Israel@60 Mission: First impressions

Flowers. Fragrant. Abundant. Soft light. Cool temperatures. Clean. Orderly. This is a whole new set of first impressions upon arriving in Israel than any others I have experienced previously since I first began visiting Israel in 1973. Israel is clearly maturing. Maybe some of the adolescent belligerence is gone. Maybe some of the ‘young adult’ utopianism has been exposed for the daydream it always was. The militarized society isn’t quite so ‘in your face’ as it used to be.


We spend Friday morning at Yad Vashem. Humanizing the unspeakable is very powerful. Our guides do an excellent job of teasing out complex nuances of what we are seeing. All my life I have understood the Holocaust as an indivisible and surreal experience of mass atrocities which is so grotesque and unbelievable it almost has a macabre fascination. And how it totally explains and justifies the State of Israel and its actions.


Not any more.


We should never forget and we should never allow this to happen to anyone – Jews or non-Jews – again. At the same time it is wondrous and amazing to me that now there is a discourse on the fact that Israel exists despite the Holocaust and not simply because of the Holocaust. One cannot be in Israel and not engage with the impact and meaning of the Holocaust on the past 60 years of Israeli history. On the other hand some sort of healing and closure is achieved by processing this experience one by one by one by one – even six million times. As a people we survived slavery in Egypt, we still tell the story in a very personal way but we also celebrate much that has been accomplished since then. It is so awesome, and hopeful, to project into the future a Jewish experience emanating from thriving Jewish communities in Israel, and outside Israel, that will ‘own’ this tragic story in a personal way and celebrate all that will be accomplished in the future.


hall of names Hall of Names at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jerusalem. Photo by Jack Adler


It is very exciting to be part of the Bay Area Jewish community seeking to raise its collective engagement with Israel at so many levels. This is exemplified by the very structure and organization of this Mission with its different tracks ranging from commerce and business to participation in digs on sites of human activities going back millennia to enjoying the most contemporary offerings of Israeli art and culture.


Perhaps my personal experience is different from some of the others in our group because I am a much more hyphenated person than they are. I clearly have three phases to my adult life to date; the first was getting established in South Africa on my own terms (in which I sought to define myself very much apart from my insular, homogenous Jewish community with very strong Eastern European Jewish roots and many of its sensibilities) to being a South African expat in the United Kingdom who remained connected to Israel but not to any Jewish communities or practices, to being a Jewish South African British American permanent resident living in the Bay Area. The one constant over four decades has been my support of and faith in Israel – even when I have cringed at some of its poor choices and worried about its internal squabbles and divisions and feared greatly for its safety.


It is very liberating to be able hold dear and support Israel and feel a sense of connection and belonging despite imperfections and mistakes. We don’t have to take up some uncritical position ‘for’ or some uncompromising position ‘against’. Knowing what is really happening on the ground is critically important. I look forward to learning much during the coming week. -- Rose Barlow


Categories: Israel


May 03, 2008


The Federation