A mega-popular song by one of Israel’s better female vocalists, Yehudit Ravitz, goes:
You took my hand in your hand and told me / Let’s go down to the garden / You took my hand in your hand and told me / Things you see from over there – you don’t see from over here.
I’ve been preoccupied by that notion since the crazy pictures of Hurricane Sandy started arriving here, in safe and dry Netanya, Israel. My initial reaction was a deep, overwhelming empathy. It’s people I know and love who are facing this monster of a storm, it’s the cityscapes of 37 years of my life which are being washed up and flooded; this is not a story about a tsunami in some anonymous far-eastern country where the images of terror and loss are somehow not completely real, unless the daughter or nephew of someone you know happen to be on a self-discovery journey over there, at which point that faraway tsunami turns very personal instantaneously.
I imagine that my friends in Israel experienced the horrors of 9/11 in a similar fashion. The friends who were most deeply affected were those who had spent quality time in NY City, and so they felt every bit of destruction on a very personal level.
It so happens that our daughter is back in the States, on a long trip to celebrate her 21st birthday, and so, naturally, our level of alertness and anxiety is that much higher. My sister lives in downtown Manhattan, in one of the Grand Street co-ops, close to where my wife and I lived for so many years.
We stare at the images of devastation, both to personal property and to the very shoreline of the Eastern Seaboard, and we are aghast. We receive the emails from all the local sources to which we still subscribe, out of habit, and we read about a life without power and water, with empty store shelves and gas pumps. We experienced something similar in the blackout of the summer of 2003, but the whole thing lasted a mere two days. I recall sitting on the porch on a Friday night and seeing how, neighborhood by neighborhood, the lights came back on. But today we read about whole neighborhoods who’ve gone a week without power and running water. That’s very scary and very personal.
Now we read of a new storm, a “nor’easter,” that’s about to hit the very neighborhoods that have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy. We cringe at the thought of what that would feel like. How can anyone just go on surviving one blow after another from “Mother Nature” – and winter has only just begun.
I don’t care, at this point, to engage in whether these disasters are the result of global warming, global change, or global everything is just the same. There’s no doubt in my mind that, for this and many other reasons, the United States of America is becoming a harsher place in which to reside. I must confess that I’m not seeing very good things happening in the near future in America. And I love America, I even believe in American exceptionalism – but one must be blind, or at least seriously nearsighted, not to see the writing on the wall.
My colleague Tzvi Fishman has been writing here for the past few months about how living in Diaspora is practically a crime against God (I’m stretching it a bit, obviously, but that’s the gist of it). I’m starting to think that living in Diaspora is plain foolish.
It used to be that Diaspora Jews were encouraged to come to Israel because Israel needed them. I don’t believe this is any longer the case. Israel is doing fabulously well at its current state. It has the highest employment record among all the Western democracies, it has one of the highest-growth GDPs, it has one of the best medical care systems, the finest highways, more institutions of higher education per capita than anywhere else in the world, more books published per capita than anywhere else, and fantastic produce. Despite some obvious security difficulties, it is damn close to paradise. Israel is doing fine.
It’s Diaspora Jews who desperately need Israel at this point. It’s a new concept to many. We’ve been used to thinking about Israel as the place where we look for spiritual experiences, where we discover our historic past, where we come to terms with our national feelings. But to view Israel as a much, much better place than the United States in terms of creature comforts – that’s not a widely shared notion. All I can say is, check it out.