Today, only 60 years after the Holocaust, with anti-Semitism flooding the Middle East and reappearing in Europe, these anxieties of victimhood are far from resolved within the Jewish psyche and Jewish culture at large. This state of victimhood brings with it a questioning within the victim of his purpose or, better yet, his existence. One might say the victim perversely attempts to empathize with his persecutor in an attempt to understand the reason for his persecution.
The struggle for survival necessitates a fundamental questioning on the part of those doing the struggling – specifically, why persevere, and for what purpose? These are the questions Jewish culture must contend with and wisely answer for that struggle to be overcome. In order for the Jewish state to fight with confidence and vigor it must first know why it fights. The Jewish people must know what its purpose is other then mere survival.
The last front, which encapsulates the other two, thereby creating the veritable eye of the storm, is the rebirth of the Jewish nation-state. The state of Israel is a historical anomaly – a people exiled for thousands of years returning to its ancestral land and reestablishing political independence has no precedent. This has quite naturally caused serious reverberations. The Jewish people returned to Israel under the shadow of genocide and smack into the whirlwind of Arab resistance, a state of affairs that created a desperate need for strong leadership and a dynamic national culture.
While most national narratives develop a national culture under natural conditions of long and uninterrupted habitation in a specific location, the Jewish people had no such luxury. A cogent Jewish national consciousness is still in its adolescence (1,900 years out of practice) – and, given the wars and the mass absorption, it will take some more time for such maturity to occur.
This cultural maturation depends wholly on surmounting the aforementioned historical and individual identity fronts. A nation must first know what it is and why it should exist before it can conceive of where it must go.
Conrad leaves us with the relevant lesson that in a dangerous situation, people will put their faith in someone showing certainty even if the source of the certainty is questionable. Thus it is not enough to act strong; one must actually be guided by strength, defined here as being filled with wisdom and character.
Acting strong is no substitute for actually being strong, and rhetoric can only take one so far before the trials and tribulations of history. This, it must be said, is Israel’s crucible to bear – that is, until the culture can produce men and women of high caliber to lead, Israel will have to blindly navigate its course. In the short term, Israel must make the fundamental decision to be courageous in facing both its traumas and its foes.
As Capt. MacWhirr declares at the height of the typhoon, “Don’t you be put out by anything….Keep her facing it. They may say what they like, but the heaviest seas run with the wind. Facing it – always facing it – that’s the way to get through. You are a young sailor. Face it. That’s enough for any man. Keep a cool head.”