Baba Sali, a holy man who was said to have brought about many miracles in his time.  Here it is customary to visit the tombs of great and wise people (like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Samuel, etc.) to bathe in their energy and pray for whatever needs prayed for.  We don’t pray to the person, for that is idol worship, but instead we pray for the spirit of that holy person to intercede for us in Heaven so that our prayers will be heard.  I had, and still have, a lot to pray for, so we went to the Baba Sali, because I have a special connection with him.

Baba Sali lived in our times, and came from Damascus to Morocco to Israel, where he settled in a tiny village called Netivot, which is located in the Negev desert right on the border with Gaza, just south of Sderot, which is a town that has been rained on with so many thousands of missiles from Gaza that every bus stop has its own bomb shelter.

Why do I feel safe here?  Right now, at this very moment, Russia is funneling terrible weapons into Syria, which in turn is passing them on to Hezbollah (the terrorist arm in Lebanon), Iran is arming Hamas in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, and all of them are fighting among themselves.  It’s a virtual certainty that they will attack Israel at some point.  On Monday and Tuesday this week the air raid sirens went off in every town in the Land, and everyone was supposed to drill taking shelter.  Nobody did, because Israelis are used to being the objects of the aggression of our neighbors, and we realize that only G-d can save us, since we are a country the size of Delaware, so we go on with our lives and our prayers, and of course we hope that rockets won’t fall on our houses or our children, but we rely on G-d to be our shelter.  No Westerner can understand that.

But that’s not what this blog entry is about.

It’s about the terrible conflict that tears me apart, and keeps me from living the life I love, the life the holds out the possibility of real spiritual redemption.  It’s about the conflict between kibud av v’aim, respect for father and mother, which is one of the Ten Commandments.  The letter of  halacha, Jewish Law, interprets this to mean that one is obligated at minimum to provide shelter, food, and clothing sufficient for one’s parents’ needs, but I have a hard time with leaving it at that.

Although my mother severely abused me emotionally, psychologically, verbally, and at times physically, and my father was a codependent facilitator, I still have difficulty separating from them completely, because I continually hope that they will magically become the parents I have always desperately wanted and needed:  loving, caring, nurturing, and deserving of my love and respect.

In fact, in my adolescent confrontational phase, before I picked up and left home at age 16, my mother would scream at me, “You have to love and respect me because I am your parent.”  And I would scream back, “If you want me to love and respect you, you have to earn it,” to which the dear mother would generally reply with a stream of obscenities and a smack across the face, if she could reach me.

So why, after four years of blissful content in Israel, did I rush to their side when their time of need arrived in their old age?  And what has kept me there, in total isolation and spiritual desolation, for two and a half years?  Unconditional love,  blind even to ongoing abuse?  Kibud av v’aim?   Or that desperate primal hope that one day I would awaken to find them magically transformed into my real parents, the ones who dropped me off here on this alien planet 59 years ago?

I just don’t know.

alien woman head