The more I hear of Olmert and Sderot, of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism (the former more often than not a cover for the latter), the more I sense the vast and unfortunate divide that separates my years of growing up from the ones I now spend raising my children.
My parents spent their youth in the shadow of the Holocaust, both in Europe and America, and my contemporaries and I grew up with their stories on our lips. But for the most part, the horrors our parents either endured or witnessed colored our lives against the backdrop of relative security and ease here in the United States. Not only did anti-Semitism seem to have been relegated to the past, collective pride in Judaism, Israel, and our leaders seemed to be the norm. I remember how a healthy dose of Jewish identity would command the respect of both Jews and non-Jews alike.
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Those days have been slipping away quickly, and world events and opinion, both within and without the Jewish community, more and more resemble those of my parents’ generation. Whereas after the Holocaust the Jews successfully rebuilt their lives and nation, we are today witnessing a threat to our survival again. Israel is terrorized by its neighbors and demonized by the international community. Anti-Semitism is on the rise worldwide. And our alleged leaders have not been able to stem the oncoming tide of more bad news.
I was a small girl when Operation Thunderbolt, the 1976 Entebbe rescue, catapulted Israel to even greater glory than its victory over the Arabs in 1967. The victorious mood of Israelis was shared by my fellow Americans, who rejoiced in the Jewish triumph and felt proud of their little ally in the Middle East.
Israel‘s right to self-defense was a given, and if there was an anti-Israel slant in the media I certainly didn’t hear it. My parents may have disagreed with some of the views harbored by some of the leaders in Israel at that time, but I don’t recall hearing any of the cynicism that exists today toward Israel‘s politicians.
I don’t remember cynicism of the sort we’ve become so familiar with vented against American politicians either. I came of age when Ronald Reagan was elected president and have distinct memories of wearing a Vote Reagan pin in 1980 at the Detroit Republican Convention. Americans were proud and patriotic. Yes, we had our problems, but those were the days when my parents insisted on buying American-made automobiles and an “illegal alien” was someone from “ET.” Homosexuality was still a chapter in my mother’s Abnormal Psychology book, and cracks surfacing in the black-Jewish relationship were still covered over with the afterglow of the Civil Rights era.
We had an American president who inspired hope and pride, and walls in other parts of the world were being torn down instead of being built.
The biggest problem facing American Jewry in the 70’s and 80’s was that of Jewish “continuity” – a serious problem indeed, but one bred of the comfort and complacency of Jewish acceptance in America rather than the opposite. Rabbi Meir Kahane came to speak to our elementary school about Jewish self-defense, and he seemed to be regarded by most of the adults as something of a has-been, championing a cause few thought necessary.
Hillel dominated Jewish life on American campuses, and though I later attended an Orthodox college, I never heard or read of anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism on university campuses. Quite the contrary, the big movement in those days was the popular fight to free Soviet Jewry. I marched with thousands of other Orthodox and non-Orthodox college students; the mood was jubilant, the results were triumphant.
I was raised on milk and honey and grew up humming strains from “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” and “HaKotel.” My love for the Holy Land was heightened by my two years at seminary in Israel. That incredible experience preceded the first Intifada by a year, when walking the streets of the Arab shuk unaccompanied was imprudent rather than perilous. I remember taking the Egged bus through Arab villages in the Shomron. I marveled at the blue and green Arab doorposts, which I viewed clearly through plain glass windows. The fruit vendors in Jericho laid out their lush wares under palm trees, and we Jews were looked upon strictly as potential consumers through the eyes of hopeful Arab merchants.
Those days are gone. My own children are growing up in a completely different era. Security guards now checks their bags in American public libraries and at concert halls. They matter-of-factly take off their shoes at the airport and can’t believe that when I was their age I needed no ID to fly. We regularly pass the vast, vacant lot on the West Side Highway when we drive into Manhattan; unfortunately, it has become just a familiar sight on the road.
Arab propaganda has made so many inroads on college campuses that Jewish students now find themselves in the delicate position of either agreeing or risking bodily harm. The rift between blacks and Jews has only widened. New terms dot the landscape of our vocabulary. “Gay” marriage no longer connotes a happy union. The expression “suicide bomber” has been inducted into the chronicles of murder in Israel and around the world.
This new generation has learned not to trust the world where Israel and Jews are concerned. Further, in this era of unprecedented corruption, Israelis have learned not to trust their own leaders. When we watch the flag-wavers march by at the annual Israel Day Parade, our mood is tinged with sadness. I know that when my children spend a year of learning in Israel, their experience there will not be the same as mine.
Not all news is bad news, but the scale measuring the qualitative events between this younger generation and my own just two decades ago definitely tips in favor of the latter. The dictum of hitkatnu hadorot – the diminishing of the generations – seems to come to life with each passing year, and I am saddened by the decline in our midst over such a short period of time. Even more depressing, I doubt Israel or America will look better in another ten or twenty years
Perhaps I’m wrong. And perhaps our children will by then have culled enough know-how and strength in this era of bad tidings to be able to effectively make changes for the better. I hope, as per Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh, we will be able to draw upon the past good years to fortify our years ahead.
Sara Lehmann, formerly an editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, is currently a mother and freelance editor residing in Brooklyn.