Four Jews

Knowing I must act against antisemitism, but not sure how, I have been reading books by Jews. I will challenge antisemitism when I hear it, and with Amos Oz I draw the line at challenges to Israeli policy which would make the State of Israel’s continuation as a safe place for Jews impossible. So I cannot support a right of return for all Palestinian refugees. I see the reasons for the different names- if they are Palestinians, they are a small oppressed minority under the Israelis. If they are “Arabs”, they are part of the people who sought to destroy Israel immediately the UN voted to establish two states on the territory of the former British mandate.

I read Oz’s account of the siege of the Jewish area of Jerusalem in A Tale of Love and Darkness. He was eight. His cousin had been murdered in Auschwitz. He describes having a bucket of water per person, sometimes, sometimes not, and people he knew being killed by snipers. His seeking of that two State solution, his mourning of two oppressed peoples set against each other, inspires me.

I have been reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It has a vast cast of characters and a helpful list of them at the end. It includes Hitler, who ceases to be a great man as soon as his troops start losing, describing his thoughts and feelings and how his underlings see him. It includes a journey to the gas chamber from the moment of boarding the cattle truck, to the panic as people are packed into the dark room.

And it has the only account  of the joy and wonder of scientific discovery I have seen in a novel. Victor Shtrum has a conversation about politics with friends where they allow themselves to speak freely, and ever after the thought of that conversation tortures him. Is his friend’s brother an agent provocateur? Has he been arrested? But the free conversation leads to a moment of inspiration. There have been experimental results which have not fitted the current theory. Are the results merely anomalous? That evening he has a flash of inspiration integrating the old understanding with the new results, and over the following days he works on a mathematical proof of his theory.

Then he is denounced for polluting Soviet science with Talmudic speculation.

Grossman was a fearless journalist, telling the story of the troops at the front as they wished. He portrays a vile, corrupt Commissar, Getmanov, and loyal Communists interrogated in the Lubyanka. It is a brave book, suppressed under Khrushchev, surviving miraculously.

An Interrupted Life, the diaries of Etty Hillesum, are a mystic journey to service of God in love of all, including the German soldier as the Nuremberg laws bite, and a clear-eyed acceptance of reality. She describes her self-induced abortion and encounters with public spirited citizens challenging her presence in a pharmacy. Is it against the law? It is not, she explains, courteously.

And now I have started The Story of the Jews, by Simon Schama. He begins in 5th century BCE Elephantine, where Jewish soldiers serve the Persian occupation of Egypt, and are expelled when the Persian empire begins to fray. They built their own temple for sacrifice. Contradicting the Seperatist story of Ezra Nehemiah and Haggai, Schama tells another story of living in the company of neighbouring cultures, where it was possible to be Jewish and Egyptian, as after it would be possible to be Jewish and Dutch or Jewish and American, possible, not necessarily easy or simple, to live the one life in balance with the other, to be none the less Jewish for being the more Egyptian, Dutch, British, American.

These books which I love are eclectic, and I draw no conclusions from them about Jews as a whole; but I am more determined to be a good ally against antisemitism.

4 thoughts on “Four Jews

  1. I find that the obfuscation of pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel sentiment with antisemitism makes much discussion difficult, however, I cannot support the notion that it is right that inhabitants of a region should be displaced because the invading settlers desire to have a level of security they’re not willing to give to those they displace.

    I view the Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine in much the same light as I view the expulsion of Rohingya from Thailand.

    It makes little difference to me whether the Palestinian refugees are viewed as Palestinians or as Arabs, or any other name, they are people who have been displaced. The injustices that the Jews suffered for so long were not resolved when the state of Israel was established. Injustices have merely been transferred from one group of people to another.

    I believe that the right for a state to exist is dependent on the security and rights it gives to all those who live within its borders. Israel in its current form falls short.


    • Jews were settling in Palestine from 1880, and in 1947 Tel Aviv had a population of 230,000. Now, Jews have been there for generations, so it is not as simple as “invading settlers” even ignoring the centuries of persecution of Jews everywhere else.

      I don’t have a solution, but any solution or settlement must involve Jews being able to live in peace and freedom in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.
      The Rohingya were in Myanmar.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Rohingya were in Myanmar.
        Many still are. When I commented, it was well past bedtime, but a nagging headache was keeping me up. I had been thinking about an invite from my cousin and his partner who have an apartment outside Bangkok, so perhaps a “Freudian slip”.

        I’m afraid my sympathies for Israel died a long time ago particularly as they continue to defy every UN resolution.

        I too don’t have an answer, but current Israeli policy is, I believe, only compounding the situation. I come back to my argument that displacing one group of people so that another group can have a home is not a solution at all.

        Liked by 2 people

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